Connect With Us

Add Hypebot To Circleson

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

• MTT POSTS BY CATEGORY
• TUNE MTT RADIO
SEARCH
« The musician enablers | Main | In Defense of 1,000 True Fans - Part IV - Kelly Richey »
Thursday
Dec312009

Lou Reed iPhone App - An Example of Why The Last Decade Was a Waste of Time in Music

No, it’s not April 1st 2010. This gave me pause. Lou Reed, he of the The Velvet Underground, of Metal Machine Music, of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Nico collaborator, of Transformer, bi-pal of David Bowie, the list goes on… has delivered an iPhone app, the Lou Zoom!

no more squinting

It’s a strange step, and here’s why. It’s not because Lou Reed is an iconic rock star who’s bands and music changed the face of rock music decades ago - as Brian Eno said about The Velvet Underground.. “although few people bought the album, most of those who did were inspired to form their own band.” And it’s not because I begrudge Lou the chance to cash in on his brand by selling an iPhone app. No, it’s because the app is not a creative move for Reed, it doesn’t add a jot to his pantheon of work. It doesn’t change the game, move the needle, or inspire me in anyway possible. Worse, the app seems to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. Unless, that is, you have diminished eyesight as a product of old age. Put down those bifocal’s boomers, Lou’s fixed things for you - no more pinching and scrolling on the iPhone screen, now he brings you LARGE LETTERS AND NUMBERS. As the app description goes, “Dramatically set in Helvetica Neue type, this contemporary take on classic Modernist design turns heads as quickly as it dials phone numbers.”

Finding this yesterday made me consider that this last decade in music and how musicians struggle with technology, is rather nicely summed up with this app release. It’s a sad footnote to what could have been a decade of major opportunity for musicians, artists and record labels. Instead, what we see looking back for the music industry in general is a wasteland that wouldn’t look out of place in the movie The Road. As we enter 2010, it’s worth considering what Seth Godin has to say about the past 10 years - “The internet transformed our lives forever. Opportunities were created (and many were taken advantage of). And, like every decade, just about everyone missed it.Read the rest here.

Fight

Reader Comments (26)

Yup, whenever the world has to move from someplace it was to someplace it has to get to, there always seems to be a bunch of bullshit in the middle.

I remember diesel engines from 1985ish to 1995ish - they sucked compared the efficient modern marvels that they seem to be now. Let's just hope that the Reed App is a 1985 Olds Toronado diesel engine and not the VW TDI we wanted it to be.

-Bruce

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

Over on Dave's blog, I was thinking about past icons from the same era as Reed (Dylan and Cohen) plus someone from an even earlier era, Pete Seeger.

I'm not sure it's worth reposting most of my comments (you can find them here).

But let me toss out this one idea from those comments. What iPhone app would you all envision that would preserve or change for the better your image of Reed? For me, whenever I think of him, I think of his song, "Heroin."

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Okay. I have thought about this some more.

The Dylan Christmas album is, to me, funny. It's a warped version of classic Christmas carols. I don't know what he intended, but I had to have the CD.

I was always a Warhol fan because he repackaged cultural images in unusual ways.

What if the Reed application is actually a very subtle play on his image. As in, "Now that your vision is shot from all the drugs you did over the years, use this handy magnifying application to help you see."

Maybe it's actually a joke. Just a thought. ;-)

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Suzanne

The post-drug iPhone app magnifier...love it! Unfortunately I doubt that the app is intended to be that ironic, it would be a very Warholian move though.

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

What you're all missing is that this is exactly what Lou has done at every step of his career.

Every record he's ever made has been greeted as "the worst possible thing he could have done right now". ALL of them. No exceptions.

Everything he's ever done has been written off as a cheap grab at publicity.

And while most of the world completely ignores it, his fans sit around analysing it and wondering how he could have lost the plot so completely, so publicly, so transparently, Lou laughs at us and moves on.

Thanks for playing.

December 31 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

Felix,

Really, a lame app (you should see the reviews on the iPhone apps page) is part of some grand overarching scheme to keep us on our toes...? Not sure about that. His music took risks so when Metal Machine Music came out and was roundly panned, once people lived with it for awhile they learned of its nuance. In today's 15 secs of attention world this app will be a mere blip on his resumé, as there is no risk to throwing out an app in to an ever expanding pool of apps. As I said, not a needle mover - unlike the album Transformer or White Light, White Heat...

