Music Vault Releases Treasure Trove of Archived Concert Footage to YouTube

Van Morrison in Belfast in 1979, one of the Music Vault's immense archive of concert videos.

Today, online concert footage archive Music Vault is releasing 17,318 videos on its YouTube, give or take a few. "There are probably a couple that will fall out because we still need to go through and scrub for quality," says Bill Sagan (no relation to Carl), CEO of Wolfgang's Vault, the music and memorabilia archive that includes Music Vault along with Concert Vault,, and "We do the best we can with the masters we’re given, but for something 50 years old that’s been sitting in a 90-degree garage -- which we occasionally get -- the quality is not good enough to put up." 

Though Wolfgang's Vault started making its plethora of decades-old, legendary shows available online in 2009, today's haul marks the company's largest. The main reason it has taken so long, according to Sagan, once again comes down to numbers. Since his company's collecting began in 2002, 92,000 tapes -- most "decrepit," "in some cases falling apart," Sagan tells Billboard -- have been laboriously transferred, mixed, and mastered until they're of internet-worthy quality; or at least, better than the Grateful Dead bootleg live recordings scattered throughout YouTube.

Norton LLC, Sagan's company that owns Wolfgang's Vault, started his massive compendium with legendary promoter Bill Graham's (a.k.a. Wolodia "Wolfgang" Grajonca, hence the name) archive of footage from the 35,000 concerts he put on worldwide. After acquiring Graham's archive from Clear Channel -- which purchased his company, Bill Graham Presents, in 2011 -- Sagan went on to acquire archives including Newport Folk Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, and syndicated radio show King Biscuit's Flower Hour, along with their copyrights. In total, Norton has invested $56 million in the properties.

Until this point, access to the Vaults, Daytrotter, and Paste has been subscription-based. Concert Vault memberships, for example, range from $3.99 a month to $39.99 a year. The main reason Norton is putting all these videos online for free right now, says Bill Antonucci, video director, editor, and shooter for the sites, "is because of the incredible reach that YouTube provides. We are very proud of this content, and we believe that it deserves the largest audience possible."

One of his favorite videos, he adds, include Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at the Capitol Theater in 1978 for his Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. "The show is in September, and for whatever reason, he decides to open the second set with 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,'" he tells Billboard. "When you're the Boss, you can do things like that." Others include the Allman Brothers' performance of "Whipping Post" at the Fillmore East in 1970, the Who at Tanglewood the same year, and the Meters reuniting in New Orleans in 1980.

The Music Vault YouTube, which is already active, has already amassed over 20,000 daily views and 600,000 over the past month. Right now, only single-song videos are uploaded, but Antonucci hopes to get full concert footage up in the future. The site is subdivided into themed lists like Legendary Drummers, Best of the Grateful Dead, and Leading Ladies of Rock, along with channels for Daytrotter and Paste Magazine's live performances, which live only on Music Vault (neither of those sites has a YouTube). Subscribers to Music Vault's YouTube will also receive alerts on their favorite artist's birthdays or anniversaries.

"With our partnership with YouTube, we are able to do put [these videos] in front of millions of music fans young and old from all over the world," says Antonucci.