A Conversation With Michael Hobson From The Music.Com

Most Genesis and Peter Gabriel fans are now aware of The Music.com and the service they provide to the fan community. For those not in the know, The Music.com creates and distributes soundboard live recordings, or 'official bootlegs' for lack of a better word, which are not available in retail stores or on retail websites. To date, these recordings have been made for a select group of popular artists, including: The Who, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, and of course, Genesis.

These discs, which are called The Encore Series, are pressed on aluminum CDs (not cheap CD-Rs) and accomplish two major positives for rock bands: they put quality soundboard recordings in the hands of the true fans who would like the recording from the shows that they attended (or shows that they could not attend) and it single handedly destroys the bootleg market for that tour, which puts inferior quality recordings out on the market for illegal sale (not to mention ensuring that artists receive some royalties for the sale of these recordings).

Also, of note, collectors can buy soundboard recordings individually or they can buy them as a complete set. There are even limited edition, numbered packages in miniature metal road cases, complete with an autographed card and miniature tour booklet for the completist fan who must have the ultimate package by their favorite band or artist (we all know who we are, now don't we?!).

In September 2007, I had an opportunity to chat with Michael Hobson, founder of The Music.com, to talk about the Encore Series, the origins of this unique service, the recording of Peter Gabriel's 2003, 2004 and 2007 tours as well as the 2007 Genesis Turn It On Again reunion tour, and about how acts like Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins all came to express interest in this innovative program.

World of Genesis: What is your background and how did you get into this business?

Michael Hobson: I founded Classic Records in 1994 to reissue famous Classical, Jazz and Rock LP’s for the audiophile community.  Now in its fourteenth year, Classic Records remains the worldwide market leader for high quality audiophile LP’s.  In 1998, I founded TheMusic.com which, in addition to selling a wide range of audio equipment and related music software (CD’s/DVD’s and LP’s), includes the now famous Encore Series of Official Bootleg Recordings.

WOG: How did TheMusic.com first go from concept to reality? Was the Encore Series part of that initial concept?


WOG: Phil Collins mentioned that he had wanted to do an Encore Series type of project for his 2004 world tour, but it never happened. Did you discuss that with Phil at the time? Why didn’t it come to pass?

I know Phil mentioned that it would not have been possible in America due to his label, Atlantic. Was this also an issue in Europe?

MH: I can confirm that Phil and Tony Smith, his Manager, were completely on board with an Encore Series for Phil’s last tour.  It was ultimately, and sadly, blocked by Atlantic Records.

WOG: Has Peter Gabriel discussed doing another Encore Series for his next tour?

I know he’s got an album tentatively scheduled for a 2008 release. Does he plan that far ahead?

MH: Encore seems to have become a part of the Gabriel touring plans given that we have now done the last three tours and the fans love it.  I have no specific information about PG’s plans for 2008 with regard to touring.

WOG: To the best of your knowledge, was Peter Gabriel’s 2007 Warm Up Tour truly a warm up for other shows or was it a warm up for a bigger tour next year?

MH: I asked Peter that very question at breakfast the morning after the first show.  His response was “We’ll see.”  I suggested to PG that the shows he played this past summer in Europe would be well received in the States so who knows what the Warm up was for – only time will tell.


: TheMusic.com was originally conceived as a site used to identify new talent through the a process of fans downloading tracks, listening and then voting  “Hit” or “Miss”.  If a high enough percentage of listeners voted a song a “Hit” then the artist/group would have the opportunity to record the song professionally in Hollywood.  The “Hit” would then be promoted to create buzz and further artist development to help launch new talent.  We unsuccessfully sought Venture Capital funding, like many other startups of the pre bubble burst internet era. 

After the tech bubble burst, we refocused the site as a music related ecommerce site with two “shops” – the “Gear Shop” and “The Groove Shop”.  The “Encore Shop” was created to host the first Who Encore Series in 2002.  We owe the current Encore Series viability to the courage of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry.


I can confirm that Phil and Tony Smith, his Manager, were completely on board with an Encore Series for Phil’s last tour.  It was ultimately, and sadly, blocked by Atlantic Records.

Genesis 2007 North American Encore Series Limited Edition Road Case

  WOG: Why does it seem that it’s easier to get permission to record these shows in Europe and release them than it is in the United States? Is that a misperception or is there just less ‘red tape’ overseas?

MH: Unions, Unions, Unions are the biggest issues in the States.  Union rules and compensation for “allowing” an event to be recorded often bear no connection with the sales potential.  Venues can also be an issue although less so.  Europe is and has always been more favorable for Live recording.

WOG: How many copies does a particular Encore Series need to sell in order to be considered successful? Were there any that did not meet your or the band’s expectations in terms of sales?

MH: Sales across shows vary greatly for reasons we don’t completely understand but generally we are happy with sales of 500 units per show which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t.

WOG: How did you go about marketing the idea of the Encore Series to the artists themselves? How was the idea initially perceived by the likes of those who first tried your service (like The Who, Duran Duran, and Peter Gabriel)?

