When Spotify first launched its app platform, it was with aspirations towards providing an easy way for third-party developers to enhance Spotify's music listening experience and ultimately build a vibrant marketplace. Though development on the app platform has had a controlled takeoff, featuring mostly straightforward utility apps like Pitchfork and We Are Hunted, innovation was always expected to grow at the artist level, where artists would eventually be able to create "things that we can't even imagine today," according to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.
Reggae/fusion artist Matisyahu was one of the first artists to create an interactive visual experience to go along with a release exclusively on Spotify. Released July 17, "Spark Seeker" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Reggae chart and at No. 19 on the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 16,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Since he is an avid Spotify user himself, Matisyahu decided to partner with the service and boutique digital production firm Eyes & Ears Entertainment for the Matisyahu Spark Seeker app, an immersive visual music discovery app that seeks to engage fans with audio content in a new way.
Matisyahu travelled to Israel to record "Spark Seeker," and the Spotify application was designed to bring fans along on that journey. Taking cues from Bjork's "Biophilia" -- the first app album that premiered as a 3d graphic iOS application -- "Spark Seeker" is the first interactive graphic application of its kind on Spotify.
Right from the start, simple instructions let users know what to expect.
By clicking and releasing the mouse, users follow a trail of graphically rendered sparks as they fly over a map of Israel toward each recording location. Once the user finds the location, they unlock the next chunk of material.
In addition to the tracks on the album, fans are rewarded with behind-the-scenes commentary.
Don't look for Spark Seeker on Spotify's sidebar, because you won't find it; the application is only available via an external link. Furthermore, artist-specific apps are the lowest-performing of all of Spotify's apps: Apps by Rancid, Quincy Jones and Blur occupy three of the lowest five spots of Spotify's 44 apps. In order to boost the performance of "Spark Seeker," Matisyahu and his management orchestrated a special deal with Spotify to promote the application and drive traffic in different ways.
For a look at how a project like this goes down, Billboard.biz talked to Jeff Kuprycz, Matisyahu's co-manager at A-Frame Management, and Austin Mayer, co-founder of Eyes & Ears Entertainment (with additional commentary from Eyes & Ears' Keith Hoffman, lead devoloper; and Miles Benjamin, lead designer).
Billboard.biz: What was Matisyahu's goal in creating this app?
Kuprycz: The overall goal was to spark people's curiosity, and by doing it in an engaging way where you can unlock content by requiring the user to physically engage in that environment in the app, and they have the potential to become more curious and more invested in his music. By taking audio content from studio interviews between him and the producer Kojak really breaking down each track and talking about the arrangements, we give the core fans and the people who are just discovering Matisyahu a way to understand what he is all about
BBB: How did you design and develop the app to keep people engaged?
Mayer: The story of "Spark Seeker" is all about returning to your roots, being more imaginative and truly tapping into your conscious. We wanted to directly apply those ideas and capitalize on the album title itself. The resulting interactive idea is all about content discovery and exploration, set in the context of an enormous map of Israel. A successful digital campaign or idea should be a direct extension of the album concept, allowing fans to seamlessly interact and become part of the story of "Spark Seeker." We believe this is why the app works.
BBB: Specifically, how was it built? What was it coded in?
BBB: What was it like to work with Spotify?
Kuprycz: We had originally envisioned using video components for this app, but ultimately Spotify changed direction internally about what types of content we are allowed to use within the app. When Spotify worked with Jazon Mraz a couple of months ago for the release of his record "Love Is a Four Letter Word," he had the ability to have pop-up video windows appear to users from within the application. Spotify has changed a lot of the policies since then, only allowing artists to utilize certain technologies.
They really want to find creative solutions for artists to think outside of the box using audio, and I think that's smart on their behalf. They are super focused on one aspect, audio streaming, which is what their core business is all about and that's what we've tried to hone in on with this application from Matisyahu.
Benjamin: I'm pretty sure ["Spark Seeker"] is a first of its kind as far as the interaction in Spotify goes. We developed " Tiësto's Club Life" a few months back, which was one of the first artist apps to hit Spotify. Though that app went through a significant amount of QA, in the end Spotify was patient in helping us get it done right, and the rigorous back-and-forth resulted in a thorough product that everyone is proud of. The "Spark Seeker" app was tackled a little differently. Maybe because it's more of a self-contained experience, or because it plays like a game rather than a traditional application, or maybe it's because it's our second released Spotify app. Either way, the process was smooth and painless.
BBB: Since Matisyahu's app isn't featured in Spotify's app section over on the side of the page, how are users able to discover the app?
Kuprycz: App support through Spotify. Basically, everyone that's not a paid Premium user, who streams for free, [sees] banner ads on the side. Spotify agreed to a certain amount of ad impressions for us, so we created banners on the side and banners below that direct people back to the application, which gave us a lot of traffic. When they go to listen to a different album, [Spotify] is targeting different artists, genres of music so that users can see the ads on the side. We picked 15 artists that we thought were like-minded that people might click over, like Bob Marley. He's the biggest one that has a large audience that people relate to Matisyahu. This way great for people that might not necessarily be Matisyahu's fans or have never listened to him before. Additionally we used Facebook and Twitter outside of Spotify to drive traffic to the application. Facebook is a big one for us because of its ability to target specific fans.
BBB: Finally, Jeff, how do you as a manager measure success for this type of release? Will we see more of these types of creative campaigns from Matisyahu in the future?
Mayer: Time spent on the app is really important for us. The more that we can have the fan be focused and spending on that application, the more time they are investing into Matisyahu's music. Getting somebody's time and attention is so valuable for artists these days and just getting in front of them is the most important. So, by creating an engaging environment where users had to physically take action in order to find a track, we took something that was passive and made it as non-passive as possible where you have to do something in order to be able to listen. Success for us is having more people to engaging with Matisyahu music.
I think the sky's the limit in terms of what we can put together and I think you are going to see a lot more people putting more value in terms of what kind of story you can tell by using Spotify. I think when it comes towards the holiday times or towards the late fall we will probably release some kind of live component to this, perhaps including fan involvement.