ScatterTunes is a Texas start-up focused on making the experience of digital music more visual and interactive. In September, the company introduced its V-Album format, which includes audio tracks in unprotected MP3 format, plus material such as lyrics, photos, videos, and links to merchandise and (where applicable) concert tickets. Although the audio portion of the download works with any software, and can be exported to any MP3 player, the video part requires downloading and installing the free ScatterTunes Player. So far, ScatterTunes has only released a couple of V-Albums, and none by artists I'm interested in, so I didn't bother.
Until Tuesday, when ScatterTunes teamed up with the Jimi Hendrix estate to release five V-Albums by the legendary guitarist: the three studio classics "Are You Experienced," "Axis: Bold As Love," and "Electric Ladyland," as well as the posthumous "First Rays of the New Rising Sun" and newly released "Valleys of Neptune," both of which are attempts to re-create studio albums that Hendrix was working on at the time of his death. (Most posthumous Hendrix releases are get-rich schemes based on demos and unfinished recordings that were never intended for release. These two are much closer to finished studio albums.) The V-Albums are available exclusively through the ScatterTunes store and cost only $9.99--the same as the audio-only versions on iTunes.
After downloading the software and two of the Hendrix V-Albums, I'm surprisingly impressed with the format. The sound quality is as good as MP3 gets (320Kbps), and the extra content is worthwhile if you're a fan. I particularly liked the accompanying video for "Electric Ladyland," in which producer Eddie Kramer talked about recording the 15-minute epic "Voodoo Child."
The ScatterTunes software could still use a bit of work, though. The ScatterTunes download actually installs two separate applications--the ScatterTunes Player and the V-Album app. Player is a very simple digital media player--you can import songs from anywhere on your hard drive, including iTunes, and there's an integrated link to the ScatterTunes store, where you can buy single song or full album downloads. But it's pretty lame compared with iTunes or any other modern media player--there's no playlist function, no device transfer, you can't delete selections, and it shows very little metadata about each track. The Player also has spaces for links to blogs and various social-networking features, but most of these are under construction.
The V-Album app, used only for playing V-Albums, seems like an unnecessary add-on. Why not just let users play V-Albums in the main app? But it does promise a couple of interesting features in the future. I'm interested in the "V-Albums Creations" tab, which will enable users to import their own photos and songs into a pre-existing V-Album.
My verdict: if you're a fan of a particular artist with a V-Album release, the format is compelling enough and the price reasonable enough to make downloading ScatterTunes worthwhile. But I would immediately import the MP3s into iTunes--which it offers to do as you install the V-Album--and use the ScatterTunes software only for playing the V-Albums themselves.
Of course, Apple has its own interactive format, iTunes LP, but hasn't done much with it since introducing it. ScatterTunes will have to scramble to get more V-Album exclusives and quickly add new features to be competitive.