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Felix,

BTW, I'm very willing to be wrong, just need to see some evidence of that. And do you have some data/links to back up your claim that "Everything he's ever done has been written off as a cheap grab at publicity."

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

This is getting fun.

I give you Exhibit A. (Read the entire article.)

Laughing Lou Reed: "In other words, Lou Reed is a completely depraved pervert and pathetic death dwarf and everything else you want to think he is. On top of that he's a liar, a wasted talent, an artist continually in flux, and a huckster selling pounds of his own flesh. A panderer . . . . Lou Reed is the guy that gave dignity and poetry and rock 'n' roll to smack, speed, homosexuality, sadomasochism, murder, misogyny, stumblebum passivity, and suicide, and then proceeded to belie all his achievements and return to the mire by turning the whole thing into a monumental bad joke with himself as the woozily insistent Henny Youngman in the center ring, mumbling punch lines that kept losing their punch. -- Lester Bangs, 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves, or How I Slugged it out with Lou Reed and Stayed Awake,' 1975."

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Don't even understand why you write a post about Lou Reed. That guy is a legend, whatever people think about him. Why don't you speak about Radiohead, or NIN, or whoever enough famous to do whatever they like in order to keep going on some fame they already have ?
I'm afraid your post is useless...

January 1 | Unregistered Commentersmith

Smith makes a good point.

If the music is good enough, maybe whatever is done in the name or marketing or promotion doesn't matter.

Maybe marketing/promotion are most important when they are being used to grab our attention so we will listen to the music.

But if the music has already defined the artist, are we that easily sidetracked by an iPhone app? As I said on Dave's blog, when I think of Reed, I think of the song "Heroin." No iPhone app is going to change that.

January 1 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Smith,

This forum is a constant puzzle to me. The greatest threat to musicians currently is the massive drop off in music sales, whether CDs or digital. One would think that this drop in sales would be of the most paramount concern, but no, I sense the concern in this forum is in maintaining the status quo. Whether anyone likes it or not everything has changed. As Rishad Tobaccowala said - "The future does not fit in the containers of the past." To deny this shift in music consumption patterns is absurd.

My post is about Lou Reed's foray into technology - it's not about his music. My point is that an ill-informed jump into a technology platform doesn't make any difference to Reed's career. Living in the past is not a career move either, so why mess around in the technology space. As Suzanne says, the app will be ignored, she prefers her nostalgic view of Reed's music - what then has all this money and effort achieved?

Nostalgia should be feared. Those 8 year old kids out there today are music's future. What would you like to offer them?

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Suzanne,

I thought you'd mentioned to me in another forum that you are in music marketing? I may be wrong. But if so do you condone creating an iPhone app as good marketing? Or perhaps a huge waste of money and resources..?

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Dave, yes my field is marketing. I've been involved with marketing in sports, music, and technology.

Most applications don't hold people's interest. So it probably isn't worth doing an application to market your brand unless it can be done cheaply or has a real chance for success.

Mania for iPhone Apps Comes with Risks for Agencies and Brands

In Reed's case, perhaps he is being paid to lend his name to the application rather than him having to pay for it. And it appears that it does have some fans because it is practical.

Lou Frickin’ Reed | Gadget Lab | Wired.com: "I already love Lou Zoom, and not just because it has Lou Reed behind it. It’s actually a lot nicer to use than Apple’s contacts application. We should get one thing straight, though. Lou Reed didn’t do the actual programming for Lou Zoom. That part was done by Chicago-based tinkerer Ben Syverson, who is also responsible for the excellent Catchlight application which allows you to use your iPhone as a color-matched light-source for photography. But Lou and Ben did work together on the design. Amazing, and Reed’s best collaboration since Songs for Drella."

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

@ Dave: There does seem to be a lot of status quo-ers here lately.. Perhaps it's the debate between the old and the new that interests people (about 28,000 a month lately). I am also getting the sense that there is a growing backlash against DIY lately. When people are frustrated, they retreat to what's familiar to them.

@ Smith: Any post that gets people talking is valuable. Moreover, there's a lesson to consider here: before you lend your name to something: consider explaining the logic/motivation behind the branding (or not).

