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A transmedia overview on the music industry  

A transmedia overview on the music industry

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Faced with the evolution of uses and new media consumption habits, the music industry has to face similar problems to those seen in the audiovisual industry: unstable audiences, growing competition and pirating. However, new economic models and multiplatform projects are emerging: Jay Z, Gorillaz or Nine Inch Nails for example, are reinforcing their relationships with their audiences through storytelling.

1New distribution models

The authors of record labels are faced with one main problem these days: the decreasing sales of material media (CD, DVD), which is directly linked to the digital explosion.


Even though it’s often brought up as producers’ number one fear, music only represents 2,9% of illegal downloads, as shown in this Ars Technica study. While most big producers are concentrating their efforts on fighting pirating with entities like the BPI in the UK, the Hadopi law in France or the RIAA in the US, new music development actors and economic development models are changing the playing field.


For example Spotify is a free music access provider that had 10 000 000 users last year with a service financed by advertizing. Since May 1st, Spotify’s policy has changed under pressure from record labels.

New Spotify Users will still be able to enjoy free service as it is offered now for the next 6 months. Afterwards, all the users of the free service will be able to listen to a song a maximum of 5 times, after this limit, the user will have to buy the song.

The number of listening hours will also be limited to 10 hours a month, a 50% decrease from last year. Spotify had to change its free policy under pressure from record producers who were denouncing an economic model that caused them losses. For example, criticized streaming based models by analyzing the distribution of money that comes from them and highlighting the fact that they hurt independent labels and artists.


On the other hand, a million subscribers are already paying 9,99 Euros per month for the premium service, without advertizing and available on mobiles. In a similar way,, iTunes or Amazon have also been surfing the digital music wave for the past few years. Apple owns the leading music distributions platform with iTunes.

These examples show that, faced with the digital explosion, the music world is confronted with the need to make its distribution platforms and economic models evolve. The evolution of the global context also requires a change in the way they sell music. Artists’ marketing operations are also evolving, with storytelling elements bringing an added value to the cultural offer.

2A reason to buy

Gerd Leonhard, communication and media consultant, compared music with bottled water. Water is available almost for free from the tap, but the bottled water market sells more than 89 billion liters of water each year, throughout the world. Leonhard highlights the omnipresence of music. Internet users can get it for free and more and more record houses want to attract the consumer’s limited attention.

The economic monopoly held for many years by classic producers and distributors is broken, mostly because of new business models based on digital access. Here is the question Leonhard asks himself: why pay for bottled water when it’s available for free from the tap? The solution suggested by the author is engagement, conversation, attraction and community. We’re not only selling music but rather an experience

Robert Pratten, founder of “Transmedia Storyteller” and Transmedia consultant, touched upon the same theme during his presentation about the application of transmedia concepts to the world of music. Could storytelling give an additional reason to buy to Internet users, to generations who maybe, have never bought a CD?


Pratten compares the music industry with the fragrance industry: “We don’t sell perfumed water, but dreams.” According to him, music has to reinvent itself an added value to regain economic value.

One of the envisioned solutions is to “place the artist in a position of social catalyst in direct connection with the communities, to give them a reason to spend their money.” Instinctively, we can’t help thinking of Lady Gaga, who managed to create a real universe around her character… “Success requires more than a large community, it’s also based on credibility, authenticity, a relationship with the artist” Pratten concludes. He suggests building a narrative universe for an artist’s entire career and a narrative arc for each album and each song.

This can seem obvious but fans will be more likely to want to extend an experience that has moved them. The musical universe in which they’re immersed consolidates the feeling of belonging to a community that shares the same values as them. An idea exploited by the web-documentary “Ma tribu c’est ma vie” (“My tribe is my life”), in which eight internet users explain how music and Internet have transformed their interpersonal relations and contributed to forging their identity.

tribu vie

The creation of a global narrative universe is built, in large part, on the artist’s or the band’s personality, which can be a way of reinforcing the engagement of an audience already more or less seduced by its music. The more passionate fans are rewarded with stronger elements of affinity with the artists that they like, with the right tools, they might even become faithful ambassadors. The more massive ones will appreciate a coherent story that gives them elements of important reference points. Some artists like Gorillaz, JayZ or the rock band Nine Inch Nails, have already started doing this…

3The pioneers of transmedia music

Universes inspired by their music, their lives or their characters are elements of value added for the products that they sell: a new album, concert tickets or a book…

  • The Gorillaz alter egos: characters that live in multimedia


Gorillaz is a virtual British band whose main creators are Damon Albarn (the singer of Blur and The Good, the Bad and the Queen) and Jamie Hewlett (the illustrator of Tank Girl). The members of Gorillaz are represented like characters of a comic book.

For each music video, they build a story around their easily identifiable characters, each of them representing a member of the band.

Journey to Plastic Beach” is a 15 minute cartoon that represents the journey of Murdoc (the tall one on the right) to Plastic island, where the character conceives the latest Gorillaz album: “Plastic Beach”. The story continues with his efforts to find all the alter egos of the group’s members and his incredible adventure to find the lost spirit of the Gorillaz.

