The rebirth of interactive audio
Way back in the heady days of the mid nineties, when “digital” was called “new media” and CD-Roms still ruled the interactive world, was born a phenomenon that was the Enhanced CD.
Enhanced CDs took music out of the Hi-Fi and into the home PC with it’s exciting new CD-Rom drive full of multimedia goodness. Coldcut’s “Let Us Play” and AudioRom’s BAFTA award-winning “ShiftControl” showed the amazing artistic possibilities of the medium, while bands such as Muse, Ash and Garbage demonstrated their commercial potential with ground breaking examples of user generated content, music mixers, interactive video tools and games. And then came DVD with it’s superior video capabilities, the exodus from CD to mp3 and the emergence of Shockwave and rich-media on the internet which all contributed the death of the Enhanced CD as a format and, sadly, as a way of engaging with an audience.
Fast forward 10 years to the present day and the new consumers’ demand for interaction has exploded beyond all expectations. Consumers now expect to have greater influence on their purchases, even more so in times of credit crunch when buying decisions are more crucial, Music artists & distributors are beginning to see the benefits of engaging their consumers in a conversation, a narrative or a social element or two.
Into the engagement gap has stepped a most unlikely contender, the iPhone App, which has secretly been re-kindling the potential of the enhanced CD, with some exciting differences. iPhone Applications such as Brian Eno’s “Bloom”, an uncluttered and elegant slice of generative sonic art, show the artistic potential of the iPhone, while the Snow Patrol app shows the commercial potential, in this case contextualised as an interactive version of the CD booklet. The entertainment industry have been swift to follow suit with the far more mundane but hugely popular Quantum of Solace iPhone App.
Brian Eno’s Bloom is an interesting example of the artistic potential. Bloom is a relatively simple, yet very elegant piece of generative sonic art. There are many free browser based sonic artworks online, discoverable via sites such as soundtoys.net, the big difference being that the iPhone makes it much more convenient and rewarding for both the end user and the creator. As the iPhone is a mobile device the end user can play with Bloom virtually anywhere and even better on a device that is designed as both a music and video player. It’s great for the creator as thanks to the fantastic app store, it is very easy to find and most importantly buy sonic artworks, thereby providing a very hard to come by revenue stream for digital art.
The Snow Patrol iPhone app is an example of the commercial potential and is very reminiscent of the commercial enhanced CDs from the late 90s. It is contextualised as an interactive booklet to accompany the mp3s, providing video interviews and the song lyrics. The potential of this form is really exciting, as it can also act as a piece of marketing and could show off pop videos, photographs and other promotional content as well as driving sales through an on device click through to the iTunes store.
With a few notable exceptions, most Enhanced CDs were one-way, a monologue between band and fan. The iPhone and those that are following its lead with internet connectivity and easy interfaces, have the potential to open the door to the connected, web2.0, mobile-enabled youth market. Multi-participant dialogues, live fan-to-fan communities, instant access to video interviews and secret gigs are just a tap away, granting swathes of kudos to the participants.
Reaching consumers in this increasingly fragmented, personalized environment has become more complex and publishers have been forced to rethink the ways they reach & communicate with consumers. In a fractured distribution environment an integrated multi-channel digital approach pays dividends by putting your name in more places at the same time, increasing visibility, access and, thereby, marketing opportunities. Mobile is only one part of any integrated strategy but the iPhone, as a mobile music and video player, provides a ready-made revenue stream through it’s direct on-device link to iTunes and the App Store.
At Do Tank Studios we are so excited about the commercial potential for interactive music applications for iPhone and iPod touch that we have started to develop some of our own. If you like the idea of remixing your favourite Girls Aloud track on the bus, sharing stories of gigs with other fans around the world on a geo-located-socially-enabled fan site, or that crowd-sourced pop-promos could capture a generation, then your probably thinking along the same lines as us. If this could benefit you in anyway then get in touch, either publicly via the comments or privately via our contact form box on the right.