As the old saying goes, with crisis comes opportunity, and rarely can one see a greater example of that old saw than the unprecedented number of digital music companies that arose in the wake of the record industry’s cataclysmic upheaval.
But innovation comes slower without that push from without and as the live-music realm has seen far more stability than its cousins at the labels, ithas been slower to adapt. Yet the space has seen a flurry of activity of late, with tech companies looking to create the push toward change all on their own.
Heading the pack of live music’s young guns is 5-year-old British startup Songkick. Started as a concert listing and information service, the company has launched an experiment with crowd-sourced tour planning that could have some interesting repercussions. Dubbed Detour, the company’s platform offers a way to crowd-source live music tours, allowing fans to pledge money upfront to bring a particular artist to their area. If enough people pledge to make the date financially feasible, the show happens.
“There are so many bands I’d love to see in London,” says Songkick’s founder and CEO Ian Hogarth, “and if I’d be willing to buy a ticket, I should be willing to pre-commit to it as well. It’s not a giant leap once you’ve seen it work, but it might seem that way beforehand.”
After some successful initial single-show experiments with Tycho and Hot Chip in the U.K., Songkick launched the feature in earnest last month with a tour that will bring multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird to a plethora of Latin American countries for two weeks next February, with the number and location of dates determined entirely by the demand. (So far, two potential shows in Brazil and one in Mexico City are sold-out, with interest high for dates in Peru, Colombia and Chile.)
According to Hogarth, the Bird tour arose after chancing upon the singer’s agents at last spring’s SXSW.
“(Bird) had a lot of feedback from fans in South America who wanted to see him live there,” he says, “but if you’ve never gone to a market before, it’s actually quite hard to know where you should go, and it’s really quite hard for a local promoter to take a financial risk on putting on a show. So this seemed like a sort of ideal test.”
Though Songkick has been one of the more prominent new forces in the concert space — it secured a $10 million funding round from Sequoia Capital last spring, and has the second highest-trafficked concert site after TicketMaster — it’s hardly the only ones making waves.
Similarly aged Eventbrite has combined a sensitivity to social media with the ability to handle hundreds of millions in yearly ticket sales. Queremos, another Kickstarter-style concert funding service much like Detour, was just launched in Brazil last year. Concert listing service Bandsintown was acquired by Cellfish Media in September, with the nicely no-frills app Timbre — which creates a virtual map of all concerts going on around a user — launched that same month.
And perhaps most unusually, L.A.-based StageIt is turning heads by operating under the notion that auds don’t even need to be physically present to enjoy a show: Using a model essentially invented by online porn, the company sets up private webcam events — some with artists performing in kitchens, or in the backseat of a car — and allows live listeners to send requests and virtually “tip” performers, with Jimmy Buffett, Jason Mraz and Trey Songz all having done engagements.
However, it’s not just the startups that are looking toward new models. Concert giant Live Nation recruited some of the best data minds in the business — including BigChampagne founder Eric Garland and former WMG tech whiz Ethan Kaplan — to help renovate the company’s strategies, as well as acquiring the likes of Setlist.fm and Rexly. And its biggest competitor AEG Live continues to aggressively expand its consumer-friendly proprietary AXS ticketing platform, which launches in the U.K. early next year.
But wherever this energy may originate, the realization that promoters and managers can’t simply rely on the old instincts when charting tours and picking venues seems to be taking hold, as doing so risks leaving money on the table, or placing artists in impossible situations. (Live music’s disaster summer 2010, when megatours from Rihanna, the Eagles and “American Idols Live!” were forced to cancel or dramatically scale back, proved just how valuable new solutions and better data can be for majors and indies alike.)
Of course, any new models are bound to meet with a certain amount of resistance, but in the case of Songkick, Hogarth has been pleased with much of the response.
“If you really step back from it, in the last 20 years you have enormous disruption and impact from technology on the record industry,” he says. “And the live music industry has largely stayed the same, for going on 20 years now.
“I’d say about 95% of the artist managers we’ve spoken to about Detour have been really fired up about it. The stakeholder class that’s been the most conservative has been the booking agents. We’ve had some booking agents who are really progressive about using and leveraging technology — people like Tom Windish or Marc Geiger — and then you also have those who really want the world to stay exactly the same, and that’s where we’re getting less traction.
“But that’s what’s to be expected when you’re doing something new.”