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Getting Appy: How Artists Use Music Apps to Engage Fans

5 minute read | November 2013

In a digital world where the entire entertainment industry is scrambling to engage with fans, the music app is coming to the rescue. There’s no silver bullet or blueprint for guaranteed success in the app realm, which is why understanding how to use them effectively is so critical. And to that effect, we’ve seen some unique approaches when it comes to how artists are getting appy.

Developing an app typically requires lots of planning and an abundance of compelling content. But aside from those general parameters, the possibilities are endless. On one end of the spectrum, you have customized artist apps like Artpop (released last week from Lady Gaga), while others let us stream our favorite songs on the go.


Earlier this year at SXSW, we reported that artists and labels can amp up their revenue streams by offering fans access to exclusive content. And apps are a great way to do that—as well as boost overall engagement. An app like Lady Gaga’s, for example, not only gives her Little Monsters access to interesting content, but it keeps the artist on the forefront of her fans’ minds. Gaga’s album app allows fans to listen to the Artpop album (if you’ve already purchased it), create animated gifs, access song lyrics, see a countdown for additional content, and play around with a number of other nifty features.

Artpop sold over 250,000 units in the first week, and two singles have become quick faves: fans have downloaded “Applause” more than 1.7 million times to date, and recent single “Do What U Want” is building momentum, having been downloaded 230,000 times to date. We have also seen very active streaming with “Applause” over 46 million streams to date and “Do What U Want” at 48 million streams to date.

Fans may be going gaga over Artpop, but she certainly isn’t the first to try to capitalize on apps. Before releasing Biophilia in late 2011, Bjork launched an app to get fans ready for the big release. While the app didn’t include the music on the album until after the record was released, it did get kick-start a groundswell of engagement. The Icelandic artist, who has sold more than 4 million records in the last two decades, included games, an interactive song “universe,” song lyrics and sheet music composition illustrations in the app. The Biophilia album sold 14,000 units in its first week, 300 percent more than her previous album Voltaic sold in its first week when released in 2009.

Jay-Z has also dabbled in digital. A year before releasing his Magna Carta…Holy Grail release, he launched an app to get every ready for it. The Samsung-exclusive app contained lyrics as well as interactive features and exclusive content. Users were then able to download the album three days before it hit stores. Even with the freebie, the album sold a tremendous 528,000 units during the first week it went on sale. In fact, it had a stronger first week than the artist’s previous release, Blueprint 3, which saw 475,000 sales in the debut week.

The XX’s Coexist was the English indie pop group’s sophomore album. Released as an app in 2012, it gave fans access to exclusive HD videos, lyrics, tour dates, an album art visualizer for each track and finally, direct messages from the band. When the Coexist album came out, it garnered first-week sales of over 73,000 units. To date, the album has sold 268,000 units.


Taking tech to new heights, several artists have put their own inventive twists into their apps. New York indie band Shinobi Ninja developed and released a game in 2010 that unlocked new music tracks as players advanced through arcade levels, allowing fans to play their way through an EP of music. In 2013, Matchbox Twenty went on tour and utilized geofencing in their app, a technology that allowed them to see where other users are within the venue. The MB20 app also includes the band’s Twitter feed, exclusive meet-and-greet photos, and tour dates–all in the palm of fans’ hands.


Mobile listening continues to evolve along with the technology, and we’ve found that streamers are eager for apps and mobile sites. People who listen to on-demand streaming are 44% more likely to download apps on their tablets than the average internet user*.

When it comes to gender, music mobile app and site users are equally split as of August 2013, a leveling out that has become more apparent versus 2012, where the male/female split was 47 percent/53 percent and 46 percent/54 percent in 2011. While this gender gap is closing, males continue to listen more frequently on these platforms and this trend seems to be widening—males tend to have approximately 18 sessions a month while females have closer to 15.

Although it’s probably not surprising that younger fans make up a large number of these users, the age group of 55-64 age group stands out with the highest audience composition percentage at nearly 16 percent. Meanwhile the largest ethnic group that streams is white (69%), followed by black/African-American (15%), and then Asian/Pacific Islanders (6%). When we look at operating system usage for these music mobile site and app users, Android users take the cake – approximately 62 percent are Android users while 38 percent are iOS users.

As mobile devices become more sophisticated and consumers become more tech savvy, there is a clear impact on music consumption and therefore the music industry. From these examples alone, we can see potential for artists and labels to utilize apps as a tool to excite fans, generate awareness, increase engagement and perhaps even result in increased overall consumption.

*As recalled in the last 30 days.

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