Slow burn over fast burns


June 30, 2004


One of the most innovative and promising developments to hit the concert scene in years is a new program that allows fans to purchase a CD recording of the show they just witnessed before leaving the venue that night.

But a battle is shaping up between independent artists and several small companies offering this service -- including eMusicLive, which began recording shows at Metro, Double Door and Schubas in March -- and concert giant Clear Channel Entertainment, which patented the technology that makes the process possible.

Based in San Antonio, Texas, Clear Channel is the biggest concert promoter in the country. It owns 130 venues in the United States, including the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park and Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis., although it has not yet implemented its live recording program in the Chicago area.

The Clear Channel program originated in Boston and is called Instant Live. It's based on new technology that is able to process a CD of a live recording within five minutes of the end of a concert, producing as many as 50 CDs every 10 minutes.

On Monday, Clear Channel announced that this summer, it will offer some 100 live recordings of various artists who will be taped throughout the country, including Jewel, whose live discs will be issued in conjunction with Atlantic Records.

Other participating artists will include the Allman Brothers Band, the jam band moe., Michael Franti and Spearhead, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, the Samples and the Smithereens.

Clear Channel bought the patent for the live-recording technology from its inventors, and the company now claims it owns exclusive rights to the concept of selling concert CDs after shows.

"We want to be artist-friendly," Clear Channel executive and Instant Live director Steve Simon told Rolling Stone magazine. "But it is a business, and it's not going to be, 'We have the patent, now everybody can use it for free.' "

In an interview with the Reuters news service, Brian Becker, chief executive of Clear Channel's live entertainment unit, added, "We want this service to be in widespread use and welcome all legitimate and serious conversations with those interested in licensing our patent. We will not, however, conduct licensing conversations in public or via the media."

Countered Danny Stein, CEO of Dimensional Associates, the New York equity firm that owns eMusicLive, "We don't believe that our business practices infringe on anybody's intellectual property." His company is ready to fight Clear Channel on the issue.

"We're an enterprise that has patent lawyers that are equal to their patent lawyers," Stein said. "Basically, they're trying to intimidate bands and smaller companies. We're in a more advantageous spot than the other 80 people they're hunting, because they're going after a lot of artists and people with no resources."

Though it's been gaining in popularity, the concept of recording shows and selling the CDs to fans as they leave the venue isn't new. Bands including the Allman Brothers, moe. and Billy Idol have done it nationally for several years. Train did it during a stint at Schubas earlier this year in a process independent of eMusicLive, and Buddy Guy did it during his traditional January run at Legends, working with a Chicago company called Pirate Entertainment.

Reunited alt-rock legends the Pixies were planning to use a company called DiscLive to offer the service on their summer tour. But the band is performing at many Clear Channel venues, and the concert promoter forced the group to work with its own Instant Live service instead of any rival companies.

"I'm not fond of doing business with my arm twisted behind my back," Pixies manager Ken Goes told Rolling Stone.

So far, Clear Channel's declaration of war has not affected eMusicLive's operations in Chicago, and the company still hopes to expand to other clubs here and across the country.

eMusicLive charges $10 for a single-disc recording ($15 for a double-disc) and splits the net profits (usually about $6) with the band. The CDs also have been made available at select independent record stores, and MP3s of some shows can be downloaded from the company's Web site,

The clubs -- which get a cut of the gross -- leave it up to the artists to decide whether they want to participate. Some cannot because their recording contracts prohibit releasing any CD that isn't sanctioned by their label. Others opt out because they'd rather do it themselves, or they'd prefer not to have live documents of less-than-stellar shows in the marketplace.

Joe Shanahan, owner of Metro and a co-owner of the Double Door, said the program has been off to a slow start, with CD sales ranging from two to 10 copies a night. Schubas reports similar numbers. Both promoters say smaller unsigned artists have been the prime users of the program. But they believe it has a lot of promise.

"I think it's a great idea, and the CDs sound better than most live recordings I've ever heard," said Schubas talent booker Matt Rucins.

"People often want a remembrance of a special night of music, and this is much better than a tour T-shirt," Shanahan said. He believes the program will grow in popularity as artists and fans become more familiar with it and as eMusicLive moves to the next phase of its implementation.

The company is gearing up to introduce onsite kiosks where concertgoers can download the show they just saw to a 128-MB USB pen drive (a small device that can be purchased for about $50), prior to transferring it to their computer or iPod or burning their own CD at home. The first of these kiosks just debuted at Maxwell's in Hoboken, N.J.

"It takes 10 seconds, and it's even easier than buying a CD because you don't have to carry it home," said the company's Stein. "You can bring your own pen drive, or you can buy one right there at the kiosk if you don't already have one."