Rehearsals On Demand

Big things are happening at CenterStaging Musical Productions as the company expands the rehearsal concept to television and develops a new, all-request concert series for one of the most popular sites on the Web.

Music-savvy fans already know about, CenterStaging’s Web portal where concert buffs watch their favorite artists and bands get their acts together before heading out on the road. There’s something about watching performers oiling up the ol’ touring chops that seems so intimate, so real and authentic, that the experience is fast becoming as important to live music lovers as attending the concerts themselves.

But what if you don’t have a computer or broadband connection? How can you see all the prep and planning that goes into a tour if you can’t connect with

No problemo for Comcast cable subscribers. Instead of clicking the mouse, just press the "On Demand" button on the remote and navigate Comcast’s menu system to the music section, where you’ll find CenterStaging’s latest platform, RehearsalsTV.

"We partnered with Comcast," Tommy Nast, CenterStaging’s executive VP of business development, told Pollstar. "We created RehearsalsTV, which is a VOD channel that’s going to be an opportunity for us to expose established artists and emerging artists in 11 million homes, and an additional 10 million homes with Comcast Broadband, which puts us in a great number of houses that will be able to expose artists on every level in all genres."

CenterStaging’s Burbank HQ boasts several rehearsal studios with robot-operated, high-definition cameras providing state-of-the-art video capture that’s unobtrusive to the artists. Although the actual performances may be "works in progress," the technical side is slick and professional, making artists look and sound as good in the planning stages as when they’re pounding stages in front of audiences.

An additional benefit is that with each and RehearsalsTV performance, CenterStaging is building a program library that can easily be modified for other entertainment channels, like DVDs, or provide archival footage for band bios or current video for promotional use.

"Right now, as we go forward we’re looking at being able to give established artists the opportunity to not just be a part of our RehearsalsTV channel, but RehearsalsTV will be able to provide some marquee artists – artists that have significant value with their own channel through RehearsalsTV," Nast said.

"So you could have an artist film material here at our studios and have that being shown, and in addition, they could provide us with their home movies or footage that hasn’t been seen in a long time, or maybe concert [footage] they’ve found, giving them a channel that can help promote them, through either a tour cycle or a CD or DVD release cycle and add to the promotional marketing. In today’s world it’s not like the networks are jumping up and down putting many live music programs into their live programming fare."

So which artists are doing the Rehearsals thing with CenterStaging? Big band singer Michael Bublé, California rocker Chris Isaak and Indiana’s favorite son John Mellencamp are just a few of the established artists to grace Rehearsals’ studios.

And then there’s Beth Hart, who has had a long and rewarding relationship working in CenterStaging’s Rehearsals environment. In fact, by describing CenterStaging’s projects with Hart, Nast described what his company has to offer artists.

"Beth Hart is an artist who is one of the greatest women I’ve ever heard sing in my life. She’s up there with the best," Nast said. "We had the pleasure of having her and her band come in here, and we recorded her new project, her new album, in 37 days.

"It’s 14 tracks, and not only did we capture all the audio, but we shot all the video for it. So, each track has an accompanying video with it, not to mention for each track we recorded acoustic versions, both audio and visual. Her manager, Dave Wolff, who has been with her since day one, and CenterStaging, has partnered to bring the world this new Beth Hart project.

"I think it’s a cool model to have finished a product like that – both audio and visual – and the various platforms that we could also add to the mix should a major label get involved, or a company like Starbucks chooses to get involved or an independent label. Whatever route that makes the most sense for Dave and Beth, we’ve got a lot that’s already done. You’ve got finished product and several platforms you can expose this on."

RehearsalsTV is just one of many new projects for the CenterStaging folks. In addition to its partnership with Comcast, CenterStaging has also allied itself with MySpace to present "Hey – Play This" an all-request, fan-interactive music-streaming series direct from CenterStaging’s rehearsal studios.

"We did a great show with them with Velvet Revolver, where it’s a live show," Nast said. "They come and [viewers] make requests through MySpace. We’ve done Yellowcard. It’s a great relationship. MySpace has recognized the production expertise that we provide and our state-of-the-art, high-def robotic camera system works tremendously for what they’re trying to accomplish."

Whether it’s, RehearsalsTV, MySpace, or video sites such as Joost, CenterStaging’s Rehearsals format is definitely a win-win concept. For artists, it turns weeks of preparing and planning for a tour into something that can be marketed along with tickets, CDs and merch.

"There’s been a lot of word-of-mouth. And there are artists that keep coming back," Nast said. "CenterStaging has been a Mecca for artists to rehearse in. Not only can they rehearse in an amazing environment, but they can take advantage of what CenterStaging can offer in the world of filming and recording, and taking that and putting it into platforms like television with Comcast, or like movie theaters with National CineMedia. … It can be a real one-stop-shop for an artist in providing great promotional and marketing opportunities to give them further exposure."


The Following Is A Test

Universal Music Group recently made news when the label announced it would sell tracks online without any copy protection or other digital rights management protection.

Calling it an "open MP3 test," Universal said it would sell unprotected MP3 versions of songs by many of the label’s top artists and bands, including Amy Winehouse, Daddy Yankee, Maroon 5, Dr. Dre, Prince and Elvis Costello.

As the largest record label in this sector of the known galaxy, the results of Universal’s MP3 test just might help determine the future of digital rights management in the years to come. Although most labels have declared DRM a necessity for selling tracks online, there’s reason to believe that most pirated tracks originate from ripped CDs, not songs purchased online.

If there was one thing the media seemed to zero in on regarding Universal’s MP3 announcement, it was that Apple’s iTunes was conspicuously absent from the list of online vendors included in the label’s venture.

But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Universal chairman and CEO Doug Morris has been critical of iTunes, saying that Apple has gained too much power over the labels in recent years. More recently, Universal did not renew iTunes’ standard contract, choosing instead to go with a temporary agreement that gives the label a little more bargaining power as to how its tracks are sold on iTunes.

But who needs iTunes when you’re selling unprotected MP3s? The biggest draw for songs sold on iTunes is that the tracks are iPod compatible. MP3s are also iPod compatible, meaning that tracks purchased from any of the vendors and Web portals participating in Universal’s test, including Google, Best Buy Digital Music Store, Rhapsody and Amazon, will play on iPods.

In other words, Universal gets to stick it to Apple while giving iTunes competitors a little more marketing muscle.

"Universal Music Group is committed to exploring new ways to expand the availability of our artists’ music online, while offering consumers the most choice in how and where they purchase and enjoy our music," Morris said. "This test, which is a continuation of a series of tests that UMG began conducting earlier in the year, will provide valuable insights into the implications of selling our music in an open format."