Evolution of the Band as the Brand

Transmedia storytelling in the music industry, where did it come from and who’s doing it best?

The origins of the approach of dispersing different information across varying platforms dates back to the 1960’s, but nothing like what we see in today’s musical industry. In 1968, if you reached into the front sleeve of the BeatlesWhite Album, there were four glossy, high-quality prints – portraits of the stars, George Harrison, John Lennon, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, something fans could cherish for a lifetime. Something so simple, this was quite possibly the opening chapter of the band’s transmedia narrative.

From the simple additions of hardcopy momentums through to the extreme social media interactions, today, it can easily be seen how drastically transmedia storytelling, in the music industry, has evolved.

1986 brought about a significant transmedia narrative from a group of 5 rappers, known as N.W.A, who released their studio album, which lead them to, in 1988, the release of an award-winning film, Straight Outta Compton, named after their album. Through the police brutality and social-pressures that the 5 black teens were facing, their music was recognised as quite political and controversial, though, they became an incredible success. The film was awarded ‘Best Academy Screenplay’ and acknowledged for recognising the political and racist ordeals which were occurring. N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton has also been somewhat related to the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, which came about in 2014, when two dark men when were killed during encounters with police. The revolutionary film brings about questions regarding the responsibilities of the rap artists in bearing witness to problems which affected their communities, much similar to that of the problems related to the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. Straight Outta Compton and N.W.A’s transmedia narrative lives on, to this day.

Musical talents have a way of subtly intriguing their fans by developing these transmedia narratives, so much so that we don’t even know we’re part of it. Dating back to something, I, myself, might be a little more familiar with, is the immersion of the use of transmedia storytelling in 2008. Flaming Lips, an alternative rock band that, seemingly, revolutionarily released a full-length movie titled Christmas on Mars, although the film was a commercial failure, the appreciation and recognition they received from fans, from directing the feature, sent them flying into the annals of transmedia storytelling history.

Jay-Z, a hip-hop megastar furthered the concept of transmedia storytelling within the musical industry where he released an alternative reality game for his autobiography, Decoded. This was an incredible step towards allowing fans to interact with and understand the work and personal life of the celebrity, through transmedia storytelling. This book was an incredible and intricate piece of art where participants literally decoded the lyrics to his songs to unlock details about Jay-Z’s personal life, where each page of the novel was spread across different locations throughout New York and London, something dedicated fans would be fascinated by. The virtual game gave clues and the fans revealed information allowing them to walk through the artists’ life as it happened. Amazing.

The trail of transmedia storytelling and its eventual inclusion of these concepts into different artists’ work is continuously increasing and improving with each new release. The stage has been set and bar raised higher and higher, specifically for reasonably new star, Childish Gambino, an artist who I am almost too familiar with. Childish Gambino is no stranger to the transmedia storytelling concept, though, as through his release of ‘Awaken, My Love!’, the studio album, it is expected to have accompaniment of a virtual reality film expected to be able to be experienced through a virtual reality headset, sooner rather than later.

I find myself constantly asking where it will ever end, though stay tuned and hopefully I’ll be able to answer my own question next time.


The Beatles’ White Album inserts. (source: Why It Matters)

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