New Materialism: Bringing online and offline together

alt Paradiso Labs is the place where Paradiso tries stuff. New tools, new initiatives, you're all more than welcome to join forces and experiment if we think it adds to the experience in and around a club. That is the case with New Materialism. New Materialism brings online and offline together with NFC technology. An interview with Joost de Waal.

Wat does New Materialism do?

In 12 words:
Digital music. Physical objects. We bring those two, essentially disparate categories together.

How does it work?

Touch any enhanced objects with your phone, listen to it.
Or watch it.
Or just see what happens.

That´s the customer side. To the music industry and marketing agencies, we offer the technological implementation and also, with our object management system Currents, the service to control the dynamic connections, to track usage, and to securely work with other online services.

Those enhanced objects can take lots of shapes: It can be a cd or vinyl record with extra bonus material. Or something unexpected… Like the bouncy balls we made, which had José González’s video Heartbeats inside.

Why is it important to you to connect a physical product with an online environment?

Both have their own pros and cons. Digital offers endless possibilities, ease-of-use, integration in our social networks, but it lacks tangibility. It isn't tactile. It's not IRL.

To illustrate this point, what exactly fuels the vinyl revival? It's about the music, sure, but it's also – maybe more so – about how it looks, how it feels, the rituals surrounding it. It's about the experience of buying, owning, collecting – and of showing and giving.

Anyway, we try to find meaningful ways of combining the two, to find hybrid forms that add value, that create crosstraffic. Marketing people often talk about tying media, social media, live experiences, etc. together. We think we can add physical products into the mix.

Also: It's just really cool to play with. :)

You’ve been working on this idea for years, what have been the biggest hurdles?

First and foremost:
Apple. It's proven difficult working within the confines of iOS and so far it's not been possible for us to make everything we do available for iPhones.

Costs. This used to be a major stumbling block. Luckily, we've managed to get our prices down dramatically.

Money. For developers, lawyers. And to finance tests. Musicians appreciate the artistic possibilities, but labels often lack budget and commitment to work with so-called 'unproven experiments'.

And where do you stand now?

We've passed the phase of MVP's and initial proof-of-concept tests. We want to scale up, work with structural partners to further develop this idea. At the same time, we're working on some individual 'releases'. To see what works best, to iterate.

Can you give examples of the stuff you’ve done? What are good cases?

De Staat wanted to test this with a very limited run of the vinyl version of their latest album, O. Tapping the sleeve with your phone led you to their presence on Spotify. It worked really well, but the static, non-exclusive nature of its connected content meant that it left some potential untapped.

An example I actually prefer is a cassette tape we made with the tiny DIY-label Geertruida, with exclusive tracks by two upcoming indie bands, TV Wonder and Floris Bates. A cassette tape was ideal: on the one hand, it has a very recognizable form factor: it clearly communicates: ‘This thing is music.’ At the same time, almost no one has a tape deck anymore, so: ‘How can I listen to this?’ We tried to use that tension to make the option of listening with a phone more attractive.


Do you have facts and figures? Did people start using it?

Let's stick with the Geertruida testcase as an example. We distributed those cassette tapes through two different channels. Subbacultcha, an Amsterdam based indie music community, passed them on to their members and the two bands sold or gave them away to their fanbase. We found the take up rate varied from circa 45% for the Subbacultcha batch, i.e. the indie music scenesters, to 61% for dedicated fans of these specific bands.

(On a side note, we gave 40 tapes to the people working for New Materialism, friends and commercial partners. 58% listened to them with their phone. For them there was inherent interest of a different kind. My mother could frankly care less about obscure slackerrock from Haarlem, but she really really really wanted to see what her son had been up to.)

Considering 38% of this particular target audience uses iPhones, which didn't support this tech, well, we were positively surprised. Still, on a critical note, we noticed return usage stayed quite low. Is it a gimmick, too cumbersome? Or is it because some people only wanted to listen once or twice? (Joosts mom springs to mind again.)

Anyway. New tests! Validation! Hopefully they can help us with those questions. Looking forward to it.

You mentioned the technique only works on Android at the moment. How big a problem is that?

It’s huge. For large implementations, it simply has to work on all platforms. When you use this for bonus content on a large release, or for exclusive access to premium live events... Artists and companies rightly don't want to shut out customers and risk disappointment. For releases by smaller acts – the bands who play upstairs at the Paradiso? – or for playful merch it's luckily much less of a problem.

There's also a discrepancy. The people who work in tech, music, marketing and design mostly use iPhones. The general Dutch public? Not so much, perhaps 24%. We can point to figures that show low iPhone-market shares in some specific demographics or territories (f.e. in Spain, 7%, and in Latin America), but that doesn't make the problem go away. With an ‘enhanced’ record released worldwide, you want it to work for everybody. We're working on several fallback options for iPhone; we'll have to test to see how they will work.

For stand-alone objects it's often not problematic. When we'll make another limited figurine – it'll simply say 'Android only' on the box. Customers accept that, just like they accepted the fact they needed a cd-player to play a cd.

How can clubs use your technique?

There are lots of options. This could be integrated in marketing material, in membershipcards. It can be used as a secure and persistent entry-point to all the different channels that come together at a venue: live music and (exclusive) recorded content, ticketing, customer loyalty schemes, socials and communities, etc. These hybrid objects can be part of that ecosystem. There really isn´t just one specific solution this tech provides.

Some parties suggested integrating this into furniture or a wall, to use this as an incentive for people to literally connect to your venue. I totally doubt the rationale behind that, but hey, you can’t blame people for being creative. No, quite the opposite, we’re really open to experiments.

Paradiso Vinyl Club (become a member!) will give its members a button with your technique inside to give its members unique content. In your opinion what will be the succes factors?

People are getting used to contactless payments and public transport cards, but touching your phone to something... This tech is new and still needs explanation. Without it, people will treat it like any other button: pin it on a jacket or more probably let it end up in the kitchen table drawer.

And most of all, it needs relevant content. The value of this tech lies in its ability to connect different channels. Without engaging content and intelligent connections it won't work. Let’s put it like this: You can put a QR-code on the back of a white delivery van, but as long as it only links to nobody is going to bother.

And when we look back in three months time, when is it a succes to you?

Due to the limited scope we’re not looking at the numbers too much – I'll rather keep an eye on the members of the Paradiso Vinyl Club, on social media and offline. Does it spark joy? Does it trigger Paradiso to use it creatively? We would love to see both the members and Paradiso itself wanting to play around with it! Yes, I think that would definitely qualify as a succes.

How it works? Like this ... (Yes, this is family ;-)

A video posted by Pip Blom (@pipblom) on