MH: To market the Encore concept to artists we typically approach management or the record company that the artist is under contract to with a proposal.  Often a face to face meeting follows with a presentation on how Encore works.  The Who were bullish on the idea from the start as were Phil Collins and Genesis.  Peter Gabriel was at first reticent but came around after we had success with The Who and because of his forward thinking and fan friendliness.

WOG: What impact, if any, do you feel that the Encore Series has had on eliminating the bootleg industry for the tours that you have covered? Is that a major selling point for most artists?

MH: Encore is the most effective way a band can combat illegal bootlegs.  When an Encore Series “official bootleg” professionally recorded, mastered and pressed is available for a show why would anyone want something made from a guy with a cheesy microphone taped to his head. 

I don’t want the bootleg recorders who record shows for their own use and not to exploit commercially to be offended here so suffice it to say that our objective is to provide fans with an official bootleg version of the show that the band supports and is compensated for.

WOG: Were there any artists that considered your service but for whatever reason it just didn’t work out?


WOG: What has been the general feedback from fans about the Encore Series? How about from the artists?

MH: Fans love Encore! Artists who care about fans love Encore as well. Bootleggers, who attempt to illegally profit off inferior unprofessionally recorded live shows, hate Encore.

I know that the discs are taken direct from the soundboard, but has there ever been a time when a band wanted to fix a show due to technical difficulties on a given night (take an excerpt from a different night’s guitar solo, play with the EQ for better balance, etc.)?

MH: 99.5% of all shows are as they were performed with no overdubs, no remixing and no pieces from other shows used.  For the most part these are direct to stereo board mixes leaving little to do to in terms of repair work which is exactly why it takes courage and touring experience on the part of a band to even consider an Encore Series.

WOG: Are you present at the recordings of all of these shows? If so, what is it like traveling from venue to venue with the band? Do you have much contact with them during the tour?

MH: I typically am at the first few shows on a tour to make sure things run smoothly and to build or rekindle relationships with key personnel such as the tour manager, front of house engineer and management. The folks on the tour are consummate professionals, and I would soon be sitting around in the way if I went to too many shows. During the tour we are in constant contact getting tapes delivered and approvals on artwork etc.

MH: Many and Most.  A partial list would include: The Rolling Stones, Santana, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan.  I have pitched dozens of world class artists with a higher level of success than all of our competitors but still with a relatively low success rate overall.  As I said, [doing] Encore takes courage and is not for everyone – even though as fans we would like it to be.

WOG: What is the advantage of using TheMusic.com to artists like the ones above as opposed to doing it themselves independently?

MH: It makes almost no sense for an artist to do Encore themselves because of the overhead involved.  For one, you must have experience with internet sales, making physical product, customer service and shipping.  Most artists have enough to do organizing the tour and performing.  Further, aggregation makes sense in that we can do two or three series simultaneously which makes more sense in terms of overhead – personnel.

WOG: Are there certain types of artists that would be more successful doing something like the Encore Series than others? What criteria do you use when marketing your services to different artists?

MH: Encore really requires two things. First the artist has to have a relatively large and fervent fan base, and they have to play venues that are big enough to support Encore. In other words, you need a certain number of people to buy a copy of the show they attended to make the numbers work.  That said, you can have a show or two on a tour at a smaller venue/club which becomes desirable to the large fan base – say if the Rolling Stones played the Roxy in LA for example.

WOG: I see that for The Who, you are also doing DVDs of every night of their tour. Was that ever considered for other bands like Peter Gabriel or Genesis?

MH: The Who are innovators and decided to do DVD on the 2006/ 2007 Encore Series after finding bootleg DVD’s in Japan two weeks after a US show during the 2004 tour.  Also, DVD’s were possible because of the type of show The Who performed on this tour in that they used a number of cameras that allowed for us to capture the edited video feed that was projected onto the screens.  Without the cameras and screens video would not have made sense. 

We have pitched it to other bands that have declined thus far for the most part because of the desire to make a live DVD for one of the shows on the tour for retail via their record label.

WOG: Do you foresee a point when these sort of Encore discs will be available in 5.1 surround? That would certainly open up the market to audiophiles as well as collectors of the group.

MH: The DVD’s we did for The Who 2006/2007 Encore Series included 5.1 surround.  In terms of an audio only surround release,  I suspect that we would not pursue that format – it makes the most sense commercially in the video context.



WOG: I noticed at the Twickenham Genesis show outside of London that Brian May from Queen and one of the guys from Pink Floyd was taking shelter under the sound tent from the rain.

Is that a surreal experience to be working by the board and suddenly have these celebrities walk in? Does that sort of thing happen frequently?

MH: On a tour you run into celebrities constantly.  Not being especially star struck, I am usually not too bothered by it all and tend just to do what I am there to do – make Encore run smoothly and successfully.

WOG: How did the idea of the limited edition mini road cases come about?

MH: This is one of our innovations to the official bootleg concept.  As a collector, I reckoned that there was a group of like minded fans of the band that might want all the shows in a numbered collector’s edition. 

Add the signature card and you have a perfect ultra fan / collector’s product and the birth of The Encore Series Deluxe Roadcase Edition.

