By: Susan Ault
For The Toronto Star
They’ll probably never replace T-shirts, but live CDs are starting to make headway as the new concert souvenir.
Throughout this event-heavy summer, live concerts are being recorded onto discs and sold shortly after the performances. Post-concert CDs are typically two- or three-disc sets that sell for about $20 each.
Few major acts have agreed to participate in this new concert merchandising segment, and most of the activity is taking place at small venues. Revenue has been modest.
Still, two high-profile concert-CD startup companies — DiscLive and Instant Live — believe they can eventually win the faith of the industry’s biggest names.
“It’s clearly going to take some time for this to be a widely accepted format,” says Steve Simon, executive VP of music for Clear Channel Entertainment, which operates Instant Live.
Instant Live is in the midst of its first big test, with a run of amphitheatre dates by the Allman Brothers Band.
At the first show, an Aug. 3 performance at Meadows Music Center in Hartford, Conn., all 500 three-CD packages available sold for $22 apiece (U.S.) The buyers represented 10 per cent of the total crowd.
DiscLive’s opening salvo involved three June shows by Jefferson Starship. At those shows, the company sold a total of 225 CD bundles. That means 25 per cent of the 900 people in attendance bought the $25 CD sets, according to DiscLive founder Rich Isaacson, the former head of Loud Records.
Since then, DiscLive has pacted with management firm 10th Street Entertainment, whose acts — including Hanson, Motley Crue, Yes and Meat Loaf — will likely use the company’s services for future tours. Also, Billy Idol will sell DiscLive CDs at 10 of his shows in September.
A number of less-publicized companies also report doing brisk business. These companies — including TheMusic.com and Kufala Recordings — typically take orders at the shows, then mail the finished discs.
In the case of DiscLive and Instant Live, the CDs are available right after the show ends.
Each business method has its advantages. The ability to deliver the CDs at the shows provides instant gratification for fans. Mail-order fulfillment allows time for the disc to be remastered, resulting in a higher-quality product.
The concert CD industry was pioneered by Pearl Jam, which has offered fans CDs from dozens of its shows since 2000. Sony distributes them.
Similarly, Phish, the String Cheese Incident and the Dead sell concert CDs to their legions of loyal fans. For the most part, these acts were motivated to sell live sets as an alternative to the bootlegs that proliferate after their shows.
For Instant Live, DiscLive and their competitors, the challenge is to turn this demand into a legitimate business.
But first, they must win the trust of artists and label executives, some of whom fear that concert CDs will cannibalize sales of traditional releases.
The artists are also apprehensive about the quality of the recordings, because there is no chance to clean the discs that Instant Live and DiscLive offer.
Dave Kaplan, booking agent at the Agency, says of his act The White Stripes, “They are a band that would be uncomfortable with their stuff getting out there without them being able to listen to it first.”
“It’s really an accommodation to the fans by offering them the performances they attended,” says Jordan Berliant, GM for 10th Street. “Even if the performances aren’t perfect, it’s a gesture of thanks.”
Berliant acknowledges that live albums could cannibalize studio sets, but he nevertheless thinks other acts should consider the appeal of concert CDs in expanding their audience base.
For the initial Allman Brothers shows, only 500 CD bundles were produced to ensure delivery within 15 minutes after the concerts ended. Instant Live’s eventual manufacturing goal is 1,500 units per show.
Sound engineers for Instant Live and DiscLive record through a mixing board and burn final discs at 24 to 34 times real time, producing hundreds of discs in time for fans to buy them as they leave the venues.
The overhead for such operations is substantial. According to sources, it would cost $300,000-$500,000 to record and replicate a typical tour.
In addition to these expenses, merchandising fees generally have to be paid to the venues. Typically, the sites have asked for 10 per cent of revenue from CDs sold at concerts; in contrast, they usually take 25 per cent of T-shirt revenue.