Tim Burgess explains why The Charlatans immortalised its back catalogue with an iPhone-inspired website

The Charlatans app

Long-lasting British indie outfit The Charlatans has drawn attention to its extensive back-catalogue with the launch of an iPhone home screen-inspired website that is packed with the band’s artwork redesigned to look like apps.

Each of the ‘apps’ are titled after The Charlatans’ singles with some recognisable designs features - the stunt is just one way the group is using design to promote its work having recently transformed 180 songs into a Tube Map (below), in addition to turning albums into the Periodic Table and re-imagining titles as classic book covers.

The Charlatans frontman, Tim Burgess, told The Drum that the band has always enjoyed doing things differently. “I like to think our fans have expectations from us - great songs, decent t-shirts and little adventures along the way. Lots of bands just put an album out and leave it at that. We took over a street in Manchester, we played in an old shoe shop, we had our own pub and pop-up coffee shop."

These activities engage existing fans but can also bring the younger generations into the mix, on this Burgess said: “Maybe someone reading this might not know the band and look us up. I suppose it’s like with music - you make what you love doing and if anyone else likes it, it’s just a bonus.”

The online app taps into a new trend in the music industry that could perhaps be defined by fellow British band the Gorillaz rolling out an augmented reality app to accompany album launch Humanz earlier this year, it begged the question is digital activity the way to get noticed in modern music PR?

Burgess admitted that the “Gorillaz are real pioneers” but underlined that once the “music has to be good enough and then after that you can do what you want”.

The Charlatans site sits as an artwork museum of the band’s greatest hits. It brings a little order to an internet that is a “right jumble of stuff like a million people all talking at the same time” said Burgess. It features the band's entire body of work, singles, music videos, artwork, animations and behind-the-scenes content in addition to the band’s favourite tunes courtesy of Spotify Playlists all feature.

Song titles are represented by bespoke app icons that were released earlier this year. Based on fan feedback the band moved forward to bring the app icons to life a further evolution of the old designs. On this mentality, Burgess said: “We’d used classic designs before and we thought we were kind of done. Then we realised there was a new possibility. App icons are instructive but can be little works of art too. We made them into postcards and everyone went nuts about them.”

Design collaborator Modern English, the Manchester tech firm that had previously worked with the band on a series of initiatives was behind the scheme and to mark the activity the band is paying homage to the agency by playing a gig in their offices for 50 people today (Friday 10 November). Mancunians can gain access to the secret gig if they embark on a treasure hunt for the all the app badges which are hidden throughout the old town.

These ideas are often generated by the band, Burgess ominously admitted that they feel a pressure to come up with new ideas, especially to beat previous record labels to the punch on the marketing front.

Burgess said: “We have over 180 songs from 13 studio albums with B sides and live LPs too. There’s lots to play with and social media is perfect for just making them and sharing them. That was something that you couldn't do 20 years ago.”

This work stretches back to 1989, and in addition to a musical legacy, The Charlatans boast an archive of record sleeves and album cases, all of which have been refreshed for the modern fan in the one place. Burgess concluded that design like music is more accessible than ever: “Designers have seen the same revolution as musicians. You can record an album in your bedroom but a designer can also run a fanzine from their’s.”

Bruce Thomas, founder and director of Modern English agency, discussed how to work within the brief of such an eclectic and respected band. He said: “The client has a seed of an idea and we elaborate upon this. Working in collaboration is what we love. The Charlatans had made the app icons and made them into postcards. It was a case of bringing them to life and celebrating the history of the band.”

The app interface mimics the aesthetic of the iPhone but there is an analytical aspect to the site. The agency can determine the most viewed videos and tracks, which can in turn be used to help inform future setlists, projects or even what’s resonating most in 2017.

The difficulty in delivering the system was cramming 30 years of the band into one interface. Thomas added: “We’re all Charlatans fans, that's why we went to them in the first place - so working with their attention to detail and the bands aesthetic meant lots of ideas and thoughts and just collating it all to make it the best it could be.”

On the necessity of such content in modern music, Thomas concluded: “It’s a reward to fans, a place where all the content they love can be found and shared. It’s great PR for the band as artists are always looking for interesting ways to engage with their fan base.“

John McCarthy

John is an entertainment marketing reporter at The Drum. He writes about the amazing marketing stories coming from the movie, TV, music and video game industries. He's also the hunt for the weirder trends in marketing and advertising.

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