Well-stocked website heavy on '60s-'80s tunes

A year after settling legal claims with legendary artists of the 1960s and ’70s, the Internet’s largest collection of concert recordings has added a new, well-stocked column to its offerings: downloads.

Wolfgang’s Vault, a dot-com operating since 2002, started with the acquisition of promoter Bill Graham’s archives, which included concert recordings, posters and T-shirts, and has grown to include another 11 libraries of live recordings. Heavy on music from the late 1960s up to the early ’80s, the Vault also owns the Daytrotter site that, over the last five years, has recorded hundreds of sessions by emerging indie rock acts. It has become a crucial vehicle for any emerging indie act and has played a key role in several launches, most notably Death Cab for Cutie.

While the banks of music (all the streaming is free) are certainly sexy — ranging from vintage Stones and Springsteen to such crossover acts like Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra at their fusion zenith — it was not until the beginning of November that the Vault took a significant leap in rewriting its business model.

“Three legs of the stool are in place and the fourth is not that far off,” Wolfgang’s Vault founder and CEO Bill Sagan says, noting that $15 million was spent in preserving and preparing more than 7,400 concert tapes for streaming and downloading.

The legs of the revenue stool he refers to are memorabilia and merchandise (34,000 items are for sale); advertising and sponsorship (limited to music-related companies) ; and downloads. The fourth leg is a membership concept that Sagan hopes will appeal to the site’s 41,000-45,000 daily visitors.

“It’s different from subscription, which has a definition in the music business of going to a site and, for whatever fee, getting music that you lose when you end your subscription.

“Economically this will be a significant addition. There are seven or eight things members will get: Massive discounts on downloads, streams at a bit rate two times higher than other, the list goes on. The key is to offer something of substance that members feel they will use.”

Wolfgang’s Vault became a significant repository of memorabilia and music within three years, forging ahead while engaged in legal skirmishes over intellectual rights. Signing a deal with Universal Music in the late spring of 2008 was the first step toward monetizing the vaults on a consistent basis. Yet even after adding the folk and blues of the Ash Grove from the 1960s, Silver Eagle’s bank of country shows and various radio concerts, it’s lifeblood remain the types of acts Graham booked at his Fillmore Auditoriums in the ’60s and ’70s.

In early November, a Warren Zevon concert in 1980 was tops followed by 1970 shows by Van Morrison, Pink Floyd and the Byrds. Promoted memorabilia were items for Miles Davis, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jefferson Airplane.

On its sister site Daytrotter, an entirely different demographic was represented; its top 10 included Deerhunter, Blitzen Trapper, Fleet Foxes, Of Montreal and Spoon, acts that have dominated critics’ best-of lists the last several years.

Daytrotter’s in-studio performances are recorded at their place in the middle of Illinois — a three-hour drive from O’Hare Airport in good weather says Sagan. In October, Daytrotter traveled to Los Angeles to record more than a dozen acts over the course of a couple of days.

“Daytrotter has gone way past a quarter of a million downloads” says Sagan, proudly mentioning its recent Macworld win for best iPhone app. “It’s one of the fastest growing parts of the site. It’s no longer just the newer bands, but acts like the National, Dawes, Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend, Carly Simon, Wire. And the artists are calling us.”

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