Meet Lee Martin, the digital thinker creating unique web experiences in the viral age
Lee Martin isn’t a music video director in the conventional sense. In fact, he describes himself as someone who “develops websites for rock n roll bands and gets paid in sex and drugs”.
The LA-based creative is testament to how the mixture of experimental ideas and technological advancements can be implemented to push the boundaries of how fans interact, and engage with, music. Describing Martin as a video director wouldn’t be entirely accurate, as Martin’s audience-focused projects are comprised of cutting-edge web experiences and personalised content that requires participation and active engagement. A prime example of his work is his Webby Award-nominated web experience designed for Marilyn Manson’s 2017 single WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE. On the morning of the drop, 25,000 Marilyn Manson fans awoke to an email featuring a video of each individual’s house, in support of the track.
Martin’s online assets and experiential developments are positioned towards the future and expand upon the limits of conventional methods. While music videos have been the traditional course for decades, Martin’s ideas are built upon new ways to create viral reach in relation to sound.
Below, we caught up with the web developer to talk digital narratives, technological advancements and his body of experimental work.
Read Crack Magazine’s list of 10 music video directors switching up the game. Work by these directors will be screened at the and& summit and festival’s A/V screening room and Oscar Hudson will be in conversation with Crack Magazine at the event, discussing the art form and its future. Find out more about and& here.
You are hesitant to call yourself a music video director, how would you describe your work?
I’ll gladly take any title that makes me seem a bit cooler but in truth, I’m a web developer that works in the music business. Similar to a music video director, I use my art form to extend the narrative of an artist release. This usually takes the form of an interactive website or marketing campaign which allows fans to participate and have their own experience with the music. My key principles are accessible, simple and magic.
What did you study?
I went to school for visual art, became interested in digital art, and fell in love with the scale of programming. I would say I’m self-taught in the most mischievous way possible: promising and proposing things I have never done before. This forces me to learn and deliver.
How did you end up working on projects for musicians and artists?
Blind luck. I started a fansite for The Mars Volta and that band’s management company reached out to make a donation to help pay for server costs. It just so happened they also managed Foo Fighters, Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth… and a tonne of other ridiculous acts. I told them I would be down to help with anything. Things started simple with an AIM buddy icon here and a MySpace profile there. Once I realised I could pay my rent doing this, I put all my energy into it and the rest is history.
Do you see the digital experiences you build as a kind of extension of music videos in terms of what they offer an artist?
I see them as an extension of the thematics of the record. The digital experiences I’m trying to create should live right alongside music videos, album artwork, and linear notes.
— Lee Martin (@leemartin) April 13, 2018
Could you tell us a little bit about the project you worked on for Local Natives last year?
One of the biggest cons of creating for the internet is all the noise you’re up against. Years ago, I developed what I had dubbed an artist-friendly audio player. In order to listen to a song, the user had to close their eyes. You couldn’t leave the tab. You couldn’t look elsewhere. You had to fully pay attention to the music. As it turns out, music sounds much better when you’re focused! Local Natives knew I was sitting on this concept and we agreed to let them launch it with their track, I Saw You Close Your Eyes. I still have every intention on making that experience available to any artist. Look out for that soon.
How do you approach the ideation of these digital experiences after hearing a track?
Ideation is a lifelong pursuit. I have no idea what fragments of my life might lead to an interesting concept. I just try to constantly be experimenting with lego-sized ideas that might snap together to create full, interesting experiences. These functions almost always come before I get an opportunity to hear anything. However, the relationship between the music and the concepts are immediate if any current synergies exist. I love gut reactions. This methodology is guided through conversations with whoever is connected to the project. I am fortunate to work with some of the brightest digital thinkers in music.
How did you reach the concept for the Marilyn Manson project?
Immediately! Sort of. When I heard the title, WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE, I knew that I wanted to send fans a video of their own house. As it turns out, I was doing a lot of experimentation with drone visualisation for Roger Waters which they did not end up using. However, the real inspiration was something that struck me back in 2004! Reason Magazine had sent subscribers an issue that included a satellite photo of their home. The editor’s note for that issue? Kiss Privacy Goodbye – and Good Riddance, Too.
— Lee Martin (@leemartin) April 12, 2018
Could you speak a little bit about how WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE worked?
Well first we had to get everyone’s coordinates and a way to contact them. We did this by combing through past online store purchasers and by launching a smoke and mirrors contest sign-up page. Using Mapbox, we were able to grab a satellite photo of everyone’s location. We then created a simple composition in After Effects that included the single photo, rotating 360 degrees alongside the audio of the track. I then used the AE plugin Dataclay and every ounce of energy my MacBook Pro had left to generate 25,000 videos over the period of seven days. My MacBook did not survive but the campaign is up for a Webby. Worth it.
What do you think these kind of projects can offer artists which typical videos can’t?
The music video is such a perfect medium. You can tell a story and all the user is required to do is click play. However, that experience typically tells a single narrative. The beauty of a digital experience, is that the user becomes a variable in the narrative which is shaped to them. That little bit of uniqueness can help create an experience that feels more intimate and memorable. Concepts like Take This Lollipop and the Wilderness Downtown shows us that we’re capable of doing both.
Looking forward, what kind of new technological capabilities are you working with at the moment that you’d like to see applied to music and art?
While it’s tempting to look at things like AR and VR, I find work much more interesting when anyone can participate in a concept regardless of their hardware. This is why I find myself excited about things like the evolution of WebRTC or… being able to access a user’s camera from the comfort of a mobile browser with a few lines of code. I also think we’re just scratching the surface with automated personalised video and would love to collaborate with more music video directors to scale up their efforts in intimate ways.
Words: Vivian Yeung
Interview: Duncan Harrison