Beck treated a crowd of just 100 enthusiastic fans — with Mac DeMarco among them — to a career-spanning special performance Monday night with hits off Odelay, Midnite Vultures, Sea Change and Guero, along with new songs off his recently released Hyperspace album. The setting was something different from your usual club show, however, as the performance was held in the basement of the legendary Capitol Records Building, home of the famous Capitol Studios built in 1956 where records have been made by such legendary acts as Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. As drinks were served in a darkened Studio B, its doors were retracted to connect to the brightly lit adjoining Studio A, where Beck performed his last show of this decade — up close, personal and live streamed over the internet.
This special performance will live on in perpetuity both online and on wax. As an energetic Beck danced around and slid across the floor, an overhead screen displayed the live visual of a lathe located on the building’s second floor making moves of its own as its needle slid across an acetate disc, etching grooves and capturing Beck’s audio performance in real time. After the first three songs were complete, the lacquer was flipped over to cut the next three performances on the other side.
Once the acetate recording portion of the evening was done, Beck immediately loosened up, indulging fans with song requests while choosing a few more of his own. The evening was presented in partnership with Lyft and the Los Angeles native playfully altered some of his song lyrics throughout the later portion of the show, referencing Waze and calling out California freeways like a musical version of Saturday Night Live‘s “The Californians” sketch.
This was the inaugural Capitol Cuts session, CMG’s new vinyl initiative that’s the brainchild of Matt Sawin — executive vp Caroline, CMG’s independent distribution label — and Scotty Coats, Caroline/CMG’s vinyl catalogue marketing executive. Under the initiative, music fans are alerted through online mailing lists and social media to an intimate 100-person event featuring one of the label’s artists. They can then buy a ticket for the performance at the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood and about two weeks later receive a vinyl album of the recording in the mail. (The albums are available for non-attending fans via online pre-order as well.) One thousand records will be manufactured per performance, priced around $20 each.
Each of the concerts will also be live streamed on the night of the event and uploaded to YouTube and digital streaming platforms after fans’ vinyl shipments arrive by post.
“It’s a global invite,” says Sawin. “It’s going to be about pre-ordering that live record as much as it is going to be about the opportunity of coming to see it live, because if you live outside of Los Angeles, you can’t necessarily get on a plane to come here to Capitol Studios.”
He goes on to stress that Capitol Cuts is not just a marketing strategy. “Ultimately this will be not just a promo thing, but a recorded music-for-profit thing,” he says. “It’s a live record. There’s a lot of consumption to be had for fans throughout the world. And for the hundred that were here, that’s the super experience.”
While ticket prices have yet to be determined, the price of a record will be factored into the cost. Over time, Sawin foresees Capitol Cuts records expanding to stores. “Ultimately, we’d like to see the brand, Capitol Cuts, get into the retail marketplace of vinyl lifestyle stores as well. This is what they built their bread and butter on. We don’t believe in just keeping an experience siloed direct to consumer when there’s a whole other marketplace out there.”
While Sawin acknowledges that cutting a live performance to vinyl is not exactly groundbreaking territory, he says vinyl usually takes between 14 to 18 weeks to make. What distinguishes Capitol Cuts, he says, is the incredibly short timeline. That’s thanks to the effort’s local operation: Once recorded at Capitol Studios, the lacquer master is nickel plated in Orange County before it’s driven to a pressing plant in Los Angeles’s Frogtown neighborhood.
“We’re really trying to truncate the life of a vinyl record coming to life,” Sawin says. “It will be unlike anything fans have ever seen because of how we put everything together by having our own artist roster, our own studio, our own lathe, and by having the plating and the pressing [done] right down the street. Within two weeks of the live performance, we can put it in the mail.”
Though several artists were keen to play the introductory Capitol Cuts session, Sawin saw Beck as ideal. A vinyl enthusiast, Beck initially teased his 2014 Morning Phase album with a video of acetate being cut on a lathe and, in 2016, he announced that his discography would be re-issued on vinyl. And who could forget the artist’s legendary lyrics “I got two turntables and a microphone” from “Where It’s At” off Odelay. “We needed to have an artist who was true to the vinyl format, an artist who really understood what it is that we are doing, and one who would represent the building and where we’re going with this,” says Sawin.
Currently, Warpaint (Caroline) and Allah-Las (Mexican Summer, distributed through Caroline) are confirmed for Capitol Cuts 2020 sessions, with dates and ticket prices still to be determined. While still in its infancy, with a projection of one Capitol Cuts session every four months, Sawin assures that the initiative will expand to monthly shows and, beyond vinyl recordings, the option for fans to purchase merchandise including limited edition T-shirts, posters and possibly even lithographs.
“It’s not meant to be an everyday thing,” he says. “It’s meant to be super special.”