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

One thing to further the discussion is that perhaps Lou Reed the brand is stronger than anything he might be cross-promoting. So rather than an idea bringing down Reed, he elevates whatever he is associated with to something culturally relevant. The Wired guy who loves Lou Zoom gets a kick out of the idea that Reed played a role in creating it.

Consider the Snuggie. In addition to Weezer having one, there are a lot of other branded Snuggies these days. Who would have thought?

Sports Brand Snuggies - Nike Snuggie is Yet Another Version of the Blanket With Sleeves (GALLERY)

I think if you are going to put your name on a product, it's probably better to put it on something more out there than everyone else. In that regard it would appear Reed has succeeded. Why put out another fan-based iPhone application when you can put out a gadget that at least some techies love.

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

"the app seems to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist."

Good one Dave. Also the reasoning behind (please insert your own percentage point here..hmm maybe a new app!) of all "consumer products"..including the "must have" i phone.

January 1 | Unregistered Commenterjp

It took me a little while to understand the underlying point of this post. Yes, of all the things Lou and Co. could have done given the technology and communications advances of the past decade, he chooses to release...an iPhone app? And a pretty tame one at that.

That said, if you're gonna do an iPhone app, do one that helps the user, not yourself. This is why most artist-driven apps suck. Most are just a collection of media the user can already find elsewhere. They promote the artist but don't add much value for the user. We're already at the point where any artist can have an iPhone app, just like any artist can have a web page, and any artist can release a CD. Boring, commonplace, safe.

Notable exception: T-Pain and his autotune app. Clever and immensely popular even among the techno-elite. He did it right. At least Lou Reed's app was somewhat useful and not just a portable, digital mini-shrine to his own greatness.

The Eno quotation suggests that perhaps an app that taught me the chords of some key VU songs would have been better.

Maybe the best move would have been no app at all.

But setting aside the iPhone-app-as-strategy concept, I agree with Dave's premise. Assuming that Lou Reed cares about remaining relevant, what could he have done that would qualify as "brilliant?"

January 1 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

But Reed IS relevant to those who like his application, or to those who like his music, or both.

That's kind of the point. Reed has always appealed to niche audiences and his application will have a niche of users. There's no reason he has to put out an application that has anything to do with music.

Maybe the question is whether he should be promoting a non-music application on the same website where he promotes his music. And that's a fundamental question as we move forward with music marketing.

Here's how I have broken it down according to degrees of separation between music and income.

No degree of separation: Sell your music.
One degree of separation: Sell stuff related to your music.
Two degrees of separation: Use your music to sell other people's stuff (e.g. have your music in commercials).
Three degrees of separation: Write music to sell other people's stuff (e.g. write jingles and commissioned works).
Four degrees of separation: Play music. Use that as a way to promote your real profession (e.g., the singing plumber).
Five degrees of separation: Play music. Don't mix it with any money-earning activity. Keep your hobby and your income generating activities totally separate.

I think you are going to see much more mingling. If Amanda Palmer can auction off stuff in her apartment for income, presumably other musicians can get into the iPhone application business. They don't really need to limit themselves to music-related applications, do they?

As for the T-Pain application, I am interested. Not so much because of any relationship between a musician brand and the application, but more about the company that made the application and what it is trying to do with music, which is to get more musical tools into the hands of more people, particularly those who have no musical training.

The Potential iPhone Musical Revolution

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Sure, there is value in Lou's iPhone app. If the goal was to simply release a text-zoomer app (and I believe it was, and no more), then there's really nothing more to contemplate here. I am neither farsighted nor a VU fan, so there's nothing here for me personally, and maybe that's exactly the way it should be.

In another context, it does seem like a wasted opportunity, just a little bit. But I can't imagine Lou Reed cares about "damage" to his "brand" or gives a whit if we always-connected Web 2.0 SMO pundits think he "did it wrong."

So let's take Lou Reed out of the equation. Do I think an iPhone app is a worthwhile marketing move?

It depends. Does it help the user be more awesome in some way? Feel better? See better? Cope better? Be better? Then yes.

Is it just a collection of JPGs and MP3s and concert listings, designed to keep fans distracted? Then no.

Should artists prioritize things like iPhone apps over writing more and better songs? No, never.

January 1 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

Taking Lou Reed out of the discussion, and moving into iPhone apps in general, I would say that probably the only real lasting success stories for music-related, branded iPhone applications are going to be where a talented developer comes up with a good concept and then teams up with an artist who already has a big enough fanbase using iPhones to give the application some additional visibility. The developer doesn't need the artist unless the artist brings either marketing or investment money to the mix.

