Saturday, 25 January 2014

Did you fall for the Bruce Springsteen USB wristband backlash-scam?


Last week I wrote a blog entry asking whether paying $45 - plus whatever postage fees - for a live recording of a Bruce Springsteen show on a USB wristband was too much.
I was set to publish it but moments before I did I saw on Twitter there was an update to the concert download saga that has excited many fans and simply infuriated others.

Now it seems that the live recordings will be available in a "variety of formats" and not just in the $45(AUS) wristbands. 

Some of these are reported to be higher quality, and cheaper. The two biggest issues that seemed to irk fans who have been begging for official downloads for years, but wanted them in the same way Pearl Jam fans have theirs - highly accessible and highly affordable.



For me, regardless of the price – which really shouldn’t be that shocking when considering the credit card-limit-breaking cost of actually getting to see a show or two - the whole concept is genius and has been a long time coming.

If I had the opportunity to get live recordings of some of last year’s concerts I would have happily added another $50 on to the price of the ticket. (Mainly because at the time I thought it would be the last time they would tour Down Under).

Every Springsteen fan knows there are some songs that just sound better live, and the man’s career has been built on the ‘you-have-to-see-him-live’ ethos.

Ultimately I would love a live album at the end of every tour, and I for one was genuinely surprised one wasn’t released at the end of the Wrecking Ball tour instead of the album High Hopes.

But until then, the opportunity to get a 2 to 3 hour show recorded professionally is a fantastic alternative.

I know many fans just hit up YouTube and search for individual videos of tracks from the setlist to hear a concert they missed, or relive a concert they experienced. With enough patience it is surprisingly easy how you can create yourself a complete bootlegged live album from the multitude of recordings that come online after every concert any big act performs.

But after you've checked to see if you can spot yourself in the video, the novelty of these recordings quickly wears off. When you've heard how great Prove It All Night and Ghost of Tom Joad sounds at the front of the stage, listening to it from a poorly recorded bootleg just isn't enough.
I first encountered the post-concert live recording option at one of the best small gigs I’ve been lucky to review.

In November 2007 Joseph Arthur and his band The Lonely Astronauts finished their UK tour at The Talking Heads in Southampton. About halfway through the gig he noticed some sort of feedback, buzzing sound and delayed his next song by five minutes as they worked to get rid of it.

Arthur the crowd of a few hundred fans crammed into the small venue that they were recording the performance and that if they wanted a copy CDs would be burned at the merchandise stand afterwards.

The show was incredible, so naturally people swarmed to the merchandise stand afterwards as two computer disc drives were spitting out white CDs for the assistants to put in cardboard sleeves with the gig’s date and venue stamped on the side.
The gig’s 21 tracks went across two CDs and cost £10.

The quality was clear enough to sound decent and recorded with professional gear, while still being raw enough that it clearly was a finely produced live album. Turn it up loud enough and you still the static buzz of the room, while the applause and cheers after each song are sometimes deafening.

However, as a unique recording of some excellent performed tracks from a brilliant singer-songwriter, it was a fantastic buy and one of my all-time favourite live albums.

The following year I considered buying a live concert performance for a second time. After waiting in the rain outside Wembley Arena before Matchbox Twenty took to the stage I was drying off at the merchandise stand when I spotted a USB wristband with the option to download the show afterwards.

Apparently Rob Thomas and his band were pioneers of bringing the concept into a mass-merchandise market.

I don’t remember the price tag of the 2008 wristband, but I’m pretty sure it was at least £25. (Checking on Springsteen's online store to pre-order the wristband it shows £25 is how much UK fans will have to part with for their E Street wristbands.)

The show itself was excellent, partly because I was standing front row at Wembley Arena and also partly because the band were a favourite of mine some years earlier.
This wasn’t enough however for me to part with my cash for the souvenir. At the end of the day I just couldn’t justify it. 

The following year I left London's Hyde Park wishing Springsteen had the same offer going for the 2009 Hard Rock Calling concert - which would later be released on DVD. I would have happily paid a lot of money to know I could hear it again a few days later.

Today however, after seeing the incredible performances on the last tour, and not being able to make two of the upcoming 11 Australian shows, I gave in to pre-ordering a number of wristbands within hours of hearing about the announcement.

The main reason is that I’m just not satisfied by the quality of the unofficial bootlegs I’ve listened to online. And as much as I enjoy requesting rare live offerings on Springsteenradio.com – which is a lot, and I urge everyone to sign up immediately – the reality is there is no better act to see, hear and be a part of live, than the E Street Band.

Some initial reactions to the announcement of the wristbands included calls it was scam by Springsteen – including one genuinely funny parody singer – but in reality it was more likely a miscalculation from his PR team who thought fans would welcome professional live recordings they have longed-for without going into enough detail about what would be available.

Then again, the amount of angry chatter between fans that greeted the original announcement leaded to much more press coverage than it would have done if people were happy about it.

So if there really was any sort of "scam" involved in the release of these live recordings, it could have been with the backlash that greeted it, and the petition set up that attracted thousands of signatures.

There's nothing like a protest to generate more publicity for a product, when you already have the desired outcome of the protestors waiting to be released. In this case, the cheaper downloads without the need for a wristband.

Which according to Backstreets.com will come in two options for audio formats: "MP3 (320 kbps) or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). Pricing will match Pearl Jam's at $9.99 for MP3 or $14.99 for FLAC."

So, did I fall for the Bruce Springsteen USB wristband backlash-scam?

No. 

(But after rushing online and pre-ordering several wristbands at $45 each, and another t-shirt, I probably should have.)