Apps, Mobile & SMS

Bjork Is Releasing Mobile App For Each Song On Her Album. So Where Are All The Album Apps?

image from The news that Bjork is planning a mobile app built around each song off her upcoming album reminded me of the fact that, for some bizarre reason, we don't have multiple examples of mobile apps as enhanced albums featuring music bundled with related media assets.

We have all sorts of interesting games and other products related to music and plenty of apps that aggregate music, but the most obvious product of all, the enhanced record album as mobile app, still isn't a mundane fact of our musical lives.

While the work of 955 Dreams suggests the potential for album releases as iPad apps, they aren't albums, they're an iPad version of encyclopedic DVDs released in the 20th Century. will.i.apps got a lot of attention for a mobile app built around a music video one could explore in 360 degrees but it wasn't an album and they don't seem to be following through with additional apps.

iTunes is loaded with music apps but they're either the kind of thing a mobile developer would create or an interesting artist as developer project. And now Bjork is releasing a mobile app for every song on Biophilia with games and animation and lyrics and an academic essay but that's a Bjork art project, not an album in app form.

I'm truly baffled by this state of affairs. It's as if record labels can only imagine a digital album as a bundle of songs with pdf's attached. For the life of me I do not understand why we haven't seen a whole slew of enhanced albums in mobile app form that take advantage of all those music videos, promo pics and reviews that often come out before the actual album is released. It's not like there's not plenty of content to bundle with the songs.

I could say the hackneyed insults people like to say about major labels and their supposed lack of creativity but that doesn't let big indies off the hook. And that doesn't let rich artists with leverage off the hook either.

The one reasonable explanation I can come up with is the fact that mobile app pricing tends to range from free to a few bucks. That's a problem for releasing an album as an app but a major label should be able to find sponsors for an app that costs a few bucks to make up the difference. However, for enhanced album apps that bundle signficant related content, I believe there's plenty of potential to explore higher price points. So what's going on here?

I'm truly baffled and I'd really like to hear the thoughts of Hypebot readers on the situation.  Why do you think we're not seeing albums in mobile app form? Do you know of obvious or obscure examples I'm missing? Is it just more crazy talk from Clyde? I'm all ears.

Hypebot contributor Clyde Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. Flux Research is his business writing hub and All World Dance: World Dance News is his primary web project.

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  1. Hi Clyde,
    I own Fyutchaflex World, a music and Sound Design business based in Japan. We’ve been working, for over a year, alongside two other companies on an enhanced album project. It’s much more than a series of apps… This enhanced album is meant specifically for PC’s, tablets and smartphones running Android. It’s a beautiful product, and to my knowledge there’s nothing like it (yet) on the market.
    It will be released very shortly (announcement next week), in Japan and China first, and then in North America and England.
    There are people out there working on projects such as this one (know a few personally) and I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more enhanced albums on the market soon.

  2. Clyde, you’ve hot the nail on head in my view. Apps are the obvious default album format of the future – offering all the enhanced location based and immersive content value added wizardry one can imagine. Not to mention the utopian IFPI vision of a format that’s pretty difficult to pirate given the current monopoly on app distribution. So why the negligible uptake to an opportunity for digital growth to rival physical decline, bringing in live up-sell etc etc? Let me think… Chart rules, iTunes exiting model and need to keep labels sweet, or perhaps a painfully ongoing fundamental misunderstanding of consumer… sorry ‘fan’ behaviours. The music industry needs to wake up and get with the rest of the FMCG sector or I fear it will whiteness a continued migration of those blessed with the ability to create compelling repertoire to more viable pastures. Hat’s off to David Birkett for fostering a series of ingenious collaborations that will leave Bjork fans deeply engaged and sets the scene for a brave new value chain and model in music consumption .

  3. I mentioned this a couple of times almost directly with regards to another hugely successful band. But it wasn’t dismissed, just don’t think it went within context of the album.
    The old Brown Bunny app from Nick Cave wasn’t anywhere on torrents and I actually bought it… audio was on file-sharing networks pretty quickly though. But yeah, that’s iPhone this is iPad.
    Anyway, I always thought album apps were the future from that Brown Bunny, but Bjork has once again shown her true talent and pushed the boundaries far beyond any other bands current doings. Hats off…

  4. I’m actually more interested in cellphone apps than in iPad apps and probably should have clarified that. Haven’t checked out the Brown Bunny app.

  5. I’ve been heavily involved in an app series (that’s still just touching the tip of the iceberg) – combining an interactive music experience (“deeper than stereo”) and an all-ages avatar-style video game… has the details – our current 2 offerings were loved by Apple, and we weren’t really doing much other than floating trial balloons to see what would click. Our 3rd character in the series is near completion and will blow the doors off these first 2 offerings.
    I’m a HUGE advocate of using mobile platforms as a complement to the other “products” musicians and artists offer. I’m also a huge advocate of taking listeners & fans into the next phase of listening experience – give them choices that allow significant personalization and the ability to share that experience with others. Mobile allows you to get into a new paradigm – someone is going to fill it, artists better get their crap together or someone else will hold the future.

