Viva la Vida: success in the digital music revolution


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Coldplay, that little English alt-rock group from London, led by Chris Martin, has enjoyed a lot of success with their light, indie style over the past decade.

Their last album, X&Y, was recorded four years ago – and fans have been waiting for an update. That update, in the form of a full new album, titled Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends will arrive later this month.

Digital downloads matter

Unlike their previous albums, Coldplay and their label, EMI, had to seriously consider the digital download revolution as the foremost form of the (legal) distribution of the much-hyped new album. This is what they have done – although Viva la Vida will be sold in record stores, as in the past, the album will have a few exclusive tracks available on the digital version of the album. This digital version will use the iTunes store as its download medium.

Viva la Vida Preorder.pngWhile other digital music download alternatives like Amazon MP3 have tried – and succeeded – to win over the users of iTunes, and often offer much higher value per track, the iTunes Store is still the best way for artists and record labels to bring both upcoming and established performers to the global scene. Apple’s integrated FairPlay system makes it difficult – albeit not impossible – for end-users to pirate the music, the entire purchase to download to portable listening experience is tightly integrated (with Apple’s iPod) and not only is the buying process unbelievably easy, but somewhat rewarding for the listener.

And with millions of users, implementing a well-designed, streamlined digital download experience, right within one of the most downloaded pieces of lifestyle software on the planet means that the music – the point of the exercise – will reach these millions of ears. Stores like iTunes offer instant gratification for users and entice them into buying more, right now. The record labels have started to realise this and build hype by limiting release on downloadable music and offer bonuses for using a computer, not a physical CD.

Good design in music works

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Whilst EMI and Coldplay have made the right choice in using iTunes as the premier source for Viva la Vida, the label is counting on the new album being a big success, with Radiohead leaving the label recently, and Robbie Williams, the other star male act, “on strike”. Therefore, a highly appealing advertising campaign and upbeat, theme-based design was essential for the band.

Even in digital music, the accompanying album art plays a big part in leaving the user satisfied with the music. Devices like the Apple iPhone and iPod touch centralise album art and make sure the user focusses on the art in front of the track they are listening to. Album art communicates a message about the music – it should be enjoyed, as it is on physical music media like CDs and LPs.

The album art for Viva la Vida borrows the Latin American themes gently introduced by the music. The major image behind the white, thick, scrawled ‘Viva la Vida’ print on the cover is the 1830 work La Liberté Guidant Le Peuple (Liberty Leading The People), by Eugène Delacroix. The image illustrates the French Revolution, but the scene seems anything but European at a glance – it is darker, dirtier – the vivid tricolour looks out of place in such an unclean scene. Marianne, the symbol of France, leads the struggle.

Possibly hinted at by the album art is the perception by the younger generation that ‘retro’ ideas and products are now ‘cool’. Such a work, once considered by the young to be a boring old painting, has taken a whole new light when used in this unreal sense.

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Advertising has been key in generating much of the non-Coldplay-listening public’s interest. Coldplay and EMI have bonded with Apple, as with the iTunes partnership, to create a stunning television advertisement in the simple, but unbeatable style of previous iPod and iTunes ads. There is a distinctive Mac OS X Leopard theme to the ad, though, with vivid purples, a pillar of the latest OS release from Cupertino, featuring rapidly. Rather than using silhouettes for Chris Martin and friends in the band, the distinctive bodily features of each member, and their instrument, are clearly visible.

This ad is captivating. It features the recurring chorus from the titular track, Viva la Vida (New Edit), and ends with a simple branding from Coldplay and the text ‘Exclusively available on iTunes’.

I do hope Coldplay is as successful as they should be with this album – EMI, the band, and their associates have produced a brilliant product. Of course, the music, to a fan, is sublime – but absolutely key elements – creating a streamlined digital download experience, utilising good design, and creating a sensational ad campaign – should prove to be the backbone of continual success for any artist – even the music industry – in the rush of the digital revolution.


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