Sting's Message in an iPad - The 60-year-old rocker tries a new medium for musicians: the app...November 11, 2011
Sting's Message in an iPad - The 60-year-old rocker tries a new medium for musicians: the app...
The music industry is often criticized for being slow to harness changes in technology. Smartphone applications are no exception. While videogame makers quickly got into the app business, spawning hits like "Angry Birds," few music acts have developed successful programs of their own. Now, a 60-year-old singer who released his first album in the 1970s is diving into the medium, in hopes of promoting his back catalog and snaring a broader audience.
On Monday, rocker Sting and the New York-based production company @radical.media will release a free app combining music, concert footage, photographs and videos. The central feature: footage from Sting's performance last month at New York's Beacon Theatre, including duets with guests like Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder. But the app, which is only available for the iPad, is also intended to serve as a retrospective of the artist's entire solo career.
"This is a very convenient way of archiving yourself," said Sting in an interview in his apartment overlooking the fall foliage of Central Park.
Users navigate through the app, "Sting 25," in multiple ways. A sliding timeline breaks out photos and video from career milestones such as Live Aid in 1985. Another navigation bar moves through about 20 "influences," from author Quentin Crisp to the Cold War; each category offers images and audio commentary from the singer. If any songs from 11 Sting solo albums reside on the user's iPad, the app automatically recognizes them; tracks that the user doesn't have can be sampled in the app and then purchased via iTunes.
Sting's manager, Kathryn Schenker, initially approached @radical about filming the singer's 60th birthday concert for a documentary, but she was politely rebuffed. "They told me concert movies are kind of a thing of the past," she recalls. Instead, @radical proposed an app. The company, founded in 1993, has offices in five cities, including Shanghai and Sydney, and describes its specialty as "transmedia," encompassing commercials, design, feature films and music specials for the likes of Bon Jovi, Jay-Z and Britney Spears. Last December, the company filed a trademark application for the term "appumentary," coined by company co-founder Jon Kamen.
Having recently released a 25th anniversary Sting box set, the singer's label, Universal Music Group, and publisher, EMI, say they eagerly supported the app as a high-tech showcase for Sting's catalog. The music companies offered up the copyright clearances required, but didn't chip in on the production budget. Those costs, in the low seven figures, were primarily covered by sponsors American Express and Chevrolet.
Apps represent largely uncharted territory in music. Recently the singer Björk married songs from her album "Biophilia" to a series of spacey video game-style interactives. Otherwise, few artists' apps have grabbed mainstream attention—most that exist are rudimentary, compiling tour dates, Twitter feeds and the like for mobile devices. Artist managers and labels have held off on attempts to develop ambitious apps because the payoffs are unclear.
Sting's team is offering the app free in an effort to drive downloads and cross over to users outside his fan base. But the free strategy underscores a nagging uncertainty about the demand for such apps, and whether they can effectively spur sales of music downloads. "There's clearly going to be a business model down the road, but nobody has a sense of what the market is yet," said Justin Wilkes, @radical's executive vice president of media and entertainment.
Since digital downloads have often been blamed for severing music from the artwork and liner notes that albums once offered, the rise of content-rich, mixed-media apps could offer a potential remedy. "There is a story, so whatever helps me to tell it, I will use," Sting said. "This is the future, in my opinion. I'm putting my money on the app."
(c) Wall Street Journal by John Jurgensen