Digital technology has revolutionized the way recorded music is created, discovered, distributed and sold. The market for live music, however, has yet to undergo a true revolution.
As Andy Malloy touched on in his Music Think Tank Open posts a few weeks ago, the Internet should enable fans to proactively drive the concert business. Rather than waiting for bands to come to them, audiences should be able to bring bands to their town with a few clicks of the mouse.
The way things are
Unfortunately, we aren’t there yet. Some of the tools have changed, but live gigs are still booked the way they were 15 years ago: The artist and the venue engage in a time-consuming, inefficient exchange of primarily historical information while potential concert-goers (fans) sit on the sidelines.
Venues rely on two types of information to make booking decisions:
1. A band’s track record – i.e., their past performance. What venues have they played before? How many tickets did they sell? And so on.
2. A band’s momentum indicators. This includes things like recent press coverage, new projects they’re working on, etc.
Venues evaluate a band’s track record and momentum indicators to essentially make an educated guess about how many tickets the band can sell this time around. This is a particularly challenging task with respect to up-and-coming bands, who have a limited performance history or who are trying to expand into new geographic markets for the first time. How does a venue determine how many tickets Band X can sell in Charlotte if they’ve never played in Charlotte before?
On the other side, bands face the challenge of convincing venues (via their press kits) that they can draw enough fans to make a show financially attractive. Again, without a strong performance history in the geographic market in question, this can be a tough sell.
The way things ought to be
In today’s world, concert booking should not be driven by backward-looking research. There should be no need to guess how many tickets will be sold. Bands and venues should know beforehand exactly how many people will show up at a concert. And fans should participate directly in determining who gets booked where and when.
Websites like Eventful, which lets fans “demand” a performance in their town by a particular artist, provide a partial solution towards this end. But ultimately, Eventful is just another momentum indicator (albeit a pretty good one) that promoters and bands can consider when making booking decisions. It does not empower fans to directly participate in the talent-buying process.
A new model
Fundable is a fundraising website with a brilliant twist: It lets a fundraiser and donors gauge demand before any money is actually collected. Anyone who wants to raise money for a project can create a “collection” on the site and specify the minimum amount of money they need to raise. People can then pledge money towards the cause using a credit card or PayPal. If enough people make pledges to reach the target amount by the funding deadline, all the pledges are collected. If the target is not met, the pledges are deleted and no money actually changes hands.
I would love to see someone apply a similar model to live music. I want to see a web service that 1) enables fans to vote with their wallets for the bands that they want to see, and 2) lets venues and artists see exactly how many people are willing to pay to see which performers at a given time, and make booking decisions accordingly.
More specifically, here’s the basic idea of what I’m imagining:
1. A promoter goes to the website/app and creates an “open event” for each date she wants to book. She specifies what type of bands she’s interested in, how many acts she needs for the show, the ticket price, the booking deadline, and other relevant details about the venue and performance.
2. Bands that are interested in playing the show submit their info for consideration and alert their fans about a potential concert.
3. Fans pledge (via credit card/PayPal) to buy a ticket for a particular band. For example, fans of Artist X pledge to buy a ticket for the show if and only if Artist X performs.
4. The promoter sees how many people have pledged tickets for each band – that is, she sees real-time, forward-looking demand for a give artist, at given venue, on a given date. She then selects which bands, if any, she wants to book for the show. The promoter doesn’t necessarily have to select the band(s) with the most pledges – she might base her decision on other factors as well, like genre, how much compensation the bands are asking for, etc. But among the bands that match the criteria that the promoter is seeking, she would certainly have a financial incentive to book those with the most ticket pledges.
5. The pledges for the bands selected by the promoter are converted into payments for tickets. The pledges for all the other bands are deleted.
That’s the general idea. Of course, there are a lot of details and some implementation issues that would have to be considered for something like this to work. But I can’t imagine it would be a very difficult system to create. And it could ultimately make the concert business – especially for small to mid-sized venues and up-and-coming artists – more efficient, transparent, and profitable for all parties.
What do you think? Are you aware of anyone working on something like this? I’m very curious to hear your thoughts.