What happened to the concept recording?

If you see a musical (and you like it), what is the first piece of “merch” that you’re most likely to buy?

The cast recording, right?.

If you’re a brand new musical previewing on Broadway, what’s the hardest piece of merch to have available for your preview audiences?

The cast recording!

There are a ton of reasons why cast recordings are usually never available for a show’s first performance; musical numbers might get cut, the orchestrations aren’t set, the cast has been rehearsing 24/8, etc.

And because those CDs and downloads aren’t available, the shows lose out on revenue, and more importantly, marketing.

Because nothing spreads faster than music.

There was a time when “concept recordings” were made of shows and released well before the opening date.  Webber did most of them, with Jesus Christ Superstar being the most famous, which he followed up with a concept recording of Evita (featuring Les Miz‘s original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson – who is awesome).

Frank Wildhorn has issued a few as well, including Jekyll & Hyde and his new Broadway musical, Wonderland.

But my question is . . . why don’t we see more of these?

Recording, production and distribution has gotten easier and cheaper over the last several years.  So why doesn’t every musical have a concept album?  Or more realistically, what about a six song pre-release CD available for purchase by that first preview? (I wouldn’t even give audiences much more than the six songs, so they have more of a reason to purchase the full album when it comes out.  You’ll probably end up with two purchases instead of one.)  And certainly there are at least six songs that are going to stay in the show and aren’t at risk of getting cut in previews.

And if you want to save money, then only do three.  Or even one lonely iTunes single.

But get something out there and get it out fast, whether it’s conceptual or not.

Because the first few weeks of a show’s life are crucial and you need every marketing tool you have.

And music is like a Makita.

It gets the job done a lot faster.

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Comments
  • On my new musical, for our workshop, we are casting and then spending two months recording vocals, and only then hitting the stage to workshop it. If there are music changes that need to take place, then we will address those prior to opening the workshop performances. Ideally, we get it pretty close before we even hit the stage.
    Great post btw.

  • This is an outstanding observation. The last time I was in New York the only play I had time to see was Rock of Ages and the only thing I purchased from the play (although I did it after returning home) was the recording which I still play frequently several years later. A cast recording is the best souvenir from a play because it keeps on giving. I made multiple recommendations to people to see the touring version of the play when it was in LA recently, due not only to how much fun the play was, but also due to the fact that I am constantly reminded of that fact by the recording.

  • Duncan says:

    Well, in the case of Lloyd Webber (and probably Wildhorn as well), he recorded concept albums before there was even a real story or show, and used those to sell the idea to producers, not to audiences. The Evita one has a few songs that didn’t even make it into the show (Che’s “O my insecticide!”).
    And I certainly have lying around a few 4-song promotional CDs for The Light in Mike Piazza, Mimi LeDuck, and In My Life… But those were given out for free before the show opened to attempt to drum up interest.

  • Allison says:

    I recently received a 4-song preview CD for Catch Me If You Can in the mail and so have a few of my friends. Predictably, we’ve already listened to all the songs and are talking about getting tickets soon. Smart move, Catch Me if You Can!

  • Danny says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. Which is why my new musical has a concept recording out and available for free download: http://placebothemusical.com/castalbum
    Our thinking is that even though we’re going to lose major money buy giving this out for free, it might pay off if it sparks interest in the show.

  • Sean Cercone says:

    Amen!
    In fact, for a creative team, it would be an excellent exercise in objectively looking at the score. If you are questioning putting a song on the album, then maybe there is a greater issue at hand.

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