Sharing music online is a social activity that can quickly escape the bounds of real-world connection. After a few degrees of separation occur—say, after an MP3 passes beyond your sister’s co-worker’s boyfriend’s friend—it’s impossible to know where it might eventually end up. The Beginnings And Endings Project, a web app designed by the Australian band Brightly, visualizes the journey of their first single as it’s shared across the web.
Here’s how it works: you download the song on their website, accompanied by a unique code. You’re then free to send the file to your friends, and after ten people download the file with your code, you get the whole album (which comes out today). On the project website, you can watch as your unique code travels across a D3.js-powered map of the globe, from computer to computer. "These things take on a life of their own, bouncing around the world a hundred times over," says Charlie Gleason, the lead singer of Brightly and author of the map.
Music is only half of Gleason’s daily life—he’s also a web developer and co-founder of a Melbourne startup called Goodfilms. Gleason has led the charge to get Brightly’s music onto the web, eschewing traditional media (and even music blogs) for Tumblr and aggregation services. "Our two biggest traffic drivers have been Reddit and social platforms," he tells me. "We [also] joined the Promo Bay, an initiative put together by the folks at the torrent site The Pirate Bay as a way to share and promote independent artists." For the past three days, Brightly has been on the front page of the site, which is accessed by hundred of thousands of people every day.
The video for "Preflight Nerves," the album’s first single, was also custom-built by Gleason and his friends. It makes more sense to say "built," rather than "directed," since the video is actually a live, interactive platform that uses Twitter’s Search API to match random tweets to the lyrics of the song. This way, the video is different every time you watch it. They call the program Tweetflight, and they’ve put the code (which required some complicated Twitter API workarounds) on GitHub. "Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it is heartbreaking," he says. "An elderly gentleman was hit by a car in a car park in Canada, and over the course of the song the tweets explained that he’d been hurt, and then that he’d died. It was so strange to have such a disparate story woven into the song, and I suddenly realised the clip was much greater than the sum of its parts."
While Aaron Koblin and others paved the way for interactive music videos with the Arcade Fire’s Street-View-powered video for "We Used To Wait," Brightly is a new kind of artistic entity where the user experience of discovery is arguably just as important as the music itself. Gleason started designing Brightly’s visual identity before they recorded their first song, and the group had a vibrant website long before they had a single. "There are so many correlations between music, design, and code, so it’s not too much of a jump between them," he says. "The best part is that the barriers to entry are so low now. If you want to make a website, you can. If you want to learn how to build an app, you can."
Regardless of how you feel about Brightly’s music, it’s worth checking out the Beginnings and Endings Project here.