WOG: Do fans tend to buy the complete sets rather than individual shows? Of those who buy the full run of Encore Series discs from a particular tour, what percentage of them buy the metal road case over the less expensive cardboard box?

MH: Most fans just buy the show they attended.  The tour cases usually sell out and the collector’s editions vary in terms of the number sold.

WOG: The metal road cases are incredibly cool and very well made. How do you determine how many road cases a particular artist will get? I noticed that the numbers have varied slightly.

MH: The number of Road Cases offered usually is determined by the size of the tour (number of shows and venue size) as well as the size of the fan base.  Another factor is the number of times a band has been out on tour in the recent past and how different the set list varies over the tour.

WOG: It’s been said that Genesis are releasing a live album at the end of the 2007 tour. Is that a good thing or a bad thing for the Genesis Encore Series? Or, is an official live album, in your opinion, catering to a totally different audience than the Encore Series does?

MH: An official live album or DVD at retail has virtually no impact on Encore and vice versa.  Encore is for the concert fan that wants to remember the show they attended to relive the experience.  An official release is generally for a wider audience of fans who are less likely to have attended a show.  The two products can live separate lives and minimally be complementary.

Genesis Live in Philadelphia 2007 - Part of the New Encore Series

WOG: Where there any added challenges in recording any of the outdoor shows on the 2004 or 2007 Peter Gabriel or the 2007 Genesis shows being that they were in an outdoor setting – often times with poor weather conditions?

MH: Outdoor recording is always somewhat challenging in that you don’t have walls to support the concert hall sound.  One the other hand, a great mixer like Ben Findlay can adjust to recording/mixing outdoors to make recordings that are fantastic – some of my personal favorites!


WOG: Has the fact that Genesis did not change up the set list on the European leg of the tour hurt their sales at all as opposed to the 2007 Gabriel tour where there are quiet a few different set lists to choose from?

I would think that Gabriel’s constantly evolving set list is really the formula to a better selling Encore Series, because it gives an added incentive to owning the whole run.  How well have the current Genesis and Gabriel Encore Series sold?

MH: Changing the set list affects the number of multiple shows purchased by fans but doesn’t have much effect on single show sales which are driven by the number of people attending and awareness that an Encore disc is available for the show they attended.  In general, variable set lists do have a beneficial effect on overall sales across a series.

WOG: Do you tend to recommend that an artist doing these sorts of Encore Series projects makes an effort to mix up the set list a bit?

MH: Yes, we suggest that variable set lists are desirable but that is purely an artist / management decision based on the type and scale of show being performed repeatedly.

WOG: Are there particular Encore Series shows by Peter Gabriel or Genesis that, in your opinion, stand out as being more exceptional than the rest?

MH: I love all the shows in that they are all unique even though the set list may not change significantly. 

WOG: Do you have a favorite moment from recording these shows?

MH: My favorite shows are the ones that I was in the best mind set for which had little to do with the performance since these superstar artists always deliver a high level of performance.  Usually the first shows have a certain excitement and tension and the later shows
are more refined as the band falls into the groove completely.

WOG: Why was there such a delay with announcing the Encore Series for the North American leg of the Genesis tour this fall?

MH: The Genesis North American Encore Series was on and then off on now on agai
n mainly the result of control issues which I will not comment on other than to say that I laud Atlantic Records for its decision to allow a Genesis Encore Series for the North American tour.
The Music.Com's Mike Hobson


: Have there ever been any acts that were so critical of a particular show that they did not want it released as part of the Encore Series?

MH: There was a Duran Duran show that we refused to release regardless of what the band wanted to do.  Simon LeBon had quite a tough night vocally at one of the Hard Rock shows in Las Vegas near the end of their warm up tour and it did not come out.

WOG: Some Genesis fans have mentioned that they wished the Live Earth performance had made the Encore Series. Was this omitted due to the shortness of the performance of because of legal issues around the release of any performances from that benefit show?

MH: The shortness of the performance was the main issue although there may have been others if we had pursued it.  The Manchester show later that same day was sensational!

WOG: Phil Collins has mentioned in interviews that he used to listen to the board tapes and make constructive suggestions to band mates based upon the prior night’s gig. Are you aware if that is something he still does?

MH: I believe Phil and Mike have listened to Encore recordings, but I am not aware whether it was to make adjustments to the show or not.

WOG: What other artists are you working with in the future as part of the Encore Series?

MH: We will continue to pitch Encore to artists for which it makes sense.  We have no specific plans beyond Genesis in North America so we’ll have to see what happens.

WOG: If you could do an Encore Series for any living artist, who would you choose?

MH: Led Zeppelin if they reformed for a tour.

WOG: Do you see expanding the Encore Series into other genres like Jazz or Country music?

MH: We have pitched country artists but without any success as yet – I’d probably have to move to Nashville to make a country Encore series happen. Jazz would be interesting for say Norah Jones if you consider her style jazz.

GENESIS 2007 band photo with (Left to Right): Chester Thompson,
Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Daryl Stuermer

Special thanks to Mike Hobson and The Music.com for granting this interview.
This interview is © 2007 David Negrin and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. For more on The Music.com or the Genesis or Peter Gabriel Encore Series, please visit TheMusic.com. 


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