Digital music isn’t just a recorded thing: there are a growing number of ways that digital technology – from apps and social media to big data – is having an impact on the live music market.
A panel at the by:Larm conference in Oslo this morning explored the issues around this. Panellists included Burt McRoy, head of business development, Nordic region, at Intellitix, and booker at Stockholm venue Debaser; Jules Parker, founder of Polaroid Management; and Scott Cohen, co-founder of The Orchard and manager of the Raveonettes and Dum Dum Girls.
“My boss had no clue, he wasn’t on Facebook or anything. He kept yelling at me ‘where are my street posters? Get them out there!’ And I was saying ‘look at how many people are coming to our event on Facebook…’,” said McRoy, of his entry into the live industry.
“They really are the last of the music industry to pick up on it. The record companies now, without that data they don’t know where to begin now. They have to have the data to understand how to release the record in the proper way. And it’s important for the concert promoters to have that too… They’re getting it now, and also everyone’s getting a lot younger.”
Cohen said that “without wanting to slag off the promoters, the digital age has kinda shone a light on them… I’m not so sure what their role is today. I use promoters for almost every show our artists play, but if we book a gig, they’re not coming because the promoter’s doing anything, they’re coming because we put a Facebook message up, we email the audience. They’re coming because of us! Not anything that the promoters are doing.”
“In 2014, what is the value they’re bringing?” he continued. “If I have a band and they’re hot, they’re going to sell out, period. If I had a little more time to devote to it, I would cut the promoters out entirely and do a direct deal with the venues.”
So we should get rid of them? “I’m saying the middleman has to provide a different value that matches the time we’re in… and not just putting up posters around town,” said Cohen, who also said normally he has to “beg” promoters for up-to-date information on ticket sales for upcoming gigs.
“What fucking century are we in?! We ran a Facebook campaign last night. I wanna know from before we ran it until after we ran it, did it have any impact?” he said. “They’ll say ‘oh, next Tuesday we’ll have the figures…’”
The conversation quickly focused on big data, and its potential for live music, with McRoy talking about Intellitix, which uses wireless technology around RFID and cashless payments for live events.
“We said this technology could really work with festivalgoers. We can see what they do when they’re on site, which stages they go to, what bands they like,” he said. While one use for RFID at festivals is fraud prevention – weeding out dodgy tickets – but also giving promoters better information on their customers.
“You could go in being anonymous if you’re scared of being tracked, although it’s hard to avoid being tracked nowadays, if you have an Oyster card in London, or a credit card. And the information is just used by the promoters to make their festival better… For the first time at a festival, you have data capture.”
That can involve fans tapping their RFID bands on posts to say they like a band they’ve just seen, and would like to hear from them after the festival. Intellitix worked with Spotify on one festival where fans could do this, and then have a playlist sent to them the next day with a track from each of the bands they liked.
Cohen talked about the idea of “customer journeys” and the question about whether fans buy an album the week before a gig so they can listen ahead of going, or are they buying the night of the gig because they’re excited, or is there a halo effect of people buying in the week after?
“If you know the answer to that question, you can completely restructure your marketing and promotion efforts,” he said, suggesting that targeted Facebook ad campaigns can be planned around this understanding.
Parker talked about the tools he’s using for his artists, and praised the Detour initiative launched by Songkick to help fans crowd-organise gigs by their favourite bands. He noted that it only works for “a certain level of act” rather than brand new artists.
He also highlighted Bandsintown as a tool for promoting upcoming concerts. “They seem to engage more with the management, whereas Songkick is great for an audience, but I’m not sure