Three opinions on the iPad at SXSW

The iPad is cool for a lot of things, but does it work for music? Various opinions came from the SXSW Music Festival, and together they're an interesting follow-up to Michael Berk's earlier post here on the concept of the iPad Album.

One of the music panels was called Packaging the Experience: Attract Audiences to Your Records. It was moderated by Brian Grunert, owner of the design studio White Bicycle, whose work has included dramatic packaging for Ani DiFranco and her Righteous Babe label. Of course, most of the discussion centered on the physical packaging of CDs, LPs, and boxed sets. But at one point, Grunert asked: "What about the digital part of this? How can digital content connect to the packaging experience?"

A reply came from Dennis Wolfe, director of A&R for EMI Music's catalog division, where he has, among other projects, supervised and directed From the Capitol Vaults, a campaign of 180-gram vinyl LP reissues.

Said Dennis: "The digital stuff has not gotten there yet. You can do great things with a Web site, but then, ultimately, you're just sitting at a computer looking at a Web site. The sudden avalanche of tablet devices, led by the iPad, is going to change all this. Because now you can build a kick-ass app that's got music, video, and artwork. It has things that you can touch and feel and move around; you can move through it in all sorts of ways. And now it's with you on the plane, in the car, at work, and at school. Instead of having to leave your honkin' boxed set back on the shelf - because you're not going to carry that around with you - you've got it with you on your iPad, and you can do some pretty cool stuff on that. . . . It hasn't happened yet, but it's coming."

A response to that came from Cheryl Pawelski, an A&R catalog veteran of Rhino, Concord, and EMI who is now a partner/owner of the (primarily) reissue label Omnivore Recordings.

Said Cheryl: "The origination costs behind the visuals, the video, and the music are so high right now that the digital side hasn't really permeated the market yet. The iPad and all the other tablets are great, but I don't know that the application is such that we use music that way. I think iPods are great because you can throw them in the car or walk around with them - and maybe if you're on a long plane trip, I could see you working your way through a boxed set on an iPad - but I'm not sure that we can experience music that way all the time. Digital music is actually flat or declining in numbers; CDs still make up most of the numbers. And right now, headphones, turntables, and vinyl are all growth markets. The tablet may not be far behind, but my experience working with formats from LPs to iTunes is that the origination costs turn everything upside down; the sales aren't there yet."

I'll give the last, amusing word, however, to keynote speaker Bob Geldof, who had this to say about that:

"When I see people queuing for a new iPad, I despair. It's a f---ing piece of metal. It's not 'cool.' It's a great technology, but . . . get a grip."

 - Ken Richardson