Mandolin, one of the most celebrated livestream platforms to have come to the forefront in the last two years, is looking to keep the concert streaming boom going with the launch of its Venue and Promoter Network. The newly announced initiative is aimed at providing artists’ camps access to a list of dozens of U.S. venues that offer a “turnkey” experience for hosting livestream concerts, from small clubs to iconic venues like the Ryman Auditorium and Red Rocks Amphitheatre to the arena level.
The list of clubs and halls that are already part of the almost 60 included in Mandolin’s Venue and Promoter Network at the outset runs the gamut from all of the City Winery’s local branches to the SAP Arena in San Jose. What artists can expect if they set up a livestream with Mandolin at one of the participating venues is that all the infrastructure, production, contractual expectations and promotion plans are in place to put on a live/streaming show there, without the question marks that might come with setting up a paid stream on the tour routing at a facility that isn’t quite as accustomed to these hybrid events — although Mandolin will continue doing those, too.
Mandolin co-founder and CEO Mary Kay Huse tells Variety that the idea for the network began forming last fall, as it became clear that the livestream boom that emerged during lockdown was not going to go bust, but some artists were still feeling uncertainty about the extra complications involved in setting up shows for live and virtual audiences simultaneously.
“The feedback we were even getting from artists was that they wanted to do more livestreaming from venues, or from their tour, but just knowing what the costs were was super time consuming,” says Huse. “And with all the coordination across all the stakeholders, sometimes the artists were like, ‘Well, that’s gonna be maybe more time than we have right now, even though we want to do the livestream.’ So the strategy at the core of it is: We’ve built out this network of venues, where we have pre-negotiated terms and know exactly what it takes to get a livestream up and running there. Once we partner with the venue and have that partnership, we work with them on their calendar of events, whether they’re posted or in process, and strategize on which ones make sense to livestream. And then we go work with that agent and manager to make a livestream at the venue, but we have the logistics taken care of. We know what the expense coordination looks like, and it makes it just much more smooth and seamless for the venue and the artist’s team as well as ourselves.”
How much of this originates from the venue’s side, looking to create hybrid live/streaming events with artists coming in, and how much from the artists, who have a vague idea they want to do a livestream but aren’t sure how or where?
“I would say it’s a healthy mix of both,” Huse says. “When we’re working with an artist’s team and they’ve determined they want to do a livestream, we quickly look at their tour routing and say, ‘Hey, we have a partnership with these venues, we really recommend doing it here.’ But similarly, when we bring on in new network partner from a venue perspective, we look at their existing calendars and say, ‘Hey, we have relationships with these artists…’ . It’s about 50/50.
“We did about 115 shows in Q1, working with artists’ teams, and just over 30% of those in Q1 were within our venue networks, coming in through one of those two ways. And we see that number being much higher than Q4. So we see that number building as we’ve brought on the majority of our venue network that’s almost 60 now and growing. We’ve brought on about two-thirds of that in the last four to five months, so we’ll see that percentage continue to grow.”
Mandolin cites its relationship with the Ryman in Nashville as an example of a particularly fruitful partnership that’s already well-oiled. (And both partners bring some prestige — Mandolin was voted the best livestream platform at the 2021 Pollstar Awards, and the Ryman traditionally wins theater of the year in that same annual touring industry voting.)
“Since developing the network strategy with the Ryman late last year, we have done or are on sale with north of 20 shows for the first half of this year,” Huse says. “It’s a really profitable venture for them, where we cover the cost of their production, and from there the artists and the venue and us split the proceeds. We’ve seen on average a couple of of thousand and sometimes as high as $10,000 to the venue alone, in addition to the artists making a lot of money, and then us taking our percentage as well. The whole setup has also enabled it to be just a really profitable initiative for not just the artists and Mandolin, but for the venues as well.”
Among the fresh additions that have come in as part of the new initiative, Huse cites the possibilities that may come from “signing SAP Center as the largest venue, getting into the stadium/arena size that we’re really excited about, and hopefully the first of many, and then our partnership with Winter Circle Productions, which is the promoter that supports a lot of the New Orleans area and the Gulf Coast, which is with a really great regional ownership that we expect to do a lot with. Those are newer sign-ups that we haven’t played off shows with yet, but we’re deep in planning and excited about,” that have come about just in the past month or six weeks.
Other venues that are part of the list, beyond signature tour stops like Red Rocks and eight City Winery locations, include the Kennedy Center in D.C., the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Milwaukee’s Riverside Theatre, Richmond Music Center, Eddie’s Attic, New Orleans’ Orpheum Theatre and Nashville clubs like the Cannery Ballroom, Mercy Lounge and High Watt.
Huse says there’s no danger of livestreaming going away as something that just became a phenomenon when the populace was largely in quarantine. “Q1 was a really successful quarter for us and really our most successful since touring has come back. There’s a consistent demand from fans, and the interest from artists has been actually quite consistent from the pandemic to post-pandemic,” she says. Any doubt has been “more of in their capacity to do it, which that has been the bottleneck, which our venue network has addressed a lot of. I mentioned 115 concerts in Q1, but across all of our verticals (which also include non-concert streams), we did about 150… and that was much higher in Q1 than it was in Q2 of last year. It’s a part of (artists’) comprehensive strategy, but we’re also always evolving the types of experiences and how we make them unique, especially on the VIP side,” including virtual meet-and-greets as well as more elaborately conceived extras.
Part of the strategy is to reach fans who aren’t on a tour stop; Mandolin says about 75% of stream purchasers are in zip codes outside of states where a tour is stopping. But it’s also extending in the future to involve fans who were actually on the premises for the show and want a souvenir of it beyond what they captured by holding up their phones.
Huse says they’re developing “this concept of rewatch,” allowing ticketholders to “see a replay of the livestream, and opening that up for in-person attendees. Think of it as digital merchandise. They’re on a high, and they have an opportunity to go watch it again at home — or you missed this song because you went to the bathroom or hit a the bar. That’s a particular particular play that the arenas are really excited about, given the size of in-person attendees, that they could even reach (those who were there in the flesh) with a livestream, let alone the at-home attendees.”