The importance and utility of mobile apps was the topic of the day at the "Bringing The Arena To Your Phone" panel at day four of SXSW Music. Moderated by Will Mills (director of music content, Shazam), the panel consisted of Anthony Volodkin (founder/CEO, The Hype Machine), Eric Garland (co-founder, Big Champagne and General Manager, Live Nation), Matthew Adell (CEO, Beatport), and Alexander Kisch (SVP, business development, VEVO).
The panel focused mostly on the reason behind app creation. "Unless you're solving a problem or creating a great experience, no one will care," said Garland, who joined the panel in warning against creation of technology for technology's sake, rather than to actually address an issue. That's where apps such as VEVO's video streaming app carved out their utility; by allowing for a simple way for its users to stream the video content they were looking for. VEVO's mobile app has been downloaded over 14 million times, said Kisch.
Some of the biggest growth areas in mobile app development are tied to social aspects - connecting with people, geolocating events, and getting real-time updates of what is going on at the venues and with the people around you. At SXSW, Live Nation is field testing an invite-only app called Laminate that essentially augments some of the scheduling apps at SXSW - such as SXSW Go, or Sched.org - to tell the user what is happening in the next 90 minutes and filters events by proximity and personal recommendations, and tells the user how to get there.
"Those small, specific problems are what we're trying to solve," said Garland.
Mobile apps are also growing in significance in terms of fan interaction, with Twitter and Facebook especially becoming the go-to ways for artists to communicate with fans, but the bigger question is one of fan engagement rather than the raw numbers of Twitter followers or Facebook likes an artist has. "You need users to convert into fans," said Adell, who advocated getting people who come to a show to check in, and also to engage with the artist in exchange for a free download or a free recording of the show they are attending. "Keeping in touch with fans via mobile will be increasingly important."
A huge barrier for mobile app creation, however, is monetization; despite the steps forward that online advertising has taken, mobile advertising is still lagging behind. "By definition, if you're creating a great listening experience [through an app], people are no longer looking at their phones, and it's hard to monetize that," said Adell. "By the time Pandora sells enough ads to pay for the bandwidth you're using, you're already annoyed by them."
The monetization issue is one that could be solved through new ideas or innovations - an opening that could potentially be solved through the creation of the next great - and useful - mobile app.