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GIving bootlegs the boot

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We’ve all heard the exhortations at the start of shows saying that the use of cameras and video equipment is strictly prohibited. Such warnings used to apply to only a minority of us, but as smartphones have advanced in recording quality, these days nearly every audience member is a potential recordist.

Thankfully, the incidences where people ignore the rules are rare, but some still do. Just as it annoys me when a minority of commuters on the Underground hang around the doors, believing that all the messages about moving down the carriage must be aimed at everyone except them, I find it really annoying that some people know that they’ve been told not to make recordings, but have somehow rationalised that in their case the rule just doesn’t apply.

I also found it frustrating in the last week when I saw a young musical theatre actor – maybe not someone you’d call a household name, but who has had a decent bit of exposure, and who has just finished a run in a role which garnered him good reviews – tweet links to a bootleg recording of one of his recent cabaret appearances. What hope have we of ridding such intimate spaces of the scourge of cameraphones if the onstage talent is encouraging people to view the results?

[pullquote]If you’re going to try and demonstrate that you, too, can sing Defying Gravity without making the audience want to rip out their own eardrums to make it stop, it helps if you’re not singing along to a Broadway cast recording[/pullquote]

Of course, I can understand the desire for a performer to spread awareness of their work. The quality of this particular actor’s performance shone through, even with people passing in front of the camera and the sound regularly obscured by audience noise. But as an online showcase for his talents, how much better it would be if he could direct his fans on Twitter and Facebook to a performance where he had better control of the sound and picture quality.

These days, getting hold of an HD quality video camera isn’t difficult: most new models of smartphone can record video in high definition, although to get the best possible quality you’ll need lots of bright, natural light and a means of securing the phone into position. The point is, you can probably create a decent recording environment with next to no cash outlay.

Finding the right accompaniment can be tricky, of course. If you’re going to try and demonstrate that you, too, can sing Defying Gravity without making the audience want to rip out their own eardrums to make it stop – something relatively few performers seem able to do – it helps if you’re not singing along to a Broadway cast recording. Believe it or not, we’ll be able to tell the difference between you and Idina, and you’re not likely to come off well in that comparison.

If you can find a tame pianist, all the better – but saving that, do find a suitable backing recording. Sites like PureSolo do well here, which sells professionally produced and licensed backing music for just this purpose. Their catalogue covers all genres, including musical theatre – and with more licensing deals signed with publishers all the time, the number of songs they can feature is ever increasing (disclosure: I was a judge for The Stage/PureSolo search for a new musical theatre voice a couple of years ago, and PureSolo continues to have a commercial relationship with The Stage).

Nobody wants to give all their stuff away for free, of course – you’re hardly likely to build a financially stable career that way. But, as the tweeting performer who so annoyed me above knows, a few choice performances online can help you market yourself. Not only can it help build and retain an audience which can bolster ticket sales when you perform live, but being ‘known’ through your online persona can help you stand out – hopefully, but not always, for the right reasons – as the applications for auditions are being sifted through. And the buzz around Twitter account@westendproducer’s Search for a Twitter Star demonstrates that putting your own musical theatre clips online can bring really productive results.

A healthy knowledge of copyright law doesn’t hurt, either. The internet is not a law-free zone, much as it may feel it at times. And while there are always cases where people and companies misuse the rights afforded to them, at its heart the principle of copyright is there to protect the creators – be they composers, lyricists, backing musicians or lead performers.

But let’s keep things light, with a few choice clips. Here’s a showcase of musical theatre students – filmed officially, and with no disruption to the audience (I know, I was there), with a song from the new musical Lift, which opens at the Soho Theatre next week:

AJ Rafael & Lana McKissack’s rendition of A Little Fall of Rain has a luscious look to it that helps ensure picture quality complements the beauty of their audio:

And I’m going to finish by including my favourite viral musical video of all, even though it’s at the opposite end of the YouTube marketing spectrum. Performed by accomplished West End performer Julie Atherton (who, incidentally, stars in that production of Lift at the Soho Theatre), this was produced by Speckulation Entertainment to promote their album of music by composer Michael Bruce – himself a former winner of The Stage/Notes from New York competition, Notes for The Stage, and is a song which Atherton had sung in her cabaret performances for some time before the album and video was created.

Take my word for it, seeing Julie perform this live is even better. Just don’t link to any bootleg copies, please…

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