Innovative prototypes for new music packaging--and some discussion of whether they'll ruin or save the industry--were on display at a SXSW Interactive session Tuesday morning entitled "Can Printed Electronics Save the Music Industry?" "It's about... making everyday things interactive, said Kate Stone, an electronics research engineer.
"One of the ideas that excited me the most was the idea of postcards, physical postcards that played single tracks... They have a sort of disposability to them," sad Pete Thomas, cofounder of Uniform, a brand communications agency. People no longer buy albums, he continued. Instead they handpick single tracks.
This are now a reality using postcards printed with only conductive ink. These "dumb postcards" need to be "docked" into a box programmed with an Arduino. Thomas wants to make this technology open source so people can make their own.
Tommy Perman, a member of the band and artists collective called Found, showed off some of what else is possible with emerging technologies: A 7-inch record sleeve features four faders, allowing music fans and consumers to remix of the music contained within it. Another album cover has a sort of "parental advisory sensor," which sensors out offensive words based on light levels, so that only "family friendly" versions of songs are played during the daytime.
"I don't want to experience the richness of the internet in the same way every day... We respond differently when we pick something up and when we hold it in our hands and when we touch it," said Thomas.
Thomas also talked about a gig listing poster. "You can press on the listings and hear a sample" to decide what you which bands you want to hear. Because the poster connects to internet, consumers could potentially get more info on a show, buy tickets or hear more. This technology is "fairly feasible" today.
Stone is still working on more advanced functionality demonstrated at the panel, such as creating circuits in stickers. "We should start to have things ready in a one to two year time scale," she said. Her team is working to make tech disappear "into everything around us... chairs, tables," and more.
The dissenting voice on the panel was Kenny Anderson, founder of the independent Fence Records, which focuses on producing albums on vinyl. "I think we're going down the wrong route if we're producing cheaper and more disposable items," he said. Anderson argued that the music industry shouldn't embrace technology for its own sake and should be careful not to destroy art. Otherwise, he said, "They're just calculators. What are we thinking? The future is horrible."
The talk also demonstrated that beer-induced arguments can be converted into interesting panels, as Jon Rogers, a lecturer at the University of Dundee, admitted that the panelists began this heated debate "in the pub last August."