Jared E. Bendis

25 Years of Sting – A second look…

This week I was asked by WKYC Channel 3’s Nicole Sellars to give some opinions about Sting’s new iPad app.


We talked about it for some time and not surprisingly the entire piece was just over a minute.  I figured I might take a few minutes to go into greater detail.

The originally proposed question was: Do I think that apps will eventually replace music in the way that MP3s did the CD and the CD did tapes and records?

My answer: NO

In truth the app is not intended do that – if anything it replaces the book or liner notes which are terribly absent in the age of digital music.

In an era where the album is dead, “a-la-cart” music shopping isn’t just for a few singles but for all songs and it is not surprising that the ‘box set’ might appear to be even deader.

What Sting and company have done here is to give away an amazing promo piece – they give you the booklet and hope you buy the music.

I read on a website that they said they gave it away because they don’t know what it was worth – they will learn – because inside of the app is a link to sample, purchase, and download every Sting song and album.

The app is very polished and very respectable – it doesn’t feel like a giant sales pitch.  And giant it is – its well over 400MB to download and the video files are not included in that.  All of the video is only available via online streaming.

So what is in the app?

The app starts (after a nice little shout-out to Chevrolet and American Express) with a timeline that stretches from 1985 to the present.
Its a little deceptive.  Sting doesn’t being in 1985 – just as a solo artist – its weird to see a Sting timeline without seeing a Police reference.

Anyways – everything is very visual – images slide up and down to the right and left.  Nothing ‘tells’ you its a button but you soon figure out what leads where. For the most part its a mixture of images and video clips.  Again the video clips stream – so your connection becomes a critical point for the apps performance. The pictures are nice but the hand written lyrics are really special.  They could have been better though – they made the lyrics pages a stark black and white (to try and clean them up) and sometimes it feels like they are bad digital photoscopies – even worse you can’t zoom in and really get into them.  Another annoying thing is that you don’t know you are at the end of a section until it doesn’t let you go any more.  You can really get into a section and without an indication of where you are you want more and more and then… brick wall.

Scattered throughout are 360 degree object virtual reality photographs of his instruments.  These are great if… if you can find them and if you can realize to slide from side to side to get them to spin instead of just clicking the zoom button (which makes you think they are simply zoomable photographs).   I loved the video clip placed next to each instrument though to allow you to see them in context (and action).

The clips from the Sixtieth Birthday Concert are great though they really do feel more like excerpts of something bigger (the songs are whole) but it really is a tease.

Probably the most innovative section was the interactive map.  This places hotspot of of his life over a Google map that you could explore and would lead you back into the other sections.  Interesting but probably a little out there for most. And of course the music icon that allows you to demo and purchase all the songs.

Overall its a really good app.  No question it is enjoyable and something you can really get lost in.

Will change the way I listen to music? No – of course not.

First – its an iPad app so its not even meant to live where I keep my music (my iPhone and iPod Touch).   Second – even if it was all of Stings songs in one place – it probably would only appeal to people who ONLY want to listen to Sting all day (my brother).   Will it change the way music is marketed?  Sure.  But Sting isn’t the first to do this – he is just the most famous – or probably more importantly doing it on this type of scale.  You have to be Sting to have people want to read your liner notes before you buy the album. The bigger question is less one of content but of design.  Assuming that the app is successful (how could it not be) and that people buy songs (of course they will) how will the industry follow this up?

If they just take this exact app and pop in U2 stuff for Sting – then it might feel stale – we demand both the content and design to be unique and Sting gets both because he is mainstreaming early.
How will the designs stay fresh without going crazy or becoming obnoxious – and what happens when a record executive says – why aren’t we charging for this?

Lastly, what is so different about this than a website?  I mean its images, streaming video, some object VRm a Google map, and a bunch of links to the iTunes store.
This is where design comes in – if it felt like a website we would reject it – if it feels like a marketing pitch we reject it. And we want it in our hands on our mobile devices – everything on them feels just a little bit closer.

Overall Sting and company have done a brilliant job of balancing – giving as much as they are asking – and that’s what makes this a pretty spiffy app!

Now please please please can ELO make one next!