Going to a rock concert can be like casual sex—lots of screaming and squirming, followed by a grungy ride home, leaving you with a few tenuous memories and a case of tinnitus.
But a couple of big players are trying to extend the afterglow by letting fans take a bit of the show with them. Live Nation, the concert-production arm spun off by Clear Channel last year, touts Instant Live, a CD of the performance you can buy for between $14.98 and $24.98 as you leave, churned out by high-speed duplicators on-site.
And Network Live, a year-old venture from America Online, global event presenter AEG, and XM Satellite Radio, is trying to build a virtual version of Woodstock, streaming concerts to cell phones and other personal digital devices via deals with distribution partners that include Qualcomm's MediaFLO, Japan's Dentsu, and O2 in Europe.
After blowing up the recorded-music industry's business model, technology is now targeting live music. Small wonder: Concert revenues last year were up 11%, to a record $3.1 billion, according to the trade magazine Pollstar—at a time when downloads continue to erode recorded music sales. Princeton economics professor Alan Krueger found that in 2002, 31 of the 35 top-grossing music artists made more money from concerts than from record sales.
The trend will provide another battleground for physical media versus virtual. Though it also offers downloads, Live Nation is betting heavily that fans want a tangible token of the concert experience. "You can watch a show, take away a CD, and listen to it on the way home," says John Vlautin, Live Nation's vice president of communications. Kevin Wall, CEO and "media architect" at the helm of Network Live, argues that music's future lies with downloads and streaming.
But the rivals agree that the nexus of technology and live music is at hand. After-show media, says Wall, is "an extension of the ticket." He imagines fans watching a band's encore on their phones as they're leaving a venue. "Extending the experience also encourages more people to go to the concert and buy the artist's music afterward," he says.
Postconcert media still faces some speed bumps. iMusic Group terminated its "ReplaytheMusic" after-show CD venture last year, citing disputes over revenue sharing and artists' concerns about letting loose a less-than-stellar performance. "Artists are going to have to recalibrate their standards artistically and financially," says founder and president John Eskridge.
Which might not be so bad. Says Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni: "That's the appeal of a live show—the blemishes and mistakes that make them real and human."
A version of this article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.