NEW YORK -- The digital age virtually wiped out specialty theater record stores, where show-tune lovers could happily browse aisles bursting with cast albums and sheet music. Now some entrepreneurs are hoping to bring back such an experience -- online, of course.
Monday marks the launch of BwayTunes.com, which promises to become the Internet's most comprehensive catalog of digital musical theater music.
The website will have Broadway-related songs, albums and compilations on sale, as well as better ways to search for music, a personal locker to hold all downloads, a player to listen, access to AccuRadio curated Broadway-dedicated radio channels, links to sheet music and several blogs. It will even feature music for2 shows in development.
The new, ad-supported site is the brainchild of theater marketing professional Jim Russek, an executive creative director at theater advertising agency AKA-NYC, and Erik Hartog, a Wall Street strategist. They have partnered with 7digital, a fast-growing music and content digital platform with broad licenses with record companies.
"Every time I'd go on Amazon or iTunes, what I was looking for was hidden in 25 million songs and it was a long search," said Russek, who with Hartog has spent three years on the project. The result is free-floating location for casual fans and music buffs: "As the specialty music store was on the corner of a side street in a city, we're on every street corner in America."
While he didn't want to divulge the full costs of the project, Russek said the site becomes viable if it attracts 50,000 users a year, and direct mail invites will soon be going out to 600,000 theater fans. Music prices, which are set by the record companies, are the same as in iTunes -- $1.29 for many songs and $8.99 and up for albums.
Some differences from other Internet locations include that fact that MP3 downloads at BwayTunes.com will be provided at a bit rate of 320 Kbps, compared with the 256 Kbps at other locations. The creators also have added the production credits for cast albums to allow searchers to find even the most obscure figures. Down the road, they'd like to offer gift cards.
Russek, who as a young man used to race over to the Colony Record store near Times Square to get recordings or sheet music as a low-level employee of the "Ed Sullivan Show," now finds himself recreating that fabled store, which closed in 2012.
"In a lot of ways, that's true," he said, adding that revenue streams will come from the music, banner ads and offers from shows. "We'll try to stay a profitable business so that we don't have to be the online version of Colony going away."