On-the-Spot CD Release - Mixonline

On-the-Spot CD Release

Out the Door, That Night's Show In-Hand
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Advances in technology have made the ability to do our jobs easier
and — more importantly — faster. Why FedEx when you can
e-mail? Why wait until you get home to call loved ones when you can do
it on your cell phone while stuck in traffic. Go to the bank anymore?
Why? You can hit an ATM or hop online to transfer funds. However, this
technology has altered our collective minds — we want it now.

The same idea is now pulsing through the live sound industry. Why
wait for a band to release a live CD or — better yet — hop
online the day after the concert and download the set's tracks from
their Website when you can shell out $20 for a CD of that show
as you walk out the door. Amazing.

Though the practice of burning instant CD-Rs to be sold to fans as
they walk out of the venue is in its infancy, the concept is raising
some serious questions. What new responsibilities and issues lay beyond
the front-of-house engineers' ability to just be in the “here and
now” and mix a show? On the business side, will the engineer get
a cut of the profits, much like a mechanical royalty for a
studio-produced CD? On the tech side, will engineers need to re-learn
their job? The answers are, we just don't know yet. Mix spoke
with FOH engineers and two companies that are offering this service to
discuss this relatively new idea.

MEET THE PLAYERS

Recording shows is nothing new to front-of-house engineer Robert
Scovill (Def Leppard, Rush, Matchbox 20, etc.). He's been hitting
Record for the past 15 years, going back to his 4-track cassette days.
“My goal at that time was to hone my skill at pulling off a live
recording, as well as do a concert at the same time,” he says.
“And I think subconsciously, or just underneath the skin
somewhere, I always knew that we were going to be able to mass-produce
and mass-distribute music after a show to an audience.”

This thinking led him to become involved with DiscLive (where he
currently serves as an advisory boardmember), a New York City startup
in the concert merchandising and live recording industries that has
been offering same-night live CDs since February 2003.

DiscLive supplies tours with a self-contained rig that incorporates
the company's patent-pending file-transfer technology, in which an
audio feed from the FOH board is cleaned up and distributed to a
scalable number of servers and a CD-R is burned to produce 800 discs in
less than 20 minutes post-show, with the first batch available in under
five minutes.

“We consider the FOH engineer in a way a member of the
band,” says Sami Valkonen, president of DiscLive, “because
of the level of input he has on how the CD sounds. Our specialization
is what we term mastering: the sonic post-processing of the artistic
vision of the artist and their FOH engineer to make the best-sounding
CD possible.”

Working almost exclusively with one act can solidify the
“becoming one with the band” mentality. Front-of-house
engineer Kevin Browning has mixed for Umphrey's McGees for many moons,
burning in real time for himself and the band for more than three
years. “I have always been conscious of trying to produce a
high-quality live recording, as well as the live mix,” he says.
“The bottom line is that it's the engineer's primary
responsibility to provide the best sound for the ticket-buying
audience.”

For the past six months, Browning has been burning CDs of Umphrey's
McGees' shows to sell to fans via UM Live, a three-CD set of
that night's entire performance available at the merchandise area for
$15. “The recordings are high-quality matrix mixes containing the
clarity of a soundboard feed with the ambience of a live show,”
Browning explains. “Sign up upon arrival as there are only a
limited number of copies available. CDs will be available only minutes
following the conclusion of the encore.”

Front-of-house engineer Steve Young, who has been touring with .moe
for the past nine years, has been recording that band's live shows for
their live CD series called Warts and All. “They're just
left/right mixes from the console with audience mics [a couple of 414s
onstage] to record the crowd and that goes right to the DAT,” he
explains. On .moe's recent fall tour, the audio crew was accompanied by
Clear Channel's Instant Live reps to record concerts using a
combination of ambient mics and feeds from the soundboard. Fans can
pre-order when purchasing their tickets; those who don't attend the
event can buy Instant Live CDs at designated Best Buy stores.

“This is about more than just technology expanding our ability
to bring live entertainment to music fans in new forms,” said
Steve Simon, Instant Live project director and executive VP at Clear
Channel Entertainment, in a release. “We are leveraging
technology to improve the concert experience for fans and enhance the
connection between them and their favorite artists.”

Gearing up for Instant Live, Young consulted with reps from Clear
Channel on how the racks were configured to make sure that the
additional gear was road-worthy. On tour, Young worked with Clear
Channel's Dave Tessler, who was situated at FOH and was responsible for
recording the shows, “putting in the CDs, making sure of the
levels, tracking the songs,” Young recalls. “He was a .moe
fan, too, so he could tell when they were going to go into a song while
in the middle of a jam. All I had to do was make sure the mix was
right-on. I took a couple aux sends so I did have control over certain
things. The only thing I turned down was the effects return for the
vocals, because they were a little too apparent on the tape. The
left/right mix went to a TC Finalizer to perform simple mastering and
it went right to the CD burners. It was real easy.

