Nov 8, 2008

Tech - Digital albums now offer liner notes, lyrics

DENVER (Billboard) - CDs come with booklets filled with liner notes, lyrics, photos and more. But a digital album or single comes with bupkis -- an omission that started at the dawn of downloadable music.

Now technology has brought a solution: downloadable artist-branded applications for cell phones and handheld media players. And the first of these work on -- not surprisingly -- Apple's iPhone.

Before the December 16 release of Fall Out Boy's "Folie a Deux," the band will release an iPhone app that at first blush looks like its Web site.

It's actually more than that -- it's basically an interactive CD booklet, one that's far more advanced than the PDF files that some labels have included with albums from iTunes. The Fall Out Boy app will contain track listings, photos and lyrics from the band's entire discography that can be accessed directly from the iPhone, as well as links to buy its songs from iTunes.

Perhaps best of all, they can be updated automatically. Just like iTunes and Internet Explorer can receive updates that add functionality, Fall Out Boy will improve its app in the weeks to come. Eventually it will include a mobile social network integrated with the community on, Twitter-like microblogging tools, photo uploading and the ability to find other nearby app users with the iPhone's GPS location technology.

Including such features in a standard music download has proved too difficult from both a licensing and a technology perspective. On the licensing side, embedding lyrics into each song downloaded from iTunes would raise prices. And such files wouldn't be compatible with all the devices meant to play them.

Making apps for the iPhone could be the first workaround to that problem. Pink, Snow Patrol and David Cook have already released iPhone apps like Fall Out Boy's with the same kinds of features: Pink has streaming video; Snow Patrol has a touch-screen "game" that lets users find lyrics and artwork; Cook has a flickering image of a cigarette lighter that's meant to replace an actual lighter at concerts.

If these programs find an audience, artist-branded iPhone apps may become as common as artist Web sites are today. But creating these programs -- particularly the more sophisticated ones -- requires an investment of time and money, so labels are being selective about creating them.

"We can't do for everybody what we're doing for Fall Out Boy," Island Def Jam senior VP of new media and commerce Christian Jorg says. "This is an artist we think has the right target demo, we know the iPhone is successful with that demo and has great capabilities, and we'd like to put a product out there that speaks to that demo."

Labels want to see other devices -- both mobile phones and MP3 players -- with Internet access and open-development platforms before creating such applications for their entire catalogs. The 7 million iPhones worldwide simply aren't enough of a market. But they could just be the beginning.

"This isn't just about the iPhone," says Sony Music Entertainment VP of mobile marketing, sales and business development Sean Rosenberg, who worked on the Pink app. "That's a very small part of the handset market. But, within the music environment and content usage, it's a great place to test out what people like, how they use these and whether there is a long-term play toward packaging not just our music but also our artist's properties and Web site assets in this new fashion so it's easier for fans to interact with on all mobile devices."

From the very beginning, the gatefold LPs and the booklets in CDs were meant to deepen fan interaction with artists. Artist Web sites, MySpace pages and YouTube videos have expanded that idea but at the expense of the portable device. Applications that deliver additional content to portable music devices could expand the audience for digital music and give fans a new way to connect with artists.

"The whole experience of being a fan of a band has completely turned upside down," says Dan Kruchkow of Crush Management, which handles Fall Out Boy.

"You used to listen to the radio, watch MTV or go to a show, and that's all you could do. Now, the possibilities are limitless. Anything you can think of, you can do."

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