With compact disc sales falling fast, many record labels are trying to hold onto their audience by adding bonus tracks and churning out boxed sets.
John Trickett decided his best bet was just to stop releasing CDs altogether.
Trickett, chairman and chief executive of L.A.-based 5.1 Entertainment Group, is devoting his energy to a new format, the DualDisc, which he sees as the next step in the album's evolution.
"Think of it as CD and a DVD glued together," Trickett said.
DualDisc offers multi-channel, surround-sound audio quality on its CD side, while the DVD side contains music videos, interviews with the artist, behind-the-scenes footage, live performances and "rockumentaries." Priced at $1 to $3 above a standard CD, it's an attempt to keep listeners buying albums in an age when they can simply download songs onto their digital music players.
DualDiscs were first developed in England, and Trickett brought them to the U.S. market in October on the 5.1 Entertainment label. Now he's selling DualDisc production services to the major labels through his 5.1 Production Services division. The albums have to be remixed to fit the multi-channel CD format; and the video, live performance and photo galleries have to be integrated with music for the DVD side. About 3.5 million DualDiscs have been sold to date.
Adoption by the majors has been tentative, but it's had a big impact on 5.1 Entertainment. Three-fourths of the company's revenues now come from its production company, whose clients include Warner Music Group, EMI Group plc, Universal Music Group and Virgin Records.
A few big names have released albums exclusively on DualDisc, and that's helped the format gain some acceptance. When Burbank-based Warner Music reported third-quarter results in August, it showed a 2.2 percent increase in revenues no small feat in an environment where album sales nationwide are down by 7 percent so far this year. Warner Music credited sales of Rob Thomas' new album, "Something to Be," released exclusively on DualDisc, with keeping its album sales above the industry average.
The album by Thomas, the front man for rock group Matchbox 20, debuted at the No. 1 spot on Billboard and has sold more than 911,000 units. "It's still a new thing, but we're excited about it," said Amanda Collins, spokeswoman for Warner Music.
In sampling DualDisc, the music industry is taking cues from the DVD movie experience, where viewers can watch deleted scenes, interviews with the director, and bloopers all bundled in with the movie. "Consumers have come to expect that," Trickett said.
Pricing varies by label, but DualDisc albums typically don't run more than $20. Production costs are higher than for a standard CD, about 70 cents more per disc according to some estimates. But if it gets consumers buying discs again, music executives agree it's worth it. "It's got that extra content and gives a glimpse into the artist's world," Collins said. "Music fans can have an even closer link with their artists."
Some labels are using the format to breathe new life into old favorites. Warner's Rhino Records label released the Grateful Dead's 1970 "American Beauty" on DualDisc last year, including interviews with band members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart. Columbia Legacy Records, part of Sony Music Entertainment, released Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" on DualDisc, which included a 20-minute documentary about the making of the 1959 album.
Videos and "rockumentaries" aren't just for the MTV generation: Classical releases include the Utah Symphony Orchestra's Mahler series, which includes interviews with orchestra members.
The music side of DualDiscs will theoretically play in any sound system, even a car CD player. But because they are recorded in surround-sound, they are at their best on up to six speakers in a surround-sound system. Web sites have registered some complaints that the discs can be finicky, and the package comes with a sticker-warning that it may not work in all players.
Putting together the discs is another challenge. Often, video footage for the DVD side is supplied by the artist, but sometimes it's up to Trickett and his staff to fish around for photos and old footage.
Still, it's made artists and record companies more aware of visual opportunities to connect with the fans.
Some artists now have a professional video crew in the studio with them when they're producing an album. Of course, it's still important to remain in the background around rock stars. "You don't want to interfere with the creative process, but most artists like it," Trickett said.
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