Bat Lanyard will never release another CD again. Never. Mind you the band, which is the brainchild of Dallas singer Matthew Glenn Thompson, will continue to release music. But you'll never be able to find a physical copy of it, and you'll never find it on iTunes or Amazon either. That's because, at a time when many artists are looking to find a happy medium between the digital age and the retro-cool of vinyl LPs, Thompson has decided to go radical: He's created his own music app.
Thompson, known once upon a time as the frontman of local band Quickserv Johnny, last released a record five years ago, the excellent The Garden and the Arcade. In the time since then he's taken on the Bat Lanyard moniker with which he's anchoring the BatPass. It's an iPhone and iPad app designed as an individual entity for his albums, not as a social networking tool for Bat Lanyard the act. The app went live in the iTunes App Store earlier this week, coinciding with the launch of his new Bat Lanyard record, Campfires.
"Writing apps is part of my day job," explains Thompson. "About a year ago, it was time to get going on the artwork and pressing for Campfires. Thinking about pressing CDs or vinyl let me to also recall the leftover boxes of CDs of my last album sitting in my garage. So I struggled with committing to pressing physical copies, yet I also didn't want something homemade. Like many others out there, I've been back into vinyl for a few years now and love how much artists are putting into their releases and including a digital copy as well."
Having been into computer programming since he was a kid in the mid-1980s, Thompson carried his dual love for an authentic, deliberate musical experience and the advances of iOS technology to create something not only he would want as a consumer, but something he thinks other fans will want. He also hopes it's something other bands will want to explore themselves when its time to release new music.
"There's so much flexibility in the content and presentation," Thompson says. "And it allows you to really be creative in a new way. I think a lot of other artists would be down with the idea."
While Thompson is resolute in his plan to move forward with this format in the future, this is clearly an emerging format that can easily be considered as one still in an experimental stage. The two immediate thoughts that may come to mind for many modern music makers looking to get their tunes into the marketplace circle around the quality, and yes, the financial outline of such an offering. The app, obviously, isn't a 180 gram vinyl LP, but Thompson feels that he has the sound quality issue under control.
"I approached this with accepting the reality that most people are listening with earbuds in low-fidelity setups. If I had to push it out in iTunes format, at least there's this whole other experience that goes with it," he explains. "That said, I'm anxious to get the update out there that will allow the user to load the CD-quality wav files permanently into the app if they choose -- there's a link within to download now. Ultimately, I'm committed to providing sound the hi-fidelity loyalists can enjoy as well."
Most bands don't have a resident app designer that happens to double as a drummer, so the cost of developing the app is still something that can be prohibitive when done from virtual scratch. Such is another reason Thompson's BatPass (currently only available in the Apple iTunes App Store, with an Android version possible down the road) is a wild, unique entry into our local music scene. It may well be the only one of its kind for a bit. This scenario is akin to a band's lead-singer owning his own vinyl pressing plant, but getting all of the raw materials for practically nothing.
"As a programmer, it only took my time, sweat and drive to get it completed. I've put money into my programming set-up and other tech pieces, but mostly -- once the audio masters were done -- the cost was almost nothing for me," says Thompson. "A minimal press of stamped CDs or 180 gram vinyl was going to cost way more. Add that on to the process of getting them sold. For other bands to have an app developed from scratch though, CDs would still be way cheaper. Getting an app developed and to the App Store, for the most part, takes a corporate-size budget."
Most important, however, is that Campfires is a pure joy to listen to. Recorded at Valve Studios in Dallas, Thompson has taken the best qualities of his work in Quickserv Johnny and his previous solo work and blended the elements together to create a melodic rock album with punk flourishes that one can hear on a Superchunk or Thermals album.
Presentation-wise, the photos, video clips, liner notes and lyric sheets in the app certainly succeed in giving this smart phone button a special feel. Some solo acoustic and full-band shows will be scheduled over the next few months, but remember, don't expect to grab a sweet vinyl copy of this new album.
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When it comes to music, tech talk can get boring and complicated, but for Thompson, the goal was as simple and pure as it could be.
"It hit me," he says. "I could create something unique in the app world, where you get that great experience of buying a new album or CD from an artist you're into, putting on the headphones, reading all the lyrics and liner notes, checking out the photos and learning how it was created. So, I decided to convey the whole experience, not just a list of files with a link to a thousand places on the web."
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