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Can Tablets Resurrect the Album? One Start-up Hopes So

The album, as you might have read, is long dead. But the idea of having a digital package filled with music, pictures, information and more from an artist, well, that may have some life. At least that’s the hope of start-up 955 Dreams, which is looking to build off the early success of its first iPad (s aapl) app by pushing a new musical media format.

955 Dreams launched the History of Jazz last week on the iPad. The $10 app is like a cross between a music LP and an interactive coffee table book, taking people through the history of the genre using music, images, animation and video. It also includes updated information from Wikipedia and other sources. It’s kind of like what Apple envisioned with its iTunes LP in 2009, but in a portable format built for the tablet.

Kiran Bellubbi, the founder of 955 Dreams said the History of Jazz app has sold well despite its price tag, and has just been named the iPad App of the Week in the App Store. Bellubbi said more importantly, artists and record labels have begun reaching out to 955 Dreams to discuss creating apps around specific artists. While some, like Imeem founder Dalton Caldwell have questioned the ability for people to make money in digital music start-ups, Bellubbi believes this new publishing format can help artists and record labels recapture some lost revenue by leveraging the power of the tablet.

“We’ve stumbled into a new revenue stream for artists with a relatively large following,” said Bellubbi. “This interactive, immersive experience is something fans are willing to pay for.”

As I wrote about before with Callaway Digital Arts, tablets are opening up opportunities to create new publishing experiences that aren’t just e-books, but instead are dynamic applications leveraging audio, animation, pictures and text and marrying them with engaging touch-driven interfaces. Again, Apple tried something like this before with iTunes LP, but there were two problems: it was tied to both iTunes and a computer and it didn’t provide the same type of engagement that a touch-screen experience provides. That’s probably one of the reasons it hasn’t caught on with consumers or labels.

What 955 Dreams is doing is really fulfilling that original promise through the iPad. 955 Dreams won’t be the only publisher in this area but it could help drive the format if it catches on with some big name artists. I wouldn’t be surprised if Callaway, Apple or others looks in this direction if 955 Dreams can show some early progress.

Bellubbi said this new form of musical publishing applications could be a simple album or discography of one artist. Or it could capture an entire genre like the History of Jazz app. Currently, the History of Jazz app only uses snippets of music from iTunes and allows users to buy the songs through iTunes. Bellubbi said in the future, 955 Dreams will look to fully integrate musical content to make it more like a full album experience.

955 Dreams, a team of three, is funded by Dave McClure’s 500 Start-Ups and Mitch Kapor. Bellubbi, as CEO of High Five Labs, previously put out the Honeydo and Mario Battali Cooks apps. Take a look at the video of the History of Jazz app below to see what 955 Dreams is creating.

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4 Responses to “Can Tablets Resurrect the Album? One Start-up Hopes So”

  1. Re: the embedded video

    “This video is not encoded to playback on this device.”

    I am on an iPad tablet, btw.

    The short answer is no, tablets will not resurrect the album. A good, multi-tasking OS might, however, as probably no one is going to hold their table for 45-60 minutes just to listen and maybe interact with an album. iTunes LP is DOA. Tablet and iPod users time is increasingly fragmented. Jump from app to app, check this, read that, etc. The album, or a good playlist, is relegated to passive background listening. We are too conditioned to use as many senses at once, nowadays. Focus is quickie becoming a lost art. I sit writing this while watching soccer with one eye. Whoops, a goal, let me rewind and review the play.

    As for this app, I think it’s mostly smoke and mirrors. Fancy design, perhaps great, even, but it requires you to be Internet connected to watch the YouTube videos or listen to the ITMS song samples or purchase. This is one of those cases where a good website would have more reach.

  2. We tried to do this on the iPhone before LP arrived and Apple most certainly was not interested in letting our apps with embedded music into the iTMS. It will be interesting to watch.

    Our objective was slightly different in that we we creating templates that could be fed by databases, allowing a label to propagate say 1,000 apps with content, and auto export the entire set. We thought of it as a publishing problem, rather than app design. Apple was not at all interested in auto build processes, but they did allow those into the store so long as we did not embed music.

    Oddly enough, Apple allowed one of our apps to contain music. That was a taste-maker game for a label.

    • Ryan Kim

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, we’ll have to see if Apple will object to this. But I would hope this could get off the ground. It seems like an opportunity for record labels though maybe Apple will want to move on this themselves.

      • We had lined up some independent record labels, and the idea was to charge a low per build rate, say $250 or $500, where the labels would manage the input of assets automagically, or through a web interface. They could then hit a button and auto-build an application. Apple unfortunately does not want new paradigms in music, whereas the labels do.

        We abstracted enough to do the same thing on Android, but simply ran out of resources to continue. My drunken letter to Steve was pretty scathing. One day music will be distributed as apps with the iTunes version exported out of the app. The experience is valuable.

        Check out some of the apps we did build. Search Modoku in iTunes. Interestingly, all of the apps are the same exact application. We control the behaviors by numbers, and can actually change the behavior and configuration of the apps on the fly. The objective was to use that for magazines as well, but they all went Flash. What a dumb move.

        We were years ahead of people and still are oddly enough.