In less than two years, Yahoo Music has become a distinctive repository of exclusive concerts and a significant part of marketing plans for veteran acts with new albums. Nissan Live Sets, shot in HD on a soundstage on the Fox lot, has quickly become as important a concert series as exists, whether it be on the Web or on broadcast television.
As Scott Moore, senior VP and head of media for Yahoo, notes: “It’s a cornerstone program. You won’t find this type of show on YouTube.”
It’s the first place in the U.S. where Brian Wilson performed songs from his Sept. 1 release “That Lucky Old Sun.” It’s the only place where Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell performed together after he won the album Grammy. And shortly after she had canceled a tour, it was the only place to see a live performance of Kelly Clarkson singing songs from her “My December” album.
“We have tried to stay with iconic artists who have something new to say,” says Neal Weiss, executive producer of Nissan Live Sets on Yahoo Music. “There are a couple of cases in which we have gone to younger artists like Ne-Yo. We try to balance. Everyone wants a home run each time, and that could mean the Foo Fighters or Herbie Hancock with Joni Mitchell.”
The Pretenders, with Chrissie Hynde in remarkable form, taped a mid-August show that will be the site’s 45th concert when it is posted in September following concert vids of Wilson, Buddy Guy and Joan Jett. Most artists perform eight or nine songs; Ryan Adams did the most, 18.
By mid-August, the program’s concerts had generated 170 million streams. Collectively, the Live Sets receive 4 million streams per month and, on average, Yahoo Music tells artists they can expect about 2 million streams for a concert.
Yahoo has capitalized on the fact that labels need vehicles for exposure, and the Live Sets series has quickly joined talkshows as a desired stop. Foo Fighters, Jewel and Common had sessions premiere during the weeks in which their most recent albums were released; Wilson’s Yahoo concert and new album drop on the same day.
“Fifteen years ago, FM radio and MTV were your marketing plan,” notes John Lenac, head of Label Relations and Programming for Yahoo Music. “The labels want to hedge their bets, which is not even an issue for Yahoo. The Live Sets ecosystem gets fans involved. They’re asking the questions. They’re part of the system perpetuating the band.”
The Live Sets series has distinguished itself by booking artists who have a strong catalog and new material. Fans alerted through fan clubs and artist websites make up the audience of about 300; a handful of VIPs watch from elevated areas in the back of the room.
Then there are the moments that make each episode special. Weezer handed out toy instruments to audience members; Counting Crows’ lead singer Adam Duritz messed with the show’s pre-organized Q&A. Maroon 5, a bit taken aback by the number of longtime fans on hand, cracked inside jokes that got laughs but went over the heads of the production team.
“That was the first time I recognized the connection,” Weiss says of the Maroon 5 show. “We could cast models and hire extras and coach them on asking questions, but we want this to be as organic as can be.”
Lenac related a story about blues guitarist Buddy Guy walking in to do a sound check, thrilled that he would be able to perform more than one song. He became doubly excited when he was told he could play whatever material he wanted, that the Yahoo executives had no requests or demands. Says Lenac, “We don’t want restrictions.”