After their set, a few curious fans visit a kiosk mounted on the back wall. For $30, they're handed a small, reusable piece of digital memory called a "pen drive" and given a quick tutorial. With a swipe of a credit card, the kiosk downloads the entire show in MP3 form into the pen drive in just seconds, less than 15 minutes after the set. The kiosk -- the first of many coming to the edgy club near you -- was created by eMusicLive. It makes digital recordings of live shows into ultimate souvenirs. While the logo on the pen drives is currently the company's own, what it should say is: "Your Brand Here."
An intangible commodity
Live music has always been an intangible commodity, usually vanishing into the air or bootlegged occasionally by ardent fans (sometimes with a knowing wink by the artist) or packaged as a "live album" and sold at retail. But refinements in CD-burning technology (even Starbucks Corp. is getting into the act, having just inked a deal with Hewlett-Packard Co. to supply some of its stores with CD-burning kiosks) and the rise of legal music-downloading services offer a new scenario.
CDs (or pen drives, etc.) can be sold immediately after concerts, while the songs themselves then have an infinite shelf life online. That's the thinking behind all three of the biggest pioneers in this arena: the challengers eMusicLive and DiscLive (best known for its deluxe, limited-edition post-show CDs), and Clear Channel Entertainment's Instant Live service. All eyes are on Clear Channel after the live-event behemoth purchased a patent in May, claiming it has sole rights to record live music, a patent Clear Channel appears poised to enforce.
A sponsored medium
Most tantalizing to marketers in all of this is the potential of live music as a sponsored medium. All three companies intend to sell sponsorships as well as CDs, and their boosters in the advertising and music communities wax rhapsodic about linking brands to the thrill of discovering cool up-and-comers or the rapture experienced by a mega act's fans.
"Whether you go to see the Rolling Stones or an indie band, what do you want? To take home a piece of this experience," says Kevin Adler, vice president for sponsorship and events at Relay, a unit of Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group. "If you can position your brand as a facilitator of a passion-based experience, that's what this is all about." Mr. Adler adds that he's already steering clients toward the new services.
"You'll have these brand-sponsored bands," says Rich Bauer, a consultant who advises marketers through his company, Asterisk Entertainment. "You're going to see superstar artists put out exclusive live recordings with brands attached. It's almost lifestyle marketing at that point -- it's personal, and [concert-goers] can have it forever."
Putting theories to test
This summer is putting those theories to the test, with DiscLive on the road with bands like the Pixies and Instant Live rolling out its service with acts like Jewel. In addition, eMusicLive is providing its service, either via kiosk or by making digital recordings of shows available on its Web site, at select venues in Chicago, San Diego and Ann Arbor, Mich.
For example, eMusicLive is offering both traditional sponsorships ("The advertisers pays money, and we deliver very targeted, unique" cost-per-thousand viewers, says CEO Greg Scholl) as well as more holistic "brand partnerships."
Meanwhile, Clear Channel intends to incorporate Instant Live into the arsenal of sponsorship opportunities available at the 135 venues it controls. "It's been done. We've done it," says Instant Live Director Steve Simon. "Last year, [the band] Moe. went on tour, and Coca-Cola sponsored Instant Live. It was a good thing for the band -- I don't think they would have generated sponsorships by going on tour, but the sex appeal of Instant Live garnered revenues. "
Despite the early promise of the technology and the glimmers of interest by mainstream marketers, numerous issues surrounding the model have yet to be resolved. The technology is continually evolving -- both DiscLive and Instant Live plan to work digital downloading into their offerings, so that people will be able to also purchase concert tracks from their Web sites. Other issues to be determined are the best practices for how to market live music, who to market it to and how much it should cost.
"If I'm a sponsor, I'm footing the bill, and it's courtesy of me, the brand that loves you and your music, that's bringing you this recording," says Mr. Adler, but "I haven't seen a pricing model from this sponsorship perspective."
And whom, exactly, should they be sponsoring? The conventional wisdom appears to favor the aforementioned up-and-comers (who have credibility and don't have pushy major labels asking for a cut) and established mega acts with greatest hits that fans will clamor for. To that end, Instant Live has already signed up Peter Frampton and Kiss.
Meantime, the Long Winters have passed through several eMusicLive-affiliated venues and left behind digital copies of those concerts for sale on eMusicLive's servers. "This isn't for bands who suck live," eMusicLive's Mr. Scholl says. "It's changing the dynamic between them and their audience."