Rob Knight

Pushing the envelope

September 06, 2005

Last night I was reading that Pearl Jam are changing the way they distribute bootleg audio recordings of their live shows. For those of you who don’t remember or haven’t cared up to this point, Pearl Jam have been recording their live shows for the last 2 tours and making the recordings available on CD for a less-than-industry price. On the last tour (2003), the CD was delivered within 7 days of the actual show. This time, the bootlegs will be downloads only (for now) and available within hours of the show.

Details from PearlJam.com (my emphasis added):

Pearl Jam’s “digital bootlegs” will be professionally mixed in real-time at each show by Pearl Jam’s longtime studio and live engineer, Brett Eliason. Eliason’s company, Basecamp Productions, developed the software application that delivers and manages digital downloads. Pearl Jam has opted to encode the digital files at a higher than standard bit rate (192k) in an effort to balance manageable file sizes with very good sound quality. The cost is $9.99 per show.

What I love about this is that Pearl Jam have once again pushed the envelope. They were allowing fans to tape their shows in 1992. Now they tape their own shows and you can download them at better than CD quality for the same price as a single 12-song album on iTunes. The difference being most PJ shows go 20-26 songs. Plus, you’ll get artwork and photos. And it is all without Digital Rights Management protection, meaning it can go on your mp3 player, on a burned CD, whatever.

This is one of the reasons this band has been near and dear to me for more than a decade. They are always trying new things and providing fans with exciting ways to experience their music. This is stuff that truly inspires me in my own professional endeavors. The avenues are now open in music distribution to avoid the recording industry altogether. Big labels can get you on pop radio, but what does that mean anymore? With myspace.com, iTunes Music Store, CDBaby.com and a van to tour in you can build your own fan base and distribute your own music. The old method of signing your CD profits away for the promise of a wider audience doesn’t hold the same value it did just 5 years ago. And from my experience, music fans appreciate you more when you reach them through unconventional means. Those are fans who will hang with you, as opposed to the teeny-boppers that want something new every few weeks.

I’m getting away from the point of this post, but it is exciting to see bands moving away from the $15.99/CD business model in favor of a more democratic means of distribution. I know not everyone has the same resources as Pearl Jam. But certainly with creative thinking and a desire to make new fans, many more avenues open up than just getting signed by a mega-label.