The T-Pain application works because of the nature of the application more than it does because his fans want something with his name on it. His name really didn't need to be associated with the application at all for it to become popular. Smule's other applications are doing well without comparable artist branding.

So in the music world, the quality of the music is important. In the applications world, the quality of the application is important. If there are opportunities for cross-promotion, good. But otherwise, I don't think interest will be sustained in their respective core markets.

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

This ReadWriteWeb article might be of interest.

13 Tools for Building Your Own iPhone App: "Below we've listed 13 different tools that let you create your own iPhone applications, none of which require knowledge of Objective C, the programming language used to build apps for the iPhone OS ."

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Reading through all these comments it seems the obvious intent with this product is to match a brand name in music with exactly the right demographic for the right reasons. Plain and simple. When did it ever matter if the actual "person" created it or not? Every product under the sun has someone endorsing it or lending their name to it.

Personally I think whoever was responsible for the concept is pretty damn smart. Pairing a music icon w/an application that offers something useful for the exact audience age appropriate audience. Thankfully they are over the age of eight. I'll be curious to see sales figures on this app. One third of the nation's population fits this niche.

We're really living on the edge of cliff in this business if situations like this cause such a reactionary debate. I hope someone shows Lou Reed what a rucus he is causing. Controversy is a primary ingredient in creating successful marketing and PR. If that was the intent, then wow, these guys are brilliant!

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Hansen

Dave, in no way do I think it's "part of some grand overarching scheme to keep us on our toes", I just think Lou really doesn't give a crap what we think.

I can't imagine why he might think it's a good idea to put his name to something like this but it's highly unlikely to stem from a desperate need to keep up with what the other kids are doing. Maybe he just doesn't see too well. Maybe he thinks it's funny.

I'm not in any way disputing the lameness of it all, I just doubt the usefulness of examining his motives in too much depth given his track record.

January 5 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

Felix,

I think artist's motives always need to be examined, why wouldn't we do that? Art would have very little meaning if we didn't apply a critical eye to it.. Check out this iPhone app from artist David Hockney, worth sharing for sure and worth having too - http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2010/01/we-all-have-the-same-resolution.html

January 5 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

I think this is a very relevant discussion.

It's not like the Lou Reed application is embarrassing. It's practical and for all we know, he might feel very strongly about needing something like this.

Is it more of a brand faux pas to be associated with a practical, non-sexy iPhone application than to be strung out on drugs?

Dave, are you suggesting that an artist can't just do something if it doesn't enhance his artistic brand? Would Reed need to do this under an assumed name?

To what extent are musicians free to get involved in outside businesses?

And let's say he does hide his involvement. Isn't that the kind of lack of transparency that social media is supposed to get rid of?

This is fascinating. Is Lou Reed not allowed to do something potentially dull, because he's Lou Reed?

I don't know if any of you are familiar with the actress Hedy Lamarr. During her career, it wasn't widely publicized that she was also the inventor. This from wikipedia:
__

Together, Antheil and Lamarr submitted the idea of a secret communication system in June 1941. On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and "Hedy Kiesler Markey", Lamarr's married name at the time. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam. ...

Lamarr's and Antheil's frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones. ...

Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but she was told that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds.
___

So in a way it's the same thing. Lou, please don't lend your name to anything that doesn't fit our image of you.

January 5 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

In case it wasn't clear in my last post, what I think is worth discussing is this:

If we are telling artists and bands to think of themselves as brands, does that mean they can't do anything in public that isn't perceived as an asset to the brand?

Who is to determine what they can and can't do?

And if this idea of branding means they can't be themselves or do what they want, does that mean the new world of music is as restrictive as being owned by a label that tells you what to do?

I suppose for a new artist, who no one has an impression of yet, it might be prudent to keep the brand messages focused on a few key elements. But if you are already someone as established as Lou Reed, do you really have to market yourself within a very narrow range of options? If you want to put out a practical, but not-very-sexy iPhone application, how is that really going to change anything? And would a sexy application really make a difference either? I mean, it's brilliant marketing in a way because Lou Reed is essentially saying he's sure enough of himself to do whatever he damn well wants to do.

Yay, Lou Reed.

January 5 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>