Smartphones and the Music Industry - App Week

By Mark Falanga

Photo courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano.

“There’s an app for that.” Ah, where would we be without those five little words?  It seems no matter what problem that we could encounter in our daily lives is just a mere tap of a Smartphone away from being solved. But can the music industry use this method to solve their woes?

It’s no secret that the industry has been in a downward slide for seven straight years. Compact disc sales, which were the bread and butter of the industry, are being outpaced in growth by digital downloads.  Despite this news, Forbes magazine offered a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered industry.  For the first time since 2004, overall music sales are up; album sales increased by 1.4 percent, from 326.15 million units to 330.57 million in 2010, This figure seems small, but is a serious accomplishment considering the 13 percent dip in total album sales from 2009-2010.

“This year’s results can be attributed to a variety of influences, including more aggressive marketing efforts and offers, availability and consumer adoption of legitimate digital commerce models, the power of social media, etc,” says Jim Donio, president of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), to Forbes.

While this does not specifically say that apps are the direct cause, it’s safe to say that technology is now playing a role in the rise of music sales in general. Apps allow for unique approaches for connecting with fans and general distribution. A good example of this is artist Noah Wall and how he chose to market his newest album, Heloise, that came out on September 1, 2012 in digital form. Wall was left unfulfilled with this distribution system, so he decided to print physical forms of the album, cassette tapes and vinyl records, and hide them at various locations around Manhattan. He then uploaded the map online and users could then use Google Maps on their smart phones to lead them to the albums.

When asked the reason for even bothering to print physical forms of the album, Wall told the O Music Awards blog, “They are affordable to manufacture and give you that tactile satisfaction that’s not quite possible with digital. It was also a fun excuse to do different artwork than the LP and try and make a beautiful object — they sound great too!”

But don’t think it’s just small, local bands that are hopping on the app wagon.  Big names like Bob Dylan also see value in this method. In fact, before he released his new album, Tempest, Dylan teamed up with iPhone app Sound Graffiti to give fans the chance to listen to the unreleased tracks for free at certain locations around the globe.  Here’s how it works, when the user visits any one of the locations the app will verify that the user is indeed there and will stream the song to the user’s phone.

However, with over 100 locations around the world, why would a person do this when they can just pay $10 and download the album from iTunes. Well, each location is significant because of the role it played in Bob Dylan’s life, such as where he first played his electric guitar, or where he first broke out into the folk scene. It gives fans not only the chance to hear the music for free before the album is officially released, but allows the true fans to be that much closer to the artist.

Now it’s one thing when an artist uses an app, but it’s another thing when an artist creates an app.  The pop rock band Train has come out with their own app.  It provides the user with full songs from Train, plus a place to see all of their tour dates and the latest news about the band.  It lets the fan get closer to the band by having instantly updated knowledge about whatever Train is doing at the moment.

As these apps evolve, it’s only a matter of time before the music industry realizes the power that apps play in providing new avenues to reach fans, generating interest, and most importantly, increasing revenue.  All this can be achieved from simply touching a button on your phone. Want to save the music industry?  Maybe there is an app for that.