The latest chapter in the Belly Up Tavern’s 40 year history of bringing live music to San Diego, BellyUpLive.com, began this month with global aspirations. No longer do you have to be at the club to experience a show–the new Belly Up Live downloads provide a professionally mixed, edited, and mastered recording of the event all with just one click.
“For several years, we have been talking about how to kind of export the Belly Up experience out into cyberspace,” explains Chris Goldsmith, seven-time Grammy Award winning producer who heads up the booking department at the Belly Up. Goldsmith is known for his tremendous work revitalizing the careers of the Blind Boys of Alabama, for which he has garnished five Grammies. His latest Grammy was awarded last month for producing the 2013 Best Blues Album Get Up! fromBen Harper and Charlie Musselwhite. “So the question was, how do you take this organic experience and transform it into a virtual experience for people around the world who are interested in live music?” Cue the birth of Belly Up Live.
Respectfully (and affectionately) known as the “music guidance counselor” of the venue, Goldsmith sat down with me on a Solana Beach, marine layered morning and revealed the inner workings of the club’s master plan for BellyUpLive.com.
“Belly Up is all about the quality of the music experience. We feel we put live music on a world class level every night, so we wanted to make sure this was on that same level of quality, a natural extension of what we are already doing. We wanted to make it very basic without creating all these different aspects to it. People want to listen to the music, and we want to make it available to them.”
Currently, the web site features over 30 recorded live shows and three 10 song samplers. You can get an entire show for $5.99 or pick out single songs from the set for a buck each. The music offers a multitude of genres, each show featuring its own brand with styles including rock, rap, reggae, soul, country, and blues.
So, how are the bands taking to having their music recorded and sold through the Belly Up channel?
“One of the core aspects of the plan was we wanted to be the exclusive provider of the content. And we wanted that for a couple of reasons. We didn’t want it to be a competition with whatever else the bands are doing. We are taking their music to the Belly Up audience. So, for the band, we want to provide an audience that might not be their core audience, people who aren’t already going to buy their music.”
And there’s the rub. While some bands are shying away from record labels controlling their recordings and their careers, how do you get artists to work with you when you start positioning yourself as a record label?
“The music business is a confusing place. Trusting a record label is like the sheep trusting the wolf. So, now we are a record label and one of the things we wanted to be real clear about is it has nothing to do with if you are going to play the club or not. The recording is completely optional. Those that have trusted the process and have trusted us have gone through it just fine. Even the major touring acts like Matthew Sweet, Mother Hips, Donavon Frankenreiter–we are getting a nice level of national talent right here in the beginning. I thought it would take us a year to build that, so I’m happy with the progress right off the bat.”
Anyone who has been to the Belly Up can attest to the superior quality of sound the intimate room provides. And anyone who has ever been to a quality live show knows that a recording doesn’t exactly duplicate the live experience. So, what can the buying audience expect from the downloads, and how do they plan on delivering the sweet sound Belly Up is famous for?
“The problem with live music recording is if you bring in a multi-track recorder and do a multi-track mix, you tend to mix the life out of the live show. And if you have just a board mix, it’s usually too raw and too rough. So, we wanted to split the difference. We set a few different mics and experimented with a room mix plus what’s coming through the board. It really preserved the life of what we are doing. And the Belly Up PA is phenomenal; it’s an analog PA, combine that with the warmth of the room, and the engineers we have working on it, and you really get a great sound. Each one is a professionally mixed, mastered, live recording. Each show is edited down so you get the best of the performance. It’s 45 to 60 minutes, so you don’t have to go three hours to get the experience. You get the best of the night mixed in a way you can listen to over and over again. We wanted it to feel like you could listen to the whole thing and get the best of the concert in one sitting.”
One of the first things about Belly Up Live that caught my eye – and it wouldn’t be San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll without asking Chris about local bands – was the amount of the local bands (over 10) already recorded.
“The local audience is our life blood, and it’s mutually beneficial because we need artists to do it. Local artists are the ones that know us, and the ones less restricted by record contracts and what not, and they are our spoke people in the local community. Our hope is that, globally, people will find out about great bands in San Diego. A huge part of our vision is always to be bringing in up and coming bands. It’s that freshness and discovery that we want to be a part of.”
With a few months under their belt, the roster is impressive, locally supported, and sounding pristine. Goldsmith was not only thrilled with the quality of the product so far, but was optimistically looking forward to where this project could lead.
“We hope, in the future, to be able to integrate at the point of purchase, where if we know far enough in advance that we are doing a recording before the show goes on sale, we can have it for purchase along with the ticket in a bundle. Our long term goal is to have millions of people around the world listening to what we have here at the Belly Up.”