“They had road cases with CD-burning towers — three
towers to a box — and each tower did a dozen CDs,” he
continues. “They had six of those cases at front of house. They
would burn three masters: the first set at intermission, the first CD
of the second set at the end of the show and the third CD after the
encore. And with those three masters, in 15 minutes, they would have
100-and-something copies of the show already packaged. Usually a
half-an-hour after we were done, the kids had the CDs in their hands
and were already out the door.”

IS IT TOUR MERCHANDISE?

One of the main challenges that Scovill raises is the classification
of the CD-R when working with a major recording artist. Is it tour
merchandise or a master recording for retail, or both? Scovill believes
that, to some degree, if you are selling the item to concertgoers as
they exit the venue, then you are treating the end product as
merchandise, which means that the merch vendor and/or the venue may ask
for a percentage of the sale. “Where it can get complex is when
you consider that most major artists are going to have a
recording/exclusivity clause in their contracts, meaning that if the
artist wants to sell re-recordings of songs that have been recorded
exclusively for that label, the label will mostly likely ask for a fee
to do so. There will certainly be a need for somebody to mediate and
negotiate all of this for a given tour. That's going to put more strain
on the tour managers/accountants/artist management to cut those kinds
of deals, not only for a given tour, but in terms of settlement every
night.”

If the CD-R was defined purely as a “master recording for
sale,” would the mixer deserve a mechanical royalty? “As
much as it pains me, probably not,” explains Scovill. “I'd
love to tell you there is some kind of standard setup that we could
borrow from the recording industry, but there's obviously not, in that
in that side of the industry, not all mixers get points; they're more
often than not paid a flat fee. My gut instinct tells me that it's one
of those things where the artist will say, ‘Well, we're already
paying you to mix the show. Why should we pay you this much more just
to hit the Record button?’ In the end, they will have to see
‘added value’ in your work and feel you were truly
contributing to the success of the product. I think as the concept
starts to blossom, and reputations of mixers and their various results
start to grow, you could see some value in ‘who mixed the
disc,’ much as you do in recordings concerning producers and
mixers. As for the live mixers and royalties, whatever gets established
early on in the game will most likely stick around for quite a while
until somebody is in a position to break from the tradition.”

Browning agrees that engineers should receive some sort of royalty
for their work and adds another reason why: “Mechanical royalties
depend largely on who owns the gear being used. Obviously, engineers
need to be paid for their time, but it varies after that. If an
engineer is providing the gear to make the live sales happen, he should
be compensated for that.”

“I try to stay away from all of that,” Young adds,
“but I think we should get a royalty. The show's first and
everybody's there working and making that happen. The tape is just a
photograph of the show.” Young did receive a credit on the CD,
but the royalty checks haven't arrived.

CONSUMER MENTALITY

Because of the need to catch consumers before they leave the venue,
these discs will not be reviewed by the artists nor are they
necessarily mixed “for the medium” in which they are
recorded: Will consumers buy the CD purely from a novelty standpoint or
will they expect a studio-quality finished product? Scovill insists
that consumers will maintain a bootleg outlook. “What they really
want is to walk away from the show with the disc in their hands and
listen to it in the car on the way home — warts and all,”
he says. “‘I want my night, I want my town.’ They
don't want the perfect performance; they want the one that was special
to them. And if it has mistakes in it — if the singer is singing
flat, et cetera — the artists have to let down their vanity a
little bit and relax. If you don't play to the impulse buy —
somebody can walk out of the show with a disc in their hands —
then I think you've really missed the golden goose.” DiscLive
hones in on this “grocery store checkout line impulse buy”
by providing individually numbered CDs in a customized, pre-printed
case.

“The fans really love the fact that they can drive away from
the show listening to that night on CD and have it sound real good, be
real clear and be able to hear all the nuances,” Young adds.
“Even stuff that they hear on the CD that they didn't really hear
in the room just because in the room, it gets kind of lost. Ever since
we stopped doing it, a lot of people have asked, ‘Hey, where do I
get a CD tonight?’ And I say, ‘Oh, it was just a limited
time.’ I think they really, really enjoyed it and definitely want
more.”

RAISING THE “BOOTLEG” BAR

“My guess is some fans expect a studio-quality disc while
others expect bootleg quality,” Browning says. “I'm trying
to make them one and the same. I have just added a TC Finalizer to try
and give our discs a more consistent, better-sounding edge. Mastering
to some degree is possible live, and as time goes by and standards are
raised, fans will begin to expect more from the sound, as they should
because it only encourages us to work harder.”

Young also used a TC Finalizer to help in on-the-fly mastering. Also
knowing that he will be providing the mix for the CDs over the course
of numerous shows allows Young to “tweak” for the next
night. “If you do it on a set of aux sends, then you can make
adjustments over a couple shows,” he says. “Like if you do
the first night and you listen to it, if you decide something's a
little too loud or a little too buried on the CD, you can go ahead and
change that the next day.”

