‘App’arently Back On Track
It’s a 38-second clip showing four old geezers announcing and extolling the goodness of a new smartphone app and it’s so funny that I actually went over and downloaded The Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary app. The four old geezers are, of course, Mick Jagger (69), Keith Richard (68), Charlie Watts (71) and Ronnie Wood (65). On the promotional clip, which you can watch on YouTube, the funniness is not of the comical type but one that reeks of uneasiness. Each of the Stones’ veterans gets a shot to speak and is ill at ease talking about something such as a smartphone application. Jagger kicks off the promo mentioning how the Stones app is unlike any other because it isn’t just another version of their website dumped into the app; Richard wheezes about how it is a “fifty year thing” and that it will have some “surprises”; Watts confesses that he’s never turned a computer on although Mick bought him a couple; and Wood mentions the virtues of having the “Brushes” app (which I think is a painting application and Wood, as we know, is a trained painter) on his iPhone. But all four geezers sound so unconvincing and tentative, that you can’t help but check out the Rolling Stones Official 50th Anniversary App, launched a fortnight ago.
The main app, currently available only for the iPad, the iPod Touch and the iPhone, is free so there’s no real barrier to checking it out. There is an exclusive section for which you have to pay but more on that later. The app is quite interesting. The free section has unreleased interview clips, videos of live concerts and practice sessions as well as footage of a ‘secret’ concert somewhere. The videos of the gigs, especially, are nice. Jagger, remarkably sprightly in his near 70s; Richard’s still scorching guitar; and the frenzy of fans… all of it makes you want to go to one of their gigs. That the app also helps you track their 50th anniversary gigs and buy tickets and connect with other fans and the band (a proposed feature will enable users to request songs that the band could play out of its repertoire of nearly 600 songs), makes it easy if you do.
Timed with rock and roll’s extra long-lasting band’s 50th anniversary tour (25 November to 15 December), the app is likely to be a great hit with fans. The exclusive section can be unlocked for just Rs 50 and has a number of special videos: clips of some concerts, the Stones talking about their anniversary, about their music, and about technology.
Bands using technology to spread their music and network with their fans is nothing new. But it is usually the fledgling new bands and musicians who use the Net to do that. It all began with MySpace, which in the early days of Web 2.0 became the forum for new bands to put up their music for streaming and downloading and garnering fans. Today, with record sales down to negligible levels and thousands of bands trying to be heard above the cacophony, indie bands piggyback on mp3bloggers, on websites such as Bandcamp and via Internet radio stations and podcasts. Many bands have their own podcasts, often putting them up for downloads or streaming entire concerts, hoping for awareness and visibility.
For The Rolling Stones, those two have never been a problem, at least not for the past half a century. Yet, as the band has managed to probably outlive many of their original fans and wants to draw new ones, the digital approach makes sense.
The Stones may be using their new official app as a marketing device for their ongoing tour (they are scheduled to play at New York, Newark and London), which some believe could be the last one but there are established rockers who’ve had digital strategies help them rekindle interest in their acts. Sometimes it is with outside help. I have a five-part Bruce Springsteen Ultimate Music Guide launched by Uncut, the British music magazine. Besides dissecting Springsteen’s career from 1979 to now, it has rare galleries, clips from albums, reviews, features and videos. For a Springsteen fan, it is heaven. For younger music lovers who may have missed out on his early work, it is a great way to get initiated.
I think apps such as the Stones’ or Springsteen’s could be the way to go for bands with a large body of work that spans many years, decades in the case of the two I have mentioned. In particular, I like the Uncut’s guide on Springsteen. It’s not just a fan boy’s collector’s item but also provides an opportunity any time in the future for younger aficionados of Springsteen’s music to delve into his career and past work. A couple of years back, I happened to discover on the Net, digital archives of the legendary British DJ, the late John Peel of the BBC. For many years till his death in the mid-2000s, Peel helped promote artists across a wide range of genres and after his death, his record collection and recordings of his broadcasts are being digitally archived. It is one of the finest archives of music that I have come across. Well worth an exploration. I can think of many, many bands and artists whose work deserves to be similarly curated or archived.
If you’re not a Deadhead, don’t read any further. If you are one, I’d suggest going to the web version of DC and downloading this fabulous compilation of five shows in 1970 by The Grateful Dead. It runs for hours and it is from a period when that band had all its original members, Pigpen included, and was in top form. The concerts were at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York. Not to be missed.