Saving the music industry: live CDs for sale after gigs

30 Dec

One of the most classic ways of “piracy” that has been around since the start of live rock and pop music in the 60s has been the “illegal” recording of live gigs and concerts. This was called “bootleg recordings” and happened when someone in the audience succeeded to smuggle into the venue a portable recorder connected to a microphone that would be pointed at the center of the PA system. Simple as that: record what you’re listening to (if security staff doesn’t notice what you’re doing!) This yielded what is called “audience recordings”, which got better from the 70s on as the technology improved and made equipment smaller year by year, growing a very big industry with the advent of easy-duplicating cassette tapes and such. The recordings also improved greatly in sound quality and some of them are really good documents of the live sound of mythic rock bands at that era such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones. There are also some recordings sourced directly from the mixing desk on to tape (soundboard recordings) or from an FM broadcast of the era. That recordings are the best sounding ones almost for sure although some of them suffer from not having enough audience response.

A bootleg front cover

Since the 80s on, these bootlegs generated a big market around them, causing festival organisation to run raids on the audiences and such. For more info on the history of bootlegging, I recommend that you read Clinton Heylin’s excellent book “Bootleg! The rise and fall of the secret recording industry”.

To combat this, a form of music business that has been around since the 2000s is setting up a mobile recording unit to record, edit, mix and distribute live gigs to sell them to the band’s fans either in CDs right after the concert or offering digital downloads a few days after the gig. This definitely puts a stop to the bootleg recordings that many fans used to make in concerts, because now the sound comes directly from each microphone in the stage plus some microphones out in the audience to capture their reaction. They are all mixed and processed in professional equipment as carefully as they can and CDs are recorded and duplicated while the show is still running: no time for re-editing, remixing or such. The idea is to make something that you can take away home to remember that concert for all your life.

Seems like the first band to do this was Pearl Jam in year 2000, when they recorded their 72 concerts from the U.S. and European tours, and set them to release officially. Yeah, all of them: that’s why they set a record for the biggest number of albums appearing simultaneously in the Billboard list ever.  They did something like this again in 2003 with another 73 live concert recordings, but this time they sold the CDs in their website, officially releasing only 6 CDs of those.

The first company to take this new approach to gigs, providing live concert CDs at the venue was DiscLive, created in 2002 with Eric Welsh as Chief Recording Engineer and the back support of Sami Valkonen, then executive of BMG. This way they got to record artists such as Billy Idol or Devo live, to finally sell the CDs immediately after the show to the fans. As you can imagine, this delivered a pretty standard CD -both in sound quality and in packaging.

Then Clear Channel came out with their enterprise Instant Live, doing the same thing as DiscLive… but they went far off when they bought a patent for instant live-to-cd recordings and threatened to sue other companies who did the same as them. Things got even worse when people knew that Clear Channel owned over 130 live venues around the United States. So the DiscLive enterprise disbanded and eventually morphed in 2004 into a slightly different company called The Show, which now aimed at distributing live CDs a week or so after the concert via digital download so that engineers would have a bit of time to mix properly each gig and produce a better packaged product. This new company recorded and sold live gigs by bands like The Pixies, Dead can Dance or Fall Out Boy but also saw an end to it.

By 2007, the Electronic Frontier Foundation won in the courts against Clear Channel corporation, showing that their live-to-cd patents was a bogus one, when they discovered that a company called Telex had already developed a similar technology one year before Clear Channel requested the patent. Anyway, the damage was done but Clear Channel morphed the InstantLive company into ConcertLive, which records and sells lots of live acts in Cd format at their website.

There is also a continuation to The Show in another company called “Abbey Road Live“, which in turn records also big acts and sell them either in limited edition CD runs or digital downloads. The number of bands they record and their names is quite big, so it’s good to see that there is a good market out there for this kind of recordings. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been doing that for their last tour, setting up a website in which you can buy any show that they’ve done in Europe 2011 and download it in mp3 of lossless FLAC or ALAC format some days before their show is recorded. No company is cited in their website, just their mixing engineer but they do mention that

livechilipeppers.com is a partnership between Red Hot Chili Peppers and nugs.net enterprises, LLC, the leader in live music downloads and the same folks who brought you LivePhish.com, LiveCheese.com, LiveBonnaroo.com, LiveMetallica.com, and LiveDownloads.com.

If you go to LiveDownloads.com website and search through the artists that are currently offering their live concerts in direct download, you can see how big the list is and how it is growing day after day, offering concerts in mp3 and FLAC formats. This shows clearly that:

  • People is growingly aware of the reduced quality of mp3 format for music reproduction and are demanding high quality, open-source lossless formats such as FLAC for digital downloads.
  • People will pay for a good quality recording of the concert that they have just been in, to preserve the memories of how great that particular gig was for yourself.

This is just another proof that music industry is far away from dead, in fact their revenues are growing each year just because the way people consume music has changed in the last years. Not selling as many CDs as before is not the end of the world, there are other ways to chase revenue.

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5 Responses to “Saving the music industry: live CDs for sale after gigs”

  1. rayanzehn December 30, 2011 at 20:37 #

    I’m in a band and we were considering doing just this. It is hard to sell CDs anyway as an unknown independent band, but this is a great way to get our audience interested. Thanks, sharing with my bandmates 🙂

    • jorgepolvorinos December 31, 2011 at 19:18 #

      I’m really glad that this has been useful for you! It doesn’t always depend on you as a band, but on the technicians that run the venue to do that for you: they must have the gear to do so. Anyway, wish you really good luck with it, and I’ll keep tuned to your blog to see how it turns out! 🙂

  2. Marko Valve July 27, 2012 at 11:19 #

    Hi!

    Can you tell which bands sell their live recordings?
    Mostly looking for big names here.
    I know KISS, U.D.O., Linkin Park, Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers sells those but are there anyone else?
    Is there any list anywhere I could check?
    Loved the article!

    • jorgepolvorinos September 7, 2012 at 14:45 #

      First of all, sorry for the time that it took me to see your answer and reply to it.

      I’ve just explored this and this company, AbbeyRoadLive (http://abbeyroadlive.sandbag.uk.com/Store/index.html) has some pretty big names in their client list, selling their live gigs:
      You Me At Six, New Order, Status Quo, Blur and The Specials.

      They have available even the gigs that are yet to happen in December for You Me At Six!! OMG!!

      Hope to be of help!

  3. shwburn2012 November 27, 2012 at 18:01 #

    ShowBurn is a new company that delivers live music downloads that you sell / buy at the show. Custom website with card code redemption, mobile app, and fulfillment for bands who want to sell live downloads. http://showburn.wordpress.com/bootleg/

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