Clever, smart, attention-grabbing. So goes last Friday's unexpected release of the new album from Brit indie pop group Kaiser Chiefs.
Taking a page from the likes of NikeiD, Converse and Timbuk2, The Future is Medieval was issued on the Kaiser Chiefs' own web site, and it's customizable--there are 20 songs to choose from, select your 10 favorites in an order of your making, create your own cover art, download for £7.50. After you download, a page is created for your album, and you can share it. If others buy it, you get to keep £1.00. They're calling it a bespoke album.
Music purists are bothered--it's just one more step in the devolution of the listening experience, further erosion of the idea that an album is not just a collection of songs, but a holistic piece of work with a beginning, middle and end. Well, yes, maybe it is, but it's fun. It plays perfectly to today's collaborative, social, connected world.
Yesterday I spent 45 minutes cuing up my version of The Future is Medieval. The process is labor intensive. You need old school pencil and paper, as it turns out, if you're trying to remember song names and locations on the high-concept, but not 100% user-friendly, website. In the end, though, that actually added to my engagement with the final product, which does feel a little more authentically mine than other albums do--sort of like my custom Nike's.
In addition to creating that emotional connection with the listener, there are business reasons that make this a smart way to release an album: Kaiser Chiefs get a month of high margin sales--no iTunes or Amazon middle-man--and data on what songs to include in the album that they do release via those channels at the beginning of July. That album will only include 13 tracks, so if you want one of the seven not included on it, presumably you'll still have to buy via their own site.
The one aspect of the release that is gimmicky, but makes for great PR, is the revenue sharing. The fun is in the DIY element--if someone else is going to make an album for me, I'm with the purists--I want it to be the band.
The music industry is hungry for business model innovation, and while this release by Kaiser Chiefs is news worthy, the reality is that iTunes is completely DIY --that's exactly what bothers the purists about it. So to leverage this model, to make it worth peoples' time and effort to create customized albums out of the iTunes environment on more than a one-off basis, other musicians will have to adapt it and develop their own unique ways to catalyze emotional connection and community and serve up exclusive material and content, album-by-album. That said, there's so much to play with here, I have no doubt that creative artists, labels and ad agencies are already hard at work, riffing on the concept (perhaps unsurprisingly, Kaiser Chiefs' release was backed by the endlessly smart Wieden+Kennedy--Nike's ad agency). The purists may even eventually find themselves convinced to jump in and join the fun.
My version of The Future is Medieval is here. If you buy a copy, I'll donate the £1.00 I receive back to VH1's Save the Music. But you'll have more fun making your own. Kaiser Chiefs' first video from the album, Little Shocks, is below.
Photo: David Levene, The Guardian