November 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm

The Many Faces of Music Video Interactivity

We devoted inches to wireWAX’s “shoppable” music video, which started us thinking about other promotional techniques that might make sense these days. Now, we shift our focus to interactive music videos as a species.

We found a degree of variation. Aside from the viral, more traditional version we’ve all become accustomed to — and which eventually go interactive — we saw videogames, generative music videos incorporating HTML5 and WebGL technology, and more.

Viral, Memetic (Traditional)

For starters, some viral music videos are already interactive — that is, interactive in the traditional sense of the audience singing along to catchy phrases or learning (sometimes silly) dance moves.

Think The Macarena or Soulja Boy. With a repetitive tune and easily-replicable dance moves, the audience has little difficulty in mimicking the artist. The most recent example of this would be Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” The catchy video prompts a transformation of the passive listener into an active, engaged audience member.

Today’s technology has created another layer of involvement. Viewers of Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” and “Gangnam Style” aren’t only watching the music videos and dancing along — they’re also creating and posting their own versions online.

Perhaps this aspect is best exmplified by O-Zone’s hit song “Dragostea Din Tei,” better known as “the Numa Numa song.” The song’s foreign lyrics invited the world to create their own interpretations of the words; then Gary Brolsma’s viral video led others to create their own dance moves; and, finally, the repetitive nature of the song spiraled into an ever-growing, global pool of parody, featuring everyone from Spongebob to Legos.

Of course, people also make their own remixed interactions.

Gangnam Style

Tags

For those of you who didn’t read my WireWAX article, these interactive videos have built-in tags. Click or tap them and they can launch apps or provide additional text, photos, etc. within a video. Whether these are used to let the user listen to more songs through the Soundcloud app, access their Facebook page, or buy clothes from Amazon, wireWAX videos have introduced a new level of interaction within the music video.

“Engagement” is a tired buzzword, but it does exist. By encouraging the viewer to explore, the taggable music video avoids explicitly pushing extra content. The result? Viewers “discover” the content on their own and actually end up spending more time interacting with the artist.

WireWAX's Shoppable Music Video

Videogames

This summer, Pitchfork’s awesome music videogames featured tracks from M83 and Matthew Dear. “We Were You” followed the dream theme of M83′s latest album, while Dear’s “Street Song” involved less storyline and more action and control.

Perhaps video games don’t seem to qualify as a “music video,” but these ones are. The games use one song as a soundtrack, they are no different from the traditional music video, in the basic sense of being orchestrated visualizations that accompany a song.

Another example of online game music videos is Jesse Stiles’s game music video, “Inside a Dead Skyscraper” for his song “The Building.” The game lets you explore a world in standstill – as you float through the air near the World Trade Center on 9/11 civilians below continue their daily lives, just moments before most of them have noticed the explosion from the plane crash above.

The game isn’t packed with excessive action, but I think the simplicity of the lone explorer is a strength of the game as it allows for some reflection on the song lyrics and the tragic event. In the FAQ section of the game’s site Stiles comments on how he believes video games should be combined with the music of artists more often, as the music in indie video games can be used to “promote unknown bands.”

Inside a Dead Skyscraper

There are other variations on the online video game music video; for example, Internet Explorer paired up with Jasmine Villegas to create an interactive music video using HTML5 for her song “Just A Friend“. It’s a mix of video footage and mini games which (depending on your success in the game) change the outcome of the music video. This particular video seems much less generative than those of Google (see below) but it attempts to have more of a personalized, intimate feel, by letting the user connect with Facebook so that their photos and name can be integrated into the video.

Then, there are bands like Zambri and Spinto Band, who are using the app platform to release their music games. Perhaps you wouldn’t consider the app a “music video” but if we define the term loosely, the directed visualizations of a video game which are set to a particular song are, in some sense, a music video. In Zambri’s the player collects rings and avoids certain objects which appear in sync with the hit single “Carry”. Similarly, Spinto Band sets instrumental versions of their songs to the multiple mini-games in their retro 8-bit game app.

Just A Friend

Browser As App Platform

We’ve been digging Google’s “Chrome Experiment” music videos, created with 3D WebGL technology. “3 Dreams of Black” lets you explore the world inside the game and creates 3D models in real time. As the name implies, this interactive web app music video sends you through three different dreams through the eyes of the main character. Stories are woven from a combination of real video footage, 2D comic-like graphics, and generative 3D models.

In another Chrome Experiment, Arcade Fire’s music video for “The Wilderness Downtown” allows you to type in your location, which the site uses to create a personalized music video. Street views and aerial images of your hometown are integrated into the video.

The interactivity comes in the form of the footage of a generic figure (representing the viewer and making them part of the experience) and in the ability of the viewer to do things like “write a postcard to the younger you.” The typed words then transform into birds, which fly from screen to screen until they become trees, smashing down on the familiar streets of your hometown. This idea of using user information to personalize the video experience is similar to Villegas’ video, but with a slightly different approach.

3 Dreams of Black

And The Winner…?

There doesn’t seem to be a “best” type of interactive music video. Sorry. What did you expect? What did we expect?

Nonetheless, an artist’s chosen medium sends a message to the audience, and affects the image of a band or even a song. Arcade Fire’s decision to release a music video using new technology like WebGL supports its reputation as an innovative band, just as the use of a shoppable WireWAX video reinforces Diplo and Iggy Azalea as stylish icons, “the fashion world’s newest music darlings.”

In other words, artists market the technology, even as technology markets the artists.

I’ve previously discussed how the interactive quality of music apps can help artists in music promotion, and the story hasn’t changed: interaction can be key to attracting media buzz and more importantly, that ever-rarer bird, the audience’s attention.