While the industry may be a few touring seasons away from selling a
fully mastered CD post-show, FOH engineers are going to have to become
more conscious of how their mixes sound on the “small
speakers.” “I don't feel we should hold this process to the
same bar or the same standard that we now hold when we're mixing
records,” Scovill says. “But this process is going to
redefine some of the methodology at the front-of-house mix.
[Front-of-house engineers] are going to have to think in terms of that
2-track mix and understand that what they're doing during the show is
being printed. For my money, if there's an Achilles heel for this
model, it is just this: A large percentage of the quality is reliant
directly upon that front-of-house engineer's mixing
abilities.”

That's okay with Browning, who says, “Sound companies and
engineers are there to provide fans and audiences with
high-quality-sounding music in whatever context; formats make
themselves available as outlets. There is no doubt that the demand for
live recordings has increased and it has given us a unique opportunity
to provide. It provides a needed service and can be a lucrative source
of additional revenue for companies and bands.”

“Overall,” Scovill says, “it could stand to raise
the bar of concert sound in total, because now you're going to have
guys really concentrating on making that mix sound right and good
coming off the console. You're going to see the focus of the band be a
little bit stronger, because now they're going to know, ‘Hey, I
can't just get up there and sleep through it tonight. It's going to be
on record to the public.’”

LONG AND WINDING ROAD

At the highest levels, things that seem simple on the surface can
get very complex at their core, “especially in terms of money
distributions and fees, labor, royalties, publishing, et cetera —
even distribution of it after the show,” Scovill says. “It
very easily swirls into this very complex arrangement, where somebody
has to be in charge of managing all of this activity, not only between
the artist and the disc-makers, but between the venues every night, the
promoters, the unions.”

And even beyond the politics, this brings the “taping
community” — especially within the jam-band scene —
under scrutiny. “I do know of a lot of tapers that, when we were
doing Instant Live, were really excited because they left all of their
gear at home,” Young says. “They just brought their $20 and
walked out at the end of the night with a recording of the show. A lot
of [artists] don't even let them tape their shows, but they might think
differently if they can sell it to everybody at the end of the
night.”

In a sense, then, in this age where every company is looking for new
revenue streams, same-night distribution can be seen as “free
money.” “The artist doesn't have to work one inch harder
for it than they did before it was happening,” Scovill says.
“The venue doesn't have to work one inch harder than before. The
labels don't have to put out one dime to get money coming in. From that
perspective, it just seems like such a simple process and concept, but
in the end, everyone will have an appetite for a piece of the
proverbial pie. It's really in its infant stages — we haven't
seen it really bloom into what it could be. It's going to be
fascinating to see if the whole thing eats itself alive before the
aforementioned pie even comes out of the oven.”

Sarah Benzuly is Mix's associate editor.

KEVIN BROWNING'S RECORDING CHAIN

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“I take a stereo matrix feed from the console, preferably
Midas, and run it into a pair of channels on the Allen & Heath 14:4
Mix Wizard. I believe subgroups are the key to a balanced-sounding live
recording. I start by assigning a healthy dose of the L/R mix to the
matrix, but then fine-tune with subgroups. I do not assign the
subgroups to the house, only the recording. That way, when I find I
need a little more drums to tape, for example, I can boost them without
crushing the house mix. If vocals seem to be excessively hot going to
tape, I will increase the entire band behind them to even and smooth
things out.

“Once I'm happy with the direct soundboard mix, I mix in a
pair of microphones at front of house, usually Schoeps with 4V
capsules, using another two channels on the Mix Wizard. I then send the
soundboard feed to the delay unit using pre-fader aux sends and return
it to another pair of channels on the mixer. I then time-align the
soundboard feed with the mic feed to ensure a tight fit using Smaart,
SpectraFoo or, more typically, by ear.

“I then put additional microphones onstage for crowd/stage
ambience. Microphone choice and placement depend on venue size, sonic
characteristics, FOH position and about a dozen other factors. For
example, the Neumann dummy head works exceptionally well in many
venues, but not all. Some spaces call for very directional
hypercardioid mics, while others sound great using a wide omni pattern.
The Focusrite compressor is inserted on the crowd mics, sidechained off
the soundboard feed so that they'll remain squashed while the band is
at a louder dynamic but open during lulls in the music to allow
applause to cut through.

“Finally, I have just started to run the entire mix through
the TC Finalizer to give it a mastered, more professional sound. The
resulting 2-track mix goes to DAT and CD-R, which I track in real
time.

“That is the basic setup, but it varies almost nightly in
small nuanced ways: a different mic here, different placement there,
varying EQ and compression details and so forth. I try to capitalize on
the pros of each individual venue while minimizing the cons.”