Imagine leaving the Greek Theatre and sitting in traffic after a concert, when you get an e-mail on your smartphone. It has a link for a download of an album-quality recording of the show you just saw. And you haven’t even left Griffith Park.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine too much. That experience has already been made available on a limited basis through Culver City startup Migratory Music, which is hoping to make its technology far more common this summer.
Earlier this month, the company installed 15 of its kiosks, where people can purchase such recordings, at the Greek. The company’s president, Ian Murray, is hoping the downloads of about $20 each can become a concertgoing staple – provided he can convince artists and record companies to go along. So far, that’s been the hard part.
But Murray’s vision is to make such recordings a normal end to a typical live-music experience.
“A fan will go in to the show expecting their live album,” he said.
Immediately available concert recordings are not an entirely new idea. Other companies are selling professionally recorded concerts on flash drives and CDs. But now that smartphones and high-speed wireless Internet are more widespread, Murray is taking advantage of the technology to make purchases available through sleek kiosks called Ovation Towers.
In its most high-profile test, the technology was tried last year at two classic-rock concerts at the Greek, one by Peter Frampton and the other by Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. About 60 and 80 downloads were sold at each of the concerts, despite having no publicity campaign to drive sales, Murray said.
The Greek’s operator, Nederlander Concerts, loves the idea because it gets a piece of the sale price. However, before Migratory can record and sell any performances, it must get approval from artists and labels. And that’s where he meets the most resistance.
For example, Murray wanted to record L.A. folk-rock band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ May 4 Greek show. But the band’s management chose not to record out of fear of cannibalizing sales of a studio album set for release this month. In fact, since the 15 towers were installed a couple of days before that show, none of the seven concerts held at the Greek through May 23 were recorded.
Still, Murray and Nederlander both believe they will be able to persuade acts and record companies, maintaining the towers can help spur sales of studio albums, also available at the kiosks.
Gary Bongiovanni, president and editor in chief of live-music trade publication Pollstar in Fresno, believes the kiosks will make headway in the market, since live tours are very important for acts in an era of slumping album sales.
“I think there’s a real market to sell people a copy of what they just saw,” he said. “It’s a unique experience and people will listen to it.”
Working in harmony
The shows are recorded by a sound engineer who produces and masters the file before sending it to a server where it is ready for download.
The touch-screen kiosks allow buyers to enter their e-mail address to receive the concert or simply to plug in a device on the spot. A credit card swipe processes payment.
Murray got the idea nearly a decade ago when he was studying music business at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After working in the radio promotion business in Los Angeles, he decided to move forward a few years ago, afraid that somebody else would eventually beat him to it.
He got his big break in 2009, when prominent digital music consultant Ted Cohen got him an introduction to executives at Nederlander, an L.A.-based company that operates the Greek and several other venues statewide.
The executives expressed interest and a family friend agreed to bankroll the venture. Murray entered a partnership the next year with Ed Donnelly, chief executive of Aderra Inc., an L.A. company that specializes in recording concerts and selling them on flash drives or CDs.
Aderra has won support from major labels, recording performances from superstars such as Lady Gaga and Metallica. Donnelly said he was impressed with Migratory’s format, though he continues to operate his business independently.
“Immediately after seeing the towers, I got it right away,” he said. “It’s another powerful tool to get the attention of fans.”
Nederlander, which pays no lease fees, receives 10 percent of download revenue, while Migratory contracts sound engineers from Aderra for a fee. After expenses, Murray estimated that out of $2,500 of download purchases, about $1,400 is left for his company, the artist and label.
Kiosks also have been installed at Nederlander’s City National Grove of Anaheim. Rena Wasserman, vice president of operations at Nederlander, said she’d like to use the technology for as many shows as possible.
“In a perfect world, it would be (used for all of the Greek’s ) 55 shows,” she said.
But scoring the first deal this season has been difficult. A prime opportunity slipped away when talks to record Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros reversed course.
“It was all systems go for a while. It was a big disappointment,” said Wasserman, adding that in later conversations, the band expressed regret for not recording with Migratory. The band’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment and an e-mail sent to the band’s label, Vagrant Records in Santa Monica, was not returned.
Without recurring gigs thus far, Murray has relied on his angel investor, whose investment he would not disclose. So far, it has cost about $800,000 to launch the company and manufacture the first 32 towers.
Given those expenses, Murray said he’s hedging his bet with other revenue streams, such as a plan to sell advertisements on the towers’ LCD screens, which are now used to promote his company, the venues and venue sponsors.
He’s also reaching out to independent artists who often have less strict label management. He’s negotiating to get a kiosk installed in the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood. Murray said he’ll be able to grow his business through installations at such smaller venues, giving kiosk customers a wider variety of shows.
“The people who are playing the Roxy tonight might be playing the Greek Theatre (eventually),” he said. “It’s about building the live catalog.”