  6. From what I’ve read it’s not easy to make an app unless you know code and how to program. I’m sure there are some musicians out there who do, but since almost all musicians are busy creating music and spent their lives doing so, they probably don’t know enough to make apps themselves. Therefore, most musicians would have to pay someone to do so for them. I can only imagine that this is yet another expense that musicians would fear having to pay for on an already dwindling profit margin for the sale of their music. I think albums as apps has potential and could be something great, but for the time being it’s easier to just go to a band’s website or facebook page and get all the content you want there. Also, I’m sure most artists and labels are concerned with pricing. Since most apps only cost a few dollars, bundling a complete album’s songs together at a price that can be reasonably compared to other apps that it will be listed with is a troubling aspect. They would be undercutting their profit while they could sells the tracks elsewhere potentially for more money.
    Free album download at

  7. Hi Clyde,
    I think Chancius is quite right: it costs a lot of money to create the content for an app and pay for the custom-made development. I think we shouldn’t underestimate the first point: you really need to be a big band to be able to create enough interesting content. Even if you are in the loop of all the new technologies as an artist, and you have a couple of creative ideas, it takes a lot of effort to actually make all this stuff. As an indie band, we are already happy that we can make an album and a video clip. We are working on an nice idea for an iphone app now, but that’s only for one song! Doing this for an album would be an enormous work. I hope to keep you in the loop of our forthcoming app.

  8. Whoa, Chancius got a cosign! That new approach is starting to work.
    I hear what you guys are saying, that’s why I included this paragraph:
    “I could say the hackneyed insults people like to say about major labels and their supposed lack of creativity but that doesn’t let big indies off the hook. And that doesn’t let rich artists with leverage off the hook either.”
    If apps were cheap, I’d have one on every mobile platform for my dance site but I can’t afford that. But if I was charting in the Billboard 200, I’d sure have one.
    And there are a lot of bands at that level putting out multiple high quality music videos for each album and spending all sorts of money on promotional material that could be used in app development.
    So, no, some people not having the money doesn’t explain the near absolute absence of album apps.

  9. Maybe people are simply not interested in album apps. Most people seem perfectly happy with lo-fi supercompressed mp3’s over crappy earbuds, with no liner notes or album art. Especially when they can get them for free.

  10. The other thing is that development costs would go down for labels once some basic templates for creating an album app were developed.
    Part of the current expense is in hiring people to create something new from scratch or hiring people that charge you as if they’re making it from scratch.
    Of course, I could get an iPhone app for my blog pretty cheaply with various off the shelf options so that could happen for a bundle of content as well. Even with some nice design options.

  11. The other thing is that development costs would go down for labels once some basic templates for creating an album app were developed.”
    @Clyde Smith : There’s no such thing as a template app programming if you want a distinct , different app for your album ( the bjork type)
    If all one wants is the equivalent of an iTunesLP packaged in a mobile app , there are already lots of those available , and they are not selling like crazy ( i think the Kristin Hersh album app is one of the few that has been selling moderatly well). Those type of app could be more or less templated.
    If you want very specific, interactive kind of album apps , that’s not something that can be templated. It has to be programmed from scratch. And that cost lots of money. I investigated some time ago the cost of off-shoring the developpment of an app i designed ( a simple productivity app , not music related) and it came out in the 5 figure number. I do a bit of programming myself, but i’m not good enough to be able to finish it in the amount of time i would like.
    In fact , costs of developping for the iOs platform is getting more expensive right now because of a shortage of good programmers ( especially in the prefered Objective-C language) although Android developpers are a bit less expensive right now

  12. I appreciate your comments and examples. I hadn’t thought about the Kristin Hersh example because it was marketed as a book with music and doesn’t really sound like the “equivalent of an iTunesLP packaged in a mobile app”.
    And I’d missed the news about the Swedish House Mafia album:
    But I think there’s some room between an iTunes LP and what you’re interested in if you’re satisfied with organizing content in modules like you’d get with a service like Red Foundry:
    That might not do what you’re saying you want but it sounds like it would do what I’m thinking about.
    Then again, I’m not a programmer, I didn’t get past html and I haven’t seen any apps built on Red Foundry or similar services.
    So I could be totally wrong on what’s actually possible in terms of what smaller operations would consider affordable but I’d want to talk to somebody who knows what such services are truly capable of producing before I was fully convinced.

  13. I’ve played a bit with RedFoundry some time ago and it’s still very similar to dozen other services like MobileRoadie, Appmakr, TapLynx, etc.. Redfoundry allows for more customization , but even that is still very limited with the kind of ITunesLp-like album app you could create.
    Just to give you an example of limitations; i have the KristinHersh iPad app, it’s really the whole album contained inside, with some beautifully designed layered content ( text, images , access to online additional photos, etc). But if you look at it closely , it’s really a very basic app in terms of what’s going on under. The whole thing is something that could exist in the form of a website. Well , even this type of app would be impossible to design in Redfoundry ( i tried to duplicate the KristinHesh app), unless you put your hands into their RFML descriptive language, add some web API, etc.. That’s how limited all these template-based services are
    And in this case , you might as well create it from scratch with some real programming, wich bring us to the original problem about having to pay programmers for this stuff , when you’re an indie artist.

  14. Yes , but that’s not usable for album apps at all. That’s an online service that redesigns the content of your website to give a better online browsing experience on the iPad . Basically it allows online magazines and newspapers to be better read with an iPad without you having to redesign a specific iPhone/iPad version of your blog/magazine/newspaper. And it doesn’t generate a self-contained app like Redfoundry and the others do.

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