YouTube Preview Image


To organize the promo of their world tour, a treasure hunt was organized on the Internet. It’s goal? To find the 12 characters of the Gorillaz universe on the net. Those who finished the quest won an exclusive mix and were automatically entered into a contest to win a surfboard designed by Jamie, one of the members of the band.

On the Internet there are two official sites: the .fr, which is the classic marketing promo site, and the .com, which is a site where you can travel through the Gorillaz universe (especially Plastic Beach at the moment) in the form of an interactive game.

Port Gorillaz

On this Gorillaz website, you can also play a dozen mini games, watch videos, listen to a “pirate radio”, have access to all of the group’s albums. Their facebook page now has 3,5 million fans.

  • Decoded by Jay-Z

In 2010, Jay-Z published his memoir, a conglomeration of music and references to his culture. To promote this launch, the New York agency Droga5 set up a multimedia campaign and a treasure hunt on Internet and in the real world.


Spiegel&Grau, Jay-Z’s editor, signed a partnership with search engine Bing. The dedicated page, created by the search engine, became the starting point of an ARG (Alternate Reality Game). Internet users were invited to find the 320 pages of Jay-Z’s memoir, hidden in Las Vegas, New York, Hollywood and even in the UK.

Each hiding place was a reference to his book, a key location in the artist’s life. Helped by Bing maps, the clues were given by Jay-Z on his Twitter and Facebook page, the internet users joined this treasure hunt.

jay z

Those who managed to decode all the clues were selected for a draw. The prize for the winner was a lifetime access to all of Jay-Z’s concerts.

To increase the interest of the players, the organizers played on the Internet users’ ego: the first one to find a hiding place could “announce” his discovery on the campaign’s website with his name. This way, other players could see the name of those who discovered each page.

Pages were hidden on advertising boards, in hamburger wrappings, at the bottom of a swimming pool, in music or jewelry stores, in his favorite bar, on the punching bag of a gym, or on the back of the T-shirts of café waiters.

In four weeks, the players managed to find all the pages; as a reward, they received books signed by Jay-Z or, through a draw, another prize: a trip to Las Vegas for a New Year’s concert by Jay-Z and Coldplay.

The promotional campaign was financed by Bing and not by the editor. Bing’s Marketing Director refused to release the campaign’s budget but told the New York Times that “important costs are associated with this project”.


However, the results were positive! In November 2010, during the campaign, Bing experienced the most important market share of American traffic since its creation: 11,8%.

  • Nine Inch Nails: a long-term relationship

– The “Year Zero” ARG

In 2007, the band Nine Inch Nails (NIN) created an ARG for the launch of their new album “Year Zero”, thanks to the agency 42 Entertainment.

This treasure hunt took place in an alternate reality, clues were given through texts on NIN T-shirts, singles of the new album left on USB keys, everything hidden in the toilets of concert venues, on websites or through secret phone numbers. All these elements helped players move ahead in the dark story of Year Zero: a world ravaged by an infinite war and an environmental catastrophe.

The goal of the project was to immerse fans in an experienced linked to the universe of the album.

NIN transmedia

The leader of the band, Trent Reznor, qualified this experience as a “new type of entertainment”. According to him, the combined effect of entertainment, word of mouth and engagement of the audience, made this ARG the perfect tool to promote this album. For more information on their transmedia experience see the case study of the agency 42 Entertainement here.

– The NIN iPhone application

To stay in touch with its audience and reward their loyalty, NIN made a partnership with Tap Tap Revenge in 2008, this iPhone game tests players rhythm in a similar way to “Guitar Hero”.

tap tap nin

The band created their own version of the game for 4,99$, everyone could test their rhythm on 13 NIN songs. Furthermore, those who managed to exceed a given score could win places to NIN concerts or the big prize: “a Les Paul guitar signed by Trent Reznor.

– The ticket race

nin course

Still in 2008, NIN found another way to federate its community.

For the inhabitants of Los Angeles, Trent Reznor had hidden concert tickets in parks, under rocks, in ditches… Each hiding place was announced on the band’s Google Earth feed. Here, you can read the post of a blogger who tells the story of his ticket race.


These examples show that storytelling can help artists offer parallel experiences anchored in their musical universes. Nine Inch Nails and Jay-Z managed to engage their communities in sincere ways with an uninterrupted communication like Pratten suggested.

These two operations are similar in the games’ mechanics but with different approaches. While Jay-Z built a multimedia platform around his life and his character (through his autobiography and its ARG), the rock band built its narrative universe around music, with a particular atmosphere. Gorillaz uses another technical approach by developing virtual characters that evolve with each new album.

If the music industry can learn from the audiovisual one to build narrative universes around its products to better engage its fans, the audiovisual industry could also learn from the music industry to build events around its “classic” contents.

We’ve only explored three examples here but the list of artists that developed a transmedia storytelling universe is much longer, we can think of Michael Jackson or Daft Punk for example. If you also have examples of artist that deserve a place on the list of Transmedia music pioneers, don’t hesitate to share it in the comments or on the Transmedia Lab Facebook page.



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