Massive Attack Fantom app is about creativity, not commerce


Artist-specific mobile apps, huh? What ARE they good for?

The music industry has spent the last few years flipping between hype and disillusionment when it comes to artist apps, seeing them alternately as a potential next revolution in direct-to-fan engagement and/or commerce, or as white elephants that struggle to get a slot on even keen fans’ smartphone homescreens.

That has been accompanied by a debate about what apps are for when it comes to musicians.

Are they commercial, promotional products pulling in social feeds and selling (potentially) music, tickets and merchandise to fans? The Mobile Roadie approach. Or are they creative works – a new, interactive music format for musicians to explore? The Björk Biophilia approach.

Nobody has come up with a definitive answer, but at least they are still experimenting. Which brings us on to Fantom Sensory Music, the free iPhone app released yesterday by trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack.

It’s very much in the creative camp, although the app will also function as a showcase for the band’s new music. But the emphasis is on its “personal dub mixes” of tracks using technology that “remixes and reforms songs uniquely using a variety of environmental variables including location, movement, time of day, heartbeat and the integral moving image camera.”

The movement aspect reminds us of British startup RjDj and its “reactive music” apps in 2008-2013, which are no longer available. Massive Attack’s Fantom app takes those ideas on with some modern twists – its Apple Watch version provides the heartbeat-driven remixes mentioned above, while the main app’s social features enable fans to swap their mixes with friends.

And a business model? Fantom isn’t selling anything – it’s free with no in-app purchases. One of its goals is attention: getting existing fans excited about Massive Attack’s new music, and perhaps pulling in new fans too. But we think it’s as much about playing with the potential of apps as a music format that can respond to each individual listener.

Not THE future of music as has sometimes been over-excitedly claimed in the past, but certainly part of its future – and an interesting part too.

Although it will be even more interesting if the developers can vault the technical hurdles in the way of putting something like Fantom on Android smartphones too…

Stuart Dredge

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