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The Communicator NEWS & POLITICS

Music in a New Medium


Photo credit: Madolyn Murray

Written by: Communicator StaffSeptember 25, 2014

Madolyn Murray

Many major musicians are expanding to creative outlets besides the production of just musical content. With monetary backing and reputation these endeavors create opportunity for artists to create content in a myriad of ways. However, this is not always a viable option for smaller scale artists.
Musicians taking their music and the themes in their music to other creative outlets is an increasing trend. If a band is so inclined, you don’t have to settle for just experiencing the album; you can play the game, read the comic, download the app, or watch the movie.
Christopher Rutowski, assistant professor of music technology in IPFW’s Department of Music, feels the increased digitization of processes like music and video production has made this possible.
“I’m not surprised at ALL that people are branching out into all these different directions because largely that is being driven by the technology being united on the desktop and they’re so cheap now relatively to what it would have been 20 years ago.”
Rutowski mentioned how this digital consolidation has impacted both his work, where he can feasibly create a film score with virtual instruments and set it in time to the music with the same program, and his students.
“It’s a central part of the Music Technology program… sometimes I say everything is multimedia… almost all of my students are doing [a] combination of video and some kind of a performance or composed audio. Thirty years ago, you’d be studying a certain kind of technology and that would be hardware,” Rutowski said. “If you were a piano technician, you’d be a piano technician and not a painter.”
If we’re to see more artists taking on multiple roles in both music production and promotion, it stands to reason that promotion through other creative avenues is going to be easier for non-major artists, right? Perhaps not.
Ben Carr, percussionist and spiritual advisor for local band Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, brought up the extent to which money and connections still matter to more extensive promotional efforts.
“It would be more difficult for local bands to, say, be on a Madden NFL game and have it be being scrolling at the bottom of the screen as you’re picking a team…but I don’t think it’d be super difficult for a local band if they had a friend that knew how to make apps. They could cheaply make something that could just be thrown out into the internet. It would be cheap if you knew somebody. I don’t think it’d be a viable option because all your money would be going to that instead of actually producing music,” Carr said.
Carr indicated fans might have issues with band’s multimedia endeavors based on lack of quality or potentially taking too much time away from the creation of music. Authenticity in creating said media was the biggest factor to consider. ‘
“Who’s behind the other media? That would be a big thing, I think, to a lot of fans and bands for sure,” Carr said.
Other acts like Avenged Sevenfold and Linkin Park have released their own mobile games. Artists from Lady Gaga to Radiohead have released apps that serve to supplement the music. Gaga’s Artpop app features a virtual assistant persona for Gaga who explains the app’s features, and Radiohead’s PolyFauna app feature surreal virtual worlds for each song.
Comics that tie into concept albums have been released by artists such as Coheed and Cambria, Coldplay and My Chemical Romance.
Some acts have gone as far as to create films exceeding the scope of music videos, such as Angels and Airwaves who released a feature length film “LOVE” as a homage to Stanley Kubrick, along with an animated short film coming out on Halloween.
Nine Inch Nails released an immersive alternate reality game for the album “Year Zero” that expanded significantly on the world of the dystopian, politically charged album while bringing elements of it into the real world, including calls for real life action against government corruption, and a Nine Inch Nails concert broken up by (a fake) SWAT team. Trent Reznor and company also originally intended on a “Year Zero” television series.
While many of these examples are fairly recent, earlier attempts exist. “Alice Cooper: The Nightmare” was a TV special aired on ABC in 1975. It was one of the first examples of music videos for all songs on an album combined as a semi-coherent narrative and aired on television, predating Daft Punk’s “Interstella 5555” and Fall Out Boy’s “The Youngblood Chronicles”. Cooper would later join the likes of Black Sabbath in having their music inspire a Halloween theme park attraction at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights event.
All of these acts have two big things in common though, some level of popularity and some level of financial support. These factors don’t make multimedia efforts from lesser known acts impossible, just uncommon.
UK based act Fearless Vampire Killers released a full prose novel “Ruple and Evelyn” and the serialized story “Militia of the Lost” to tie into their album along with a subscription based social network, The Obsidian Bond.
All of these endeavors were done solely by the band without the support of a major label. Time will tell if lack of money and connections will win out over ambition and the steady advance of technology, but one thing seems certain at this point – it’s not just about the music these days.