Bringing back the concept of the concept album.

In the 80s, Andrew Lloyd Three Names released a bunch of recordings of his shows, before they were actually completed shows.

Jesus Christ Three Named Show was one of the first . . . but Evita had one, and there was a songs from Starlight Express CD too.

On this side of the record-producing pond, Frank Wildhorn (the would-be ALW of the West) had his hand in the pre-album album with J&H, Civil War (with fancy recording artists, nonetheless), and others.

But other than those, and a few randoms here and there, the concept of the concept album went the way of Annie 2.

Why?

Why would a show on its way to Broadway not take a few bucks from the budget to make a “Songs from . . . ” CD?  The benefits are ginormous:

  • You’d have them to sell on your first preview, instead of having to wait for months to make the OCR.
  • You’d have a first class marketing tool to use on your way to Broadway . . . and let’s face it, nothing sells a musical better than its music . . . to investors, to sponsors, theater owners, etc.
  • You’d start building a fan base, and have people humming songs on the way in, rather than just on the way out.

In the past twenty years, the cost of making albums, and distributing albums has dropped tremendously.  You can even DIY it.  And done cheap enough, almost any CD could certainly find the “long tail” market and recoup some of its costs.

Objections I’ve heard are, “The cast might not be the same as on Broadway,” (who cares) and, “What if we cut a song?” (who cares – listen to ALW’s Evita).  The bottom line is this . . . when an audience member leaves a musical and has a song in their head . . . they’ll do anything to hear it again to satisfy that musical craving.  And when I say anything, I mean anything (you’re reading a blog from a guy who listened to a cassette bootleg of Rent for weeks.)

You can satisfy that need, make some money, and market your show better if you’ve got a CD to sell from the start.  So add the cost to your budget, and get that score out in the world.

Huh.  I think I just convinced myself to do a recording of Somewhere in Time while we’re out here in Portland.

 

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Comments
  • I agree Ken. Audiences love the idea of a ‘sneak peak’ and feel privileged to be part of something at the very beginning. It will guarantee the excitement I felt at finally going to a Madonna concert after listening to her songs over and over and over again for years (yes I’m at 80’s baby). I think it’s a fabulous marketing idea, and you’re right, relatively cheap.

  • Lisa Peterson says:

    Pretty, pretty please do a bootleg of Somewhere in Time. Its lovely, romantic music that I could hear over and over again. I am first in line for that recording. 🙂

  • Yes, Yes, Yes – Make a concept album – need to hear that music!

  • To be THAT geek, I’ll say that it was actually in the 1970s when the SUPERSTAR and EVITA concept albums came out (1970 and 1976, respectively). I love the concept album idea. But I’m also of a generation that loves the multi-cast-recording concept. i.e.; I can never have enough different recordings of a musical that I love. I first heard the concept album of EVITA in 1977, obsessed over it, then got my hands on the ’79 recording, and, eventually, obtained the unfortunately incomplete/edited down Elaine Paige recording. This is coming from someone who has every recording of GYPSY ever produced.
    I agree that the concept album should make a comeback for every reason you state, but once the show is open and running, satisfy your audience with a recording of that production. There is always a difference in how a show sounds from concept to original cast recording. EVITA is the best example in how a show changes from concept to realization. Originally written as a rock opera, EVITA thrilled me with the pulsing beats, heavy bass line, occasional disco flavor and combination of the London Philharmonic with a rock band. I’m sure that because it’s what I was first exposed to, it’s my favorite recording of the show, but I also thrill to the sheer musical theatre prowess of the original Broadway cast’s vocals. Same idea, same score, but very different products. Both worth listening to.

  • Ed Glazier says:

    It also seems that there is often some question as to whether some label will record a show after it opens. I don’t understand why a producer doesn’t always include the cost of a recording in the budget. It seems to me that if the producer and creative team want the show to have a life after its initial production, a recording is essential to spreading the word. Even big shows like CANDIDE or not so big ones like SHE LOVES ME survived to sing another day – or several other days – because of their cast recordings. If a producer believes in the show, why depend on some record producer to fund and distribute a recording? Electronic distribution seems to be a whole lot simpler these days and selling on the internet – for example, via CDBABY – can keep the show alive and provide an opportunity for non-New Yorkers to discover it.

  • David says:

    I agree about the pre-opening album. The original Jesus Christ Superstar album has never been topped and the benefit of having a recording of a show pre-opening is that if one of the songs is cut, you now have a recording of it anyway!

  • LA Producer says:

    Good luck with SAG/AFTRA! Totally agree with you Ken but to do it “by the book” will be a real pain in the ass.

  • Ben Fort says:

    I think this approach can be especially helpful for new writing teams who want to establish themselves. In Chicago, there are dozens of theater companies less than five years old who aren’t concerned with raising millions so much as competing for non-equity actors, reviewers, and audiences. A group in that situation could use Kickstarter to raise a few grand to record and be in a much better position. They could attract actors with the opportunity to record, offer reviewers a taste, and have a built in audience with their Kickstarter backers.

  • Derek says:

    Robert Stigwood was the absolute master of this approach. Stigwood was also the original producer of JC Superstar – but he developed this tactic into a fine art with the film version of Saturday Night Fever. He engineered the release of the soundtrack album right to the top of the Hit Parade BEFORE the movie opened. He repeated this strategy with the film version of Grease. He really pushed the cross-over potential of his shows and proved that it’s a very sound and sensible strategy to follow.

  • Paul Cozby says:

    And don’t forget the concert version of “Ragtime.” It was actually different from what finally appeared on Broadway. We were in Texas at the time, young kids filling up the SUV, and we literally played the digitals off that CD. We could sing “Journey On” like the Von Trapps. It made us love the show long before we saw it.

  • Prior to premiering the new rock musical “Give Me A Break” in November 2012, we did a cast recording of the soundtrack. In addition to the benefits already mentioned, there are other good reasons to do it:
    – Building buzz: Ultimately, we made the entire CD available on iTunes, but for pre-premiere marketing, we released a song on iTunes each week for the last 10 weeks running up to the premiere to build some buzz
    – Web site, FaceBook, Twitter content: having quality soundtrack cuts (and links) provides rich content to showcase on the show’s web site before, during and after the premiere. This can also be linked to CD sales fulfillment
    – Priming reviewers: we included a free CD in the package we gave theatre reviewers of the show premiere. This added credibility to the show. One reviewer liked the CD so well, he recommended buying it in his review.
    – Cast compensation: we chose to offer cast members who sang on the recording performance royalties on song/CD sales. This gave us another component to our compensation package which helped us recruit quality talent to an unknown show
    – Cast Preparation: learning and perfecting the music for the cast recording gets the cast up-to-speed on the music and gives them more time to make the songs their own for the performances.
    – Team building: being in the recording studio together builds a team espirit de corps among the cast
    – Training tool: the CD is a music learning tool to quickly bring new cast members up-to-speed.

  • Jared says:

    What if you add a song? My boyfriend was really interested in buying a recording of “A Christmas Story” until he realized that, because it was recorded out-of-town, it didn’t have the song “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” (which was the primary reason for his interest in buying it). I think if you’re going to record out of town, you need to be prepared to amend the CD as necessary.

  • Ray Phillips says:

    This blog entry needs to be a plaque… Ken this is one of your best truisms… this is total bank!

  • Matthew says:

    As someone who lives in Australia, even an OCR is like a concept album because it is often so long before we get show here…

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