Internet Killed the Video Star: Mobile Apps Redefine the Album Experience

Kristin Houser Writer & Editor, LA Music Blog

Musicians are getting tech savvy not just to create music but also to help fans get more from the artists they love.

Gone are the days when an album’s only bonus features were song lyrics and liner notes. Today’s tech-savvy music fans want more, and artists are eager to give it to them in the form of album apps.

In 2011, Icelandic recording artist Björk released “Biophilia,” the world’s first app album. Not only was this multimedia release partially composed on a tablet, it also came equipped with 10 separate apps housed within one “mother” app. Each of these mini-apps corresponded to one of the tracks on Björk’s eighth studio album and explored the intersection of music, nature, and technology.

Björk’s “Biophilia” won Best Recording Packaging at the 55th annual Grammy Awards, and artists have been working to best it ever since.

The next year in 2012, Lady Gaga hired one of Björk’s “Biophilia“ collaborators, Relative Wave, to work with TechHaus (the technological branch of her Haus Of Gaga) to create the app for her “Artpop” album.

This mobile app for Android and iOS brought together music, art, fashion, and technology inside an interactive worldwide community of “auras.” Each user could create their own aura with the help of a virtual assistant, Petga, and each aura evolved as the user interacted more with the app.

English rock band Radiohead also got in on the album app game with the release of Polyfauna, their free audiovisual app for iOS and Android.

Inspired by the group’s “The King of Limbs” album, this app invited users to explore an immersive environment of weather, sunsets, mountains, and forests set to the music of Radiohead and Nigel Godrich.

Instead of using apps as extensions of albums, some artists are using them as promotional tools leading up to a release.

In March, electronic dance music superstar Skrillex released his free “Alien Ride” app. Initially mistaken for a video game, this app in fact contained all 11 tracks found on the DJ/producer’s then-unreleased debut album, “Recess.”

The summer prior, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z released an entire album through an app created in partnership with Samsung. The first 1 million Samsung Galaxy owners to download the app got free access to the “Magna Carta Holy Grail” album three days before its widespread release.

Other artists are creating apps before an album is even finished. English singer-songwriter Imogen Heap recently partnered with Intel and RjDj on an app that inspired a song.

Imogen’s Run-Time jogging app will give users a continuously evolving soundtrack to their jogs by measuring and analyzing their speed, location, desired distance, and more. The sounds Imogen created for the app also inspired a track on her soon-to-be-released fourth studio album, “Sparks.”

Matthew Bolton, Intel’s EMEA Communications Manager, explains how using the Run-Time app compares to running to a playlist of recorded music:

“Running to ‘regular’ music relies on the right track being played in accordance with the runner’s energy levels and state of mind. Even the most eclectic playlist would require configuration during a run, and often a single track contains multiple choruses and more sedate sections.

“The Run-Time experience enables the runner to dictate the musical crescendos and diminuendos through their actions. The music sequence and algorithm adapts to the user’s pace, so they never hear a track in the same way more than once. In addition, if their pace slows fractionally or they begin running uphill, the music will adapt accordingly and provide a much needed boost.”

Location plays a part, too. Bolton tells me pace isn’t the only variable that affects the sounds users hear while using the app:

“We are able to record ambient sounds from the runner’s environment whilst jogging (via the phone microphone) and feed those sounds into the application, so that they can be incorporated naturally within the framework of the track. In this way, a runner is not only creating a unique instance of the track based on their pace, but the track is actually being customized based on their location/environment, e.g., the sounds of wind in the nearby trees, birds, background traffic sound, etc.”

The Run-Time app will also let users partner to achieve shared goals, such as running a particular distance each week (the completion of which will unlock additional sound files and functionality in the app), and — my personal favorite — play the sound of “reward cheering” as users pass run milestones. For this feature, Imogen asked her fans to submit audio clips of themselves cheering.

When I asked Bolton why the team chose to include organic elements like the cheering and environmental noises, he said it was “a deliberate effort to complement the more electronic based elements of the track for the generative app. These elements also allowed Intel and Imogen to involve the public in co-creating the application.”

With the release of “Sparks,” album apps will once again evolve, this time from something to keep your hands busy while listening, to something to keep your feet moving while jogging. Lace up your sneakers now and get ready to give the Run-Time app a try when “Sparks” is released on June 10th.

As Co-Founder and Lead Writer/Editor for LA Music Blog, a Los Angeles-based music news and review website, Kristin Houser’s life revolves around music and technology. She has been an avid fan of music ever since discovering her parents’ vinyl collection while still in elementary school, and she is fascinated by all the ways technology allows her to discover new music and share it with the world. She currently manages a staff of fifteen writers and contributors at LA Music Blog, and when she isn’t scouring the internet for her latest musical obsession, Kristin frequents Los Angeles’ many music venues where she can usually be found hovering near the front of house engineer while jotting down set lists in her smart phone. She is very pleased to share her latest music obsessions and all the ways technology allows her to discover and enjoy music with iQ by Intel’s audience.


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