The Live Album: A New Business Model

At Fillmore East, Custis Live, Full House, If You Want Blood You’ve Got it, It’s Too Late To Stop Now, Kicking Television, Live And Dangerous, Live At Leeds, Live Rust, and No Sleep ‘Till Hammersmith: All are famous live albums that feature memorable performances that in some cases enhanced and improved on the original studio recordings and helped grow the legend of the bands in question.  A quick perusal of release dates shows that most of these albums were produced in the 70s with Wilco’s Kicking Television the only one from the last five years.  The emergence of DVD and other new digital technologies has diminished the significance of the live album.  Where does it go from here?

Last summer I was dragged along to see Metallica play at Dublin’s Marlay Park.  My taste in music these days is for more melodic fare and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  They were fantastic.   Last week  I searched for a copy of the set-list and came across the entire concert ready to download at the website.  Recently launched, it’s a joint venture between Metallica, and CinemaNow.  It provides downloads of all concerts from their most recent tours, sourced from the soundboard and mixed by the band’s sound engineers.  The performances are available within 48 hours of the show and the quality is excellent, easily on a par if not superior to many of the live albums I’ve enjoyed over the years.  They are available in the MP3 and FLAC formats, priced at $9.95 and $12.95 respectively, and individual songs are $0.99 each.  They now have enough confidence in this model to offer a pre-order of each show on their forthcoming tour of South America.

Other bands have similar offerings with fans now able to purchase the raw live recordings on a USB stick immediately after the concert.  I’ve no idea how good these recordings are but a lot would depend on the sound engineer’s ability to edit, mix, and master as the concert proceeds.  This is not easy to do, but is possible with the right expertise (Ridley Scott edits his films as he shoots them).

Apart from Metallica finally embracing the potential of Web 2.0 there’s a lot to like about what they’re doing here, and enough evidence to point to someone “making a lot of money on this little wing-ding” at some stage. Every business model has a breakeven point and Metallica’s accountants no doubt know how many downloads per show are needed for them to make a profit.  Playing to crowds that number in the tens of thousands should help them hit this number with ease.   It would be too easy to make the recordings available on the website, do nothing else, and expect people to merely stumble upon them.  A small bit of work across three “touching points” dramatically increases the opportunities of locking in customers before file sharing and illegal downloading have their inevitable impact.

  1. Pre Show: On purchasing a ticket the customer receives an email designed to appeal emotionally along with a link to the site where they can pre-order the show.  Do this part well and you may break even before the show.  Presently the price for a pre-order is the same as that of a show already recorded and available.  This is puzzling as pre-ordering a show that hasn’t been recorded yet, and that you may not even enjoy, displays a level of trust that should be rewarded with some form of discount.
  2. At the show: Customers should be able to order the show at t-shirt stands or dedicated kiosks. Roaming sales people could process orders and emails throughout the day.  This stage is important as it capitalises on the fan feel good factor, as well as the lack of inhibition due to alcoholic lubrication.
  3. Post Show: As soon as the recording is mixed, mastered, and finally made available to purchase, an email should be sent to all customers with a link to the show, along with an emotional reminder of the great experience.  From here on the window for revenue generation narrows as the file sharing/illegal downloading effect kicks in.

The digital media revolution has altered our lives in many ways.  We no longer see the same television shows due to unlimited choice.  We now pick and choose our culture as we please.  This has had a massive impact on the world of marketing as buying airtime on RTE, BBC, CNN, ABC, etc, no longer guarantees that everyone is going to see your add, or even care about it if they do.   Businesses face big challenges in accessing their customers as they don’t know where they hang out these days.  When they do find them, how do they cut through all the clutter in order to leave an impression that makes a difference, and gets them to commit? is an excellent example of a business that knows where its customers hang out and gives them a unique, meaningful, and personal experience tailored towards their needs.  It requires excellent production staff as well as the delivery of excellent performances night after night.  U2 and the other big boys have yet to jump on board, but it’s hard not to see them doing so as they are the only bands with the scale to make this viable.

So is this the future of the live album?  I think so.  The existence of personalized / localized versions of a Neil Young show may deprive me of the chance to compare notes and make a connection with a fellow fan about a particular concert that in a different era we were both guaranteed to have heard.    I may not like the fact that the groove in the guitar outro of “When You Dance I Can Really Love” recorded in Dublin is not quite the same as the one recorded the previous week in the Cow Palace in San Francisco, but it gives an interesting new life and dynamic to the live album, the place where all great artists are at their finest.


3 thoughts on “The Live Album: A New Business Model

  1. I was at a Simple Minds gig in Dublin recently where you could pre-order the full show at the merchandising kiosk in the O2 and pick it up on a memory stick on your way out or else just buy it on-line afterwards. Great concept. I’m going to miss Groove Armada’s gig in Dublin this weekend as I’m seeing Florence & The Machine in Berlin on the same night but if Ticketmaster were to email me and suggest I download the full gig that I missed next week, you can be sure that I would part with the 10 euros or whatever it cost. I remember the days when I used to roam along O’Connell Bridge checking out all the bootleg gigs on tape that were being sold by street vendors. The quality was invariable poor but I was a teenage who was into the music, so I was happy to pay. I’m pretty sure that this is a huge, untapped market. As usual, the big boys are last to the party.


  2. Great post Dara. I believe you’ve seen the future.

    When people leave any live event of any significance to them – music, comedy, sports, theater, my speech 🙂 etc. – they’ll most likely be sold a card with a unique code, which will allow them to download the audio or video recording on iTunes.

    I better get to work.


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