RIO DE JANEIRO — Two minutes to midnight were long past when, at the end of Iron Maiden's concert in Rio this past Sunday, lead singer Bruce Dickinson slipped backstage to get a cold beer after two hours of jumping from one side of the stage to the other.

But what he cracked open wasn't the event's sponsored lager.

"The beer here is such sh*t I had to bring my own," Dickinson said not without humor, holding his bottle so the camera could film the label. On it was the address of a website. The beer was Iron Maiden's own brew called "The Trooper," featuring the cover of their 1983 single of the same name.

Minutes after the show, the website had crashed due to the number of connections. By 8 the next morning, it was still impossible to connect to the website where fans can buy not only the beer but also mugs, key rings, stickers, coasters and even collector beer glasses.

So with just one sentence, "The Trooper" managed to outshine Heineken, the brand that had paid $10 million for the exclusivity of selling long-necks for $4.50 each at this year's Rock in Rio festival. The Dutch company said it was looking at the details and would decide what measures to take.

Still, even without the beer, the Iron Maiden brand was everywhere to be seen, from the traditional stage set to the omnipresent mascot Eddie, not to mention the T-shirts worn by the band members, similar to those worn by fans.

Photo: DirkVE (Wikipedia)

Thanks to a tightly managed relationship with both their fans and their licensed merchandise, the Irons are part of a select few who have managed to turn into a band-brand, like Metallica, AC/DC, Kiss and U2.

This strategy includes stadium tours and giant stages, pyrotechnics, regular releases of DVDs, merchandise, but it goes even further these days with intense use of social media and now, beer. Iron Maiden are not the first band to sell their own beverage, though, as they were preceded in the business by AC/DC, Motörhead, Pearl Jam, Sepultura and Kiss. Whitesnake even have their own wine.

They still produce high-flying live performances, although these have become slightly predictable. In their DVDs — which big bands release more often than new albums these days — Iron Maiden usually include documentaries showing the whole logistics behind the production of their tours, so as to justify the product.

The Kiss model

Before the digital collapse of music industry, shows were there to promote albums. "Go to the concert and buy the record," the promotional posters used to say. Eventually, a band like Kiss noticed it had a status comparable to that of a fictional character and, in the early 80s, they started selling action figures of Stanley, Simmons and co. Back then, it was an exception, almost a caricature, some thought.

But now that any new album is available on the Internet before it is even officially released, concerts have become the main source of revenue for bands. That is why tours are getting longer each time. Deep Purple's tour following the 2005 album "Rapture of the Deep" has lasted eight long years that saw them come to Brazil five times.

In his book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price," Chris Anderson tells the example of Brazilian techno brega band Calypso, who instead of preventing hucksters from selling copies of their CDs considered that they were actually allies in their ultimate objective: selling tickets for their concerts.

Globally renowned bands might not have yet bid farewell to the idea of charging fans for their albums, but some have tried experimenting with the price. In 2007, Radiohead allowed people to pay any amount they wanted for the album "In Rainbows." And most bands nowadays offer one or two of their songs for download so as to promote their new material.

If in the heyday of the CD, concerts were a mere showcase for the records, in the era of mp3, they have become the most interesting product, financially speaking. And they are now a showcase for anything the band has to sell, even, sometimes, music.