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Instant CDs help musicians land audiences, profits.

Peter Tupper 18 Jul

Peter Tupper is a freelance writer in Vancouver with an interest in technology and culture.

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Bootlegs go hi-fi

Instant CDs are like vamped-up modern bootlegs. But they're also adding more twist to a rapidly evolving industry.

Recorded on soundboards by professionals, burned to compact discs and sold on the spot, local musicians are finding that instant recordings are a new way to put their shows into concert-goers' hands -- often before the encore.

Not only that: on-site recordings are a new way for some emerging musicians to profit from their live shows, without having to sign with major recording labels.

"I think it's a great idea because it lets the band get paid for their bootlegs, basically," says Tim the Mute, whose band the Shiny Diamonds recently tried it out.

Little record deal

When it comes to smaller bands, huge record sales and big contracts are becoming irrelevant concepts, says Tim the Mute, the Diamond's lead singer.

"As far as our music goes, I tell everyone, 'Just download it.' Or I give them my e-mail address and say, 'Here, I'll e-mail it to you.'"

"Bands don't make any money off of record sales, really," he says, noting that shows and merchandise sales are more vital to an independent artist's survival.

"It's probably more important to me as a musician to get the music out there first and worry about the rest of it second."

The business model for budding musicians has changed a lot in recent years, says Christ Brandt, owner of Vancouver independent label Cazart! records. "You're better off giving away all of your music to try and get people to come to your show."

A star is born

Benjamin Rummen and partner Michael Corman noticed the trend, and recently started up Postmark Media, a Vancouver-based company specializing in making the affordable recordings. Since their company's inception in January 2007, the two 25-year-old entrepreneurs have collaborated with American artist Delisco as well as Vancouver-based artists Jennifer Lauren and The Shiny Diamonds.

Similar ventures, like DiscLive, have sprung up in American cities. According to their website, they can mass-produce 200 CDs within 10 minutes of the end of a performance.

Live concert recordings are nothing new, says Rummen, but letting musicians sell them right after the show -- and pocket a good share of the profits -- is.

"This is sort of a legitimate way that a band can offer [live music] to a fan, and get good sound quality while doing it."

Under their pay-as-you-go system, Rummen says artists can do as much or as little as they can afford, adding they can do it cheaper than the artists themselves.

Clap and holler

Postmark boasts their multi-track recordings are much better than old-school bootlegs, which, though ubiquitous, didn't quite capture the essence of the show.

"Usually if it's something you get on the Internet, it's from somebody holding a microphone up into the air for two hours. You get a lot of people clapping, a lot of people hollering," says Tim the Mute.

Corman and Rummen estimate that 30 to 50 per cent of the audience at a live show will buy a CD of what they just heard. After a flat-rate $143 charge, Postmark sells the CDs to the artists at a fixed cost of $3.30 each. The artists can sell them at whatever price they want, usually enough to break even or turn a profit. They typically go for about $10 a pop, according to Rummen.

The difference is that the music is the property of the artist, not the label.

Under normal circumstances, artists signed to a major label usually sign away copyright and master copies in exchange for the promotion and distribution of their music. To make and sell a similar live recording, artists have to ask to the label's permission, according to Brandt.

For studio recordings, he adds, labels front the costs to cut the album, which they then own. When record sales come in, they pay themselves back first, and if there's money left over, they pay the artist.

Instant CDs could change up that dynamic and become a fixture at local concerts, provided venue owners don't get too involved. They tend to understand that merchandise is a major part of an independent artist's income, although some of the larger venues require a cut of the profits.

Live between us

While memento-hungry fans may soon be parting with more money at the merch tables, Tim the Mute figures instant CDs will bode well for musicians and audiences alike, as long as prices remain fair.

"I know I personally collect a lot of bootlegs from shows I go to. It'd be great to have a real band-certified version for [each one]."

"There's nothing more impactful than being a part of a live show," says Delisco, an L.A.-based singer. "People want to take that home with them."

But that doesn't mean home-made bootlegs will wither and die. In fact, Tim the Mute says he'll keep encouraging fans to make them.

"I let them know where the best spot to put their mikes are."

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