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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2007/06/22
by John Zinkand

A Nominal Fee

Back when I was a little kid in the mid to late 70s, it was all about the record album. My sister and I spent hours listening to records from bands like Foreigner, The Rolling Stones, and Billy Joel. I still can hear the skip that was on our record any time I hear You May Be Right off of Billy Joels Glass Houses album. After record albums, there were tapes. Tapes were great for the live music fan, as folks could dub copies for one another, trade music, etc. And after tapes and records came the CD. CDs offered higher quality sound and, with the advent of the internet era, could also be burned so that folks could make copiesbut this time without a loss in quality like with tapes. Which brings us to the present day. Mp3s and FLAC files are the rage now and it seems everybody and their mothers brother has an iPod or some other nifty Mp3 playing gadget. So at this point, people are starting to think of songs as individual entities rather than parts that make up a whole album.
As I discussed in a previous article (The Music Distribution Prescience of Frank Zappa), Zappa already had an inclination that the bulky record albums of his day would soon be extinct dinosaurs. He saw the wave of the future being downloadable music which would offer more choice and variety to the listener at less expense. In many ways, his vision has come to fruition. And in the jamband world, it is more prevalent than anywhere else. Initially started by Phish, many jambands now offer soundboard copies of their live shows in downloadable format at their websites. Bands like Phish, moe., Umphreys McGee, and the Disco Biscuits all have downloadable versions of most or all of their recent (and past) shows waiting to be downloaded by the avid or casual fan.
Of course, all of theses bands also follow the jamband ethos established by the Grateful Dead by allowing audience members to tape their live shows. However, these audience tapes can be less than stellar quality (especially if the taper happens to be next to that very drunk guy who is intent on screaming his devotion to the band all show long). Audience recordings can be good, but a soundboard copy sounds crisp and clean without any background noise. Many bands mix in a bit of the audience on their sonic offerings providing the crisp high quality sound of the music plus the excitement of the audiencethe best of both worlds!
For the casual fan of any of these bands, the ability to download a show they attended and listen to it in high quality sound on their Mp3 player or burned onto a CD is just peachy. They fork over the $12.95 for the high quality FLAC download, listen to the show, and get to remember the great time they had while attending. The next time the band comes through town and they catch the show, they will probably download it, too. This is all well and good for the casual fan, but what about the hardcore fan? You know, the heads. The bands bread and butter, if you will. For these folks, the $12.95 per show fee can become exorbitant.
For example, what if a kid is a total Umphreak? He buys the t-shirts, has all the DVDs, buys all the albums, frequents the message board to analyze shows and talk about the band, and attends 40+ live shows per year. The guy is a devoted super fan who is all about Umphreys! Is it right to charge this guy the $12.95 per each and every show he wants to download? After all, this is the guy that helps keep the band afloat by spreading the word and attending live shows (any jambands main source of income).
I think there should be an annual fee to download an unlimited amount of live shows. The only people who would be interested in such an offer would be the serious fans of a particular band. That way they wouldnt feel gouged when they went to download the 30 shows they saw that year (that they have already paid to see live, mind you). The fee could be in the ball park of $100.00-$175.00 per year, which comes out to a monthly fee of what it usually costs to download one show. Now I dont think any band should lose money offering soundboard copies of their live shows, but the overhead just cant be that high (I may be way off base here and if so, someone please enlighten me). The bands record their live shows anyway, so uploading them cannot be too difficult or costly. The only real cost is the maintenance, upkeep and server space at the actual download website. Assuming most people would still pay the $12.95 for individual shows, the annual fee for hardcore fans would devote these folks to their favorite band even more. Meanwhile, the live downloads section of the merchandise area would still maintain solid profitability.
It seems in this day and age of downloadable tunes, the super fan should be encouraged by their band. What better way to help these folks out than to offer a nominal yearly fee for unlimited live downloads at a fraction of the cost of the per show download? Fans would save money which could be used for hitting the road to see the band live more often, buying band merchandise, or even donating extra cash to charity. And what self-respecting jamband is against donating money to charity? So take notice jambands that offer live downloads, unless you start offering a yearly fee for unlimited live downloads, you are against donating money to charities! And thats just uncool, man. Be kind. Right on.

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