If someone hands you a promotional flyer for a band playing a concert down the street, you may well ignore it – but what if you could ‘play’ that flyer to hear what the band sounded like? That’s just one idea being floated by an agency looking into how printed electronics could ‘save the music industry.’

Printed electronics involves printing using special inks that create electrical circuits, turning a humble piece of paper into something far more interesting.

Liverpool, UK-based agency Uniform has been exploring what printed electronics could mean for music. The work follows on from their explorations into ‘physical apps’, such as a cuckoo clock that releases sweets when the Uniform Twitter account gets a new follower. At SXSW today, the company’s founder Pete Thomas will take part in an event that explores this technology’s potential.

So, how might printed electronics be used by the music industry? On its website, Uniform lays out a few ideas.

The Digital Postcard Player

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These aren’t just traditional postcards, they play music too. Each card represents one song, and playback is controlled by the player device. As Thomas notes, it helps reinstall a sense of the physical to music, something that’s been lost with the shift to online consumption:

“The experience of controlling music by touching the paper postcards is really engaging, much more like interacting with a record sleeve rather than a phone screen, with the experience or browsing through a collection of tracks analogous to that of browsing through a Vinyl collection.”

The Listening Post: Interactive gig poster

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Promoting concerts in print can be hard when all you have to go on is the name of the act and maybe a positive press quote. This prototype poster offers something a little more. You can touch the name of any act to hear a sample of their music.

That’s not all – one of these posters could be a ‘print once, always stay fresh’ solution, as Thomas explains:

“Connecting the poster to cloud content such as Spotify, SoundCloud or MySpace would enable dynamic content that could be updated. We envisage that users could subscribe to a service that could provide suggestions based around their tastes, allow them to share recommendations and enable purchasing or both tracks and tickets.”

Internet-aware, printed electronics is just one way that the physical world is moving online. We’ve looked at others in the past, including Oxfam’s Shelflife app and ThingLink’s Rich Media Notes. At present, the technology behind paper-based apps is at an early stage, but Uniform believes that even now it could be used by the music industry – and indeed in many other areas of life – to make reliable, familiar old paper more interactive and innovative.

If you’re at SXSW, you can hear Pete Thomas of Uniform discuss these prototypes and the ideas behind them at an event today at the Austin Convention Center, Texas, USA, from 11am to 12pm.