Cue Music: Sh-K-Boom's Deutsch Foresees Broadway's Digital Age
By Adam Hetrick
Broadway entered the digital age May 27 with the first iTunes exclusive release of a cast album, the live original Broadway cast recording of Passing Strange, produced for Sh-K-Boom Records by Kurt Deutsch.
"The beauty of digital, I think, is the ability to get it out as fast as you possibly can to the fans that want it. And with Passing Strange, it was very important to myself and to the producer, Stew, to get the music out there as fast as we could," Deutsch says.
It was wise timing. With Passing Strange nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score, theatre aficionados were eager to hear what the buzz was all about.
For many theatre fans, however, one of the joys of an original Broadway cast recording is the ability to listen while reading the lyrics, plot synopsis and viewing production photos.
"I understand that there are serious collectors of physical [recordings]," Deutsch says, "and that's never going to go away. There's something about being able to hold a booklet, being able to read along with it and being able to have that experience — I would never want that to go away, [but] it's just probably going to evolve."
Sh-K-Boom's theatre-related branch, Ghostlight Records, also released the original Broadway cast recording of In the Heights June 3. With production photos, synopsis and complete lyrics as part of the CD package, Deutsch compares capturing a live album like Passing Strange with the studio recording of In the Heights.
"With In the Heights we finished the artwork before we finished the recording because we knew what we recorded and we knew what was going to end up on the CD . . . A lot of times on the first printing there are typos because you don't have time to compare, so there are probably some 'ands' and some 'buts' and some words somebody sung that is different from what's in the script."
Passing Strange's live recording session created a different set of challenges for the producer, who states, "We created a set list, and they basically edited the songs to make the songs 'songs,' and we invited an audience into the theatre so that the energy would be captured and that the songs could play out. It was more a combination of watching a live television show and a rock concert."
It was also due to the manufacturing timelines that Deutsch and his team opted to release Passing Strange as a digital release rather than to wait months for completed artwork. "We really couldn't do the artwork until we finished the master," he explains. "Because of the way we recorded it, we ultimately didn't know what was going to end up on the CD. . . .We did a lot of internal editing in the mix."
Among the titles in the Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records catalogue are The Drowsy Chaperone, Legally Blonde, Gone Missing, Make Me a Song and Lovemusik. Deutsch notes that the more contemporary and youth-oriented recordings in his catalogue are taking hold on the digital market.
"If the show's successful, the album sells itself," he says. "The reason that I didn't feel bad about putting Passing Strange out digitally is because the younger generation really does buy music online." Deutsch also says that the cast recording of Broadway's Legally Blonde received a digital download boost from its MTV broadcast in October, and he expects downloads to spike again as MTV airs the reality series "Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods."
"Shows like Legally Blonde sell significantly more digitally than a show like Lovemusik [because] the younger the audience, the more computer savvy they are," he observes. "I think as the technology gets easier, people get less scared. I mean it's just about pushing one button: 'buy.' And my father's doing it now, and if my dad can do it, anybody can do it."
While die-hard Broadway collectors will likely want to own a physical copy of a recording, Deutsch foresees Broadway continuing to shift toward the digital market: "Ultimately, if that's how it's available and that's what people want, then people will find it. We just have to adapt," he concludes.
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