By the time Bruce Springsteen wraps his tour of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in early March, he will have released roughly three times as many live sets as he did in the first 50 years of his professional career. It's due to the simple fact that he's now posting recordings of his shows online about two or three days after they end. Fans can buy MP3s of complete shows for $9.99 or high-quality FLACs for $14.99.
The move seemed out of the blue to Springsteen's large fan base, but manager Jon Landau doesn't see it that way. "It didn't feel sudden to us," he says. "But Bruce does have a long history of being very conservative about what he releases. It's one of the reasons that his music has remained so focused. But the ability to release more material in more varied ways via the Internet has been perfected. This just felt like the right time to Bruce to start exploring these options in depth."
When the plan was first announced, fans were told they'd have to buy a $38 USB wristband before they could download a show. "The wristband is a bit of a hybrid: it's a combination of a download, souvenir of the show and bracelet," says Landau. "The wristbands are sold primarily through venues via the usual T-shirt stands and cost around the same as a T-shirt. As we speak, we have only put one show up, but the response in Cape Town was very positive. We had decided on the wristband first just because there was a good plan in place."
The price point for the wristbands was substantially higher than what most other artists charge for official downloads, and there was a massive outcry from Springsteen fans as well as a petition drive for a more affordable option. The Springsteen camp responded quickly by announcing the $9.99 MP3 and $14.99 FLAC option, which is right in line with what other artists charge. The petition was immediately suspended.
"We had always planned to offer the shows as direct downloads at prices similar to those of such great artists as Pearl Jam and Phish, who have been doing this for years," says Landau. "But there was an immediate fan demand for these direct-download formats that caused us to accelerate the pace at which we moved ahead. I heard from quite a few fans directly with very thoughtful comments."
The downloads are an undoctored presentation of the concerts, regardless of bum notes or any other mistakes. "Bruce thought that we should really go for the raw feeling of the show rather than reworking anything in a studio," says Landau. "[Front-of-house mixer John Cooper] does a very quick and light remix for continuity and simple adjustments in balances, including bringing the audience mics into the picture. Our goal is to have each show up and ready to be downloaded in not more than seventy-two hours, and hopefully less. I have been thrilled with the initial shows. They are exciting, raw and different than the approach that we have often taken in the past."
Springsteen often plays cover songs during his shows, and any publishing issues this may cause with the downloads will have no impact on his set list selections. "He will approach the show exactly as he always has," says Landau.
As of now, only new shows have been put up for sale. Has there been talk of posting archival shows at some point in the future? Landau offers just one word: "Yes."