Clubs Around Country Get Wired For Webcasts

Digital Club Festival, featuring performances by Public Enemy and Bush, introduces new online network.

NEW YORK — Rock clubs in seven cities have agreed to regularly webcast concerts on a free site scheduled to launch in September, organizers said.

The Digital Club Network got its "soft launch" last week during the four-day Digital Club Festival, which brought 300 acts — including hip-hop artists Public Enemy and Prince Paul and rockers Bush, Live and Guided by Voices — to clubs around New York.

Some of the shows, including Public Enemy's Wednesday-night performance featuring a solo set by PE rapper Flavor Flav and another by frontman Chuck D's rock band, Confrontation Camp, were webcast live. Others were taped for future webcast. Ted Werth, chief operating officer of the Digital Club Network, said the site will spend the rest of the summer archiving digital recordings from the festival so such recordings eventually can be made available for download.

While live events will be free, plans call for archived recordings to be sold as either digital downloads or custom-made CDs. Prices have not been announced.

While the Digital Club Festival was meant as a webcasting showcase and a way to introduce the Digital Club Network, two of the festival's marquee bands, Bush and Live, refused to sign contracts allowing webcasts of their pre-Woodstock '99 shows. Ex-Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who performed with his band Planet Drum, also refused to sign. One of the bands' concerns, according to Werth, was with the archiving plans.

The participating clubs in the network include six in New York: the legendary punk club CBGB; the national-act showcases Tramps, the Knitting Factory and Wetlands Preserve; and the smaller Brownies and Arlene Grocery. Also in the network, according to Werth, are the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.; the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco; Legends in Las Vegas; Maxwell's in Hoboken, N.J.; the Metro in Chicago; and the Showbox in Seattle.

Eventually, he said, organizers hope to bring in clubs in Europe and Australia.

Club owners and booking agents said they see the new network as a way to convince out-of-towners to visit their venues on their next trip to New York. Chris Zahn, the booking agent at Wetlands Preserve, and Steve Weitzman, the talent buyer at Tramps, said artists and managers might also tune in and decide they want their next New York gig to be at a wired club.

"People will see Wetlands all over the country, and when they come to New York they'll want to come here to see a cool show," Zahn said.

Artists also might be enticed to book themselves into certain clubs by the revenue-splitting promise of the Digital Club Network. Acts that perform on the network will have another source of income besides cover charges, and another source of digitally recorded material besides recording studios.

But Zahn said he isn't convinced people will pay for Internet music. "I've seen a lot of live Internet broadcasts where the picture keeps crapping out and the sound keeps going out," he said. "It hasn't been that professional, and I think a lot of people have seen that."

Michael Dorf, owner of the Knitting Factory and chairman of the Digital Club Network, said the barnstorming days of webcasting are over, and the technology is now stable and reliable — as demonstrated at last week's festival.

"For me, now it's actually getting boring because it's working so well," Dorf said.

While last week's webcasts used a single, fixed-focus camera mounted on the ceiling, future webcasts — especially those earmarked for pay-per-view or download-for-sale — are likely to use multiple, remote-control cameras and possibly live camera operators at the shows, organizers said.

"We're going to have clubs wired up all over the world next year," Dorf said.

Weitzman said the webcasts will be an inducement to see live music, not a replacement for it. "You can't replace the live concert experience," he said. "You don't get the sound in your chest. We have a great PA system. You don't get that over the Internet."

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