January 27, 2011 at 1:54 pm

How and Why Every Song Can Be an App

Image of an HTML5 song app courtesy of Songpier

Music should be heard and not seen, a friend once said.

But what happens when music players have large color screens, sophisticated controls, processors, and connections to the internet? Music becomes an app — or at least it can, where such an approach makes sense.

The app’s potential for music distribution became apparent, to this reporter anyway, in August ’08 – about a month after Tapulous launched its “Guitar Hero for iPhone” game, Tap Tap Revenge. That game delivers music to smartphones that is playable in two senses of the word: as a song, and as a game.

But turning a song into a videogame is just one of the myriad ways in which apps can deliver music.

From Moto Boy manager Martin Thörnqvist comes word about a new tool for artists and labels that can turn any song into a smartphone app called Songpier (still in private beta).

Songpier (no affiliation with Thornqvist other than that it recently started following him on Twitter) targets musicians, labels, music promoters, and even music reviewers — anyone who would have cause to wrap a song in an app and distribute it to any smartphone that supports HTML5.

“No coding,” promises Songpier. But despite the lack of sophistication required to create one of these mobile web apps, “every song instantly becomes an app on all new mobile devices”:

YouTube Preview Image

Songpier is far from the only example of an app that lets artists distribute music directly to fans with more functionality than a plain old MP3 could ever offer. But it’s a good one, because despite being an application, it exists outside of any app store or platform.

To create one of these song apps with Songpier, a Midemnet 2011 finalist (video below), an artist or anyone else with permission to distribute a song (even, potentially, a music reviewer) uploads it into Songpier’s system.

Then, they surround the song with ancillary data: artist biography, discography, merchandise section, news, images, tourdates, buy links, links to sell those notorious T-shirts through which some claim artists should make a living, and seemingly whatever else can be represented by HTML5. Finally, Songpier helps the app authors distribute their “app song” via Facebook, Last.fm, MySpace and Twitter.

The benefits to this approach over delivering a song as an MP3 are plentiful and obvious. For starters, it lets bands know who is listening. When a band sells a song through iTunes, Apple gets that user’s email address but the artist does not (Apple cites privacy as the reason for this). In addition, artists, labels and promoters can use this technique to send out a track for free, counting on resulting album, ticket, and merchandise sales to bring in revenue.

Users can bookmark shortcuts to HTML5 web apps as icons on their smartphones, so they can look and feel just like the apps distributed through official channels like iTunes. And once a user has the icon installed on their phone, they’ll be more likely to return to the song to check for new photos, tour dates, and so on. Of course, nobody in their right mind would litter their smartphone interface with tons of single-song apps. This approach would more likely result in people installing a handful new song apps from their favorite artists, perhaps deleting them over time (after they’ve bought the album, the artist would presumably hope).

For reviewers with permission from a band, label or publicist to build an app around a song, things get potentially even more interesting. I’ve been wondering whether app integration might be able to save music journalism by allowing people to listen to music as they read its latest reviews on their mobile devices, and from the looks of things, Songpier (or something else like it) will make that happen as well, rendering the act of writing about music far more accurate than dancing about architecture, as the saying goes.

YouTube Preview Image