7 Ways to Bring Back the Physical Album Experience in Digital Music

physical vs digital music experiences

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a looonnggg time, and I am finally finding the time to get around to it. It really irks me whenever I hear somebody say they are dissatisfied with digital music. It doesn’t have to be some boring, robotic thing, people!

Despite what some industry folks may tell you, there are still tons of music fans out there that prefer the experience that a physical music item can provide. I am one of them. Believe it or not, there are ways that artists can bring some of the physical album experience to digital music. Some of it is common sense, and some of it takes a little “out of the box” thinking, but it is indeed possible.

1. Re-thinking album artwork

Nothing beats gazing at a nice vinyl gatefold…right? Actually, you can do some pretty creative visual things with digital music. For example, you can attach a different image to each song on your album. If you have a ten song album, you can provide fans with ten different pieces of artwork! When the song changes, so does the artwork that appears in the listener’s player. For the mathematically inept…that’s ten times more things for fans to look at while listening to your album.

There is also the idea of “synchronized artwork,” something that Arcade Fire used with their latest album, “The Suburbs.” Instead of including a static .jpg image with your album, you can use the .m4a format instead, which allows you to tag different images to particular moments during an audio file. This basically turns your static album cover into a dynamic slideshow, where you can display things like live photos, song lyrics, and even hyperlinks.

Although not tangible, introducing these ideas to a typical digital download can make for a visual experience that rivals its physical predecessors.

2. Detailed meta data (aka liner notes)

audio meta data

Don’t you just love seeing “Track 01, Unknown Artist” after adding a new song your iTunes collection? Yeah, me neither. So many bands still forget to do this, and in 2011 there is no excuse for it. FILL IN YOUR META DATA! We are living in the Information Age, aren’t we?

Meta data makes life easier for your fans, and gives the artist an opportunity to describe the digital music file accurately. You can even add the song lyrics to your audio files before sending them off to iTunes, so when a listener plays the song on their iPod or computer the lyrics will display so they can follow along as they listen.

3. Keep the costs low

It’s important to make some money if you want to have a sustainable career as a musician, but also understand that the perceived value of music has dropped considerably over the last decade. In the 90′s, nobody enjoyed paying the bloated price of $16 for a new CD that usually contained one or two decent tracks.

Music was more affordable for fans back when vinyl records were the mainstream listening format. The same goes for digital music today. Although it means less revenue from music sales, it also means happier fans. Happier fans stick around for the long haul. Happier fans attend concerts. Concerts will make you money.

Also, the cost of producing and distributing music today is a fraction of what it was ten years ago. Since costs are smaller (virtually zero in some cases), most independent artists keep a larger percentage of each music sale they make. Keep your fans in mind when coming up with a pricing model for your music products.

4. Make your music shareable

sharing an umbrella

Whether online or offline, word-of-mouth recommendations are still the most powerful way for people to discover new music. In real life, it starts with a tap on the shoulder, and online, it starts with a status update or a tweet. Either way, there needs to be something interesting tied to your music in order for people to want to share it with their peers. There also needs to be tools (e.g. share buttons) in place to make it easier for your fans to share your music.

5. Build an experience around one album/song

Another way to bring the physical experience to digital music is to create an interactive web page based upon one album or song. A band that does an incredible job of this is More Hazards More Heroes. The web design team that they hired really nailed this one.

More Hazards More Heroes

Currently, their entire website revolves around their latest record, and provides an experience that is very similar to looking at a CD booklet or vinyl gatefold. The website is one page, a hub where fans can stream the songs, read the lyrics, look at photos, download the entire album, and contact the band directly.

You can also provide the same sort of experience around one song. The incredible team over at Viinyl makes this ridiculously easy, and the end result is an immersive fan experience that blends visual elements, information, music, sharing, and downloading.

6. Include bonus material

Whenever I purchase a new vinyl record, I get really happy when I open it up and find things like posters, download cards, and other bonus material inside. While not tangible, you can provide this same experience with digital downloads too. Include stuff like bonus tracks or b-sides, .pdf booklets with extra artwork, imagery, biographical information, and maybe even a few high resolution images so fans can print their own posters and memorabilia if they are into that sort of thing.

7. Write music with the intent of creating an album

pink floyd recording

Rather than stringing together a bunch of random songs that you have lying around in notebooks, you can try to write something that is cohesive and follows a theme. Many of the greatest albums ever written were done so with the format of an album implanted in the back of the musicians’ minds.

It’s no easy task, but if you are used to writing and releasing singles, taking on an entire album can be a fun and challenging project that you can release as a full body of work and create an experience around for your fans.


Image credits –
#1: Click here
#2: Screenshot I took
#3: Click here
#4: Screenshot I took
#5: Click here

  • http://twitter.com/MicControl MicControl.com

    Great article Chris! Glad to see you finally wrote this one… you hit the nail on the head man. To build upon your ‘build an experience around one album/ song’… Bjork has announced that she is releasing an entire album worth of music, where every song will be it’s own mobile app! Not exactly sure of the specifics so Im afraid I can’t go into any more detail then than, but still it should be cool to see how she pulls it off and if it can actually create a meaningful and worthwhile experience for her fans.

  • http://tightmixblog.com Chris B.

    Yeah I just read an article about her album this morning, that’s a really ambitious project!

  • http://twitter.com/MicControl MicControl.com

    definitely! I just hope people give it a chance and don’t instantly run for the hills screaming ‘GIMMICK!!!!!!’ haha :-)

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  • http://mrtunes.ca/blog Mr. Tunes

    well done here. i finished an album and am about to do a bunch of promo for it. these are some great tips. i especially like the More Hazards… project.

  • http://mrtunes.ca/blog Mr. Tunes

    well done here. i finished an album and am about to do a bunch of promo for it. these are some great tips. i especially like the More Hazards… project.

  • http://twitter.com/musicarmichael stephen carmichael

    A really great post!!! I loved the morehazards.com website and the ideas they implemented behind there album. 

  • http://kristianjackson.com Kristian Jackson

    Great ideas, Chris. The only problem I can see with No.1 and 2 is that a lot of the aggregators don’t allow you to submit the .m4a format. The Arcade Fire idea really is just an enhanced podcast, dead easy to do in Garageband, but I’m guessing you need to have a direct relationship with the iTunes department to make this happen for you. Although, you could easily distribute it as a Podcast. Keep in mind that would be free content though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ZIGGYHASARDEUR Ziggy Has Ardeur

    Maybe quality is another point. I think there are people out there, who still prefer the option to get music in full quality like .wav, without any compression. don’t you think? I mean, usual aggregators don’t give this option and there are costs for servers, but it’s definately a point i miss here.

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  • Anonymous

    This is definitely very cool.  I’ll admit, I came in with the attitude of, “whatever!”  While the vinyl album experience will never be replaced for old folks like me, following the advice in this article just makes good sense, in general.  Thanks for putting it out!

  • Anonymous

    I’ll admit that I came in with a “whatever” attitude, as the vinyl experience will never be replaced for an old guy like me.  However, following the steps in your article just makes good sense, in general.  It’s good artist development and music marketing advice that bands should be following anyway!  Thanks for posting.  

  • http://annnoire.tumblr.com/ Ann Noire

    Really great article!  One my bookmark list!

  • http://tightmixblog.com Chris B.

    Thanks man!

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  • http://twitter.com/hifielectro Thomas Edward Mrak

    This is quite useful.

    Working on an EP, and want to turn it into an album later.

    This will help immensely.

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