The quality of a recording of a live show wouldn’t match a studio recording but the two serve different purposes. The studio recording is great for experiencing a musical in a pure form. However, a live recording would let you relive the experience you had as a theatre goer. Most people go to the theatre at the most a few times a year. Outside of the super rich, people can’t afford to spend $50 to $200 on a ticket more frequently than that. Splurging on tickets is often associated with sentimental events that people would like to remember such as a birthday or anniversary or as part of a vacation to a New York. What better souvenir than the actual recording?
How might this work?
Many shows already use microphones. These microphones could simply be tried into a recording device. Other shows could be recorded using microphones placed unobtrusively throughout the theatre. Afterwards the staff would announce that CDs of the evening’s performance were available for purchase in the lobby. Depending on the venue, CDs would either be printed on demand or customers would fill out of order forms to have the CDs sent to them. Alternatively, customers might instead be able to purchase and download MP3s. Theaters might also decide to sell the recording on-line on itunes or similar sites. After all, the young couple going to New York on their honeymoon might not decide to buy a recording immediate after the show but might wish to purchase it when their celebrating their anniversary a few years later.
Would this Hurt Tickets Sales?
Why would people buy tickets when they could just buy the live recording? There are plenty of alternatives right now to going to a live show. There are often studio recordings, many times Hollywood movies, and occasionally even video recordings of live performances. As far a I know, there is no evidence that these things lower demand for actually being in the theatre. Indeed, movies probably increase the demand for a show by raising its visibility. Wouldn’t a live recording be different? Not really. A live audio recording of a show you went to is great for reliving it nostalgically but is no better of a substitute for the live show than a studio recording. Indeed the availability of the live recording might actually increase demand for tickets. By keeping the show fresh in people’s minds they would be more likely to want to see that show again as opposed to something else. Also providing the option of buying a live recording after the show increases the value of the theatrical experience to consumers which would increase the demand for tickets.
(A quick Google search, turned up some mentions of Broadway bootlegs but a commenting on their legality, availability, or quality let alone their effect on official audio recordings would be outside the scope of this post.)
Below I online a few potential road blocks, that may prevent theaters from selling the performance audio. For some theaters, there may be a risk aversion and an unwillingness to try new things. Old practices may be continued out of shere inertia. There may also to concern that the audio production costs will be too great. However, these are generally fixed costs. Many like microphone setup are fixed costs over the length of the show. Others, such as sound editing engineers would be fixed costs to produce a recording of a single show. So the economics should work out well for long running shows with large audiences. Finally, there may be legal restrictions. One would hope that theaters and rights owners could negotiate an agreement to allow the sale of live performance recordings at the same time that they negotiate an agreement for live performance rights. But there may be further legal complications that I’m not aware of.
Selling recordings after a show would be a boon to both theater goers and theaters. Theater goers would be able to relive their experience. Theaters would benefit from an extra revenue source as well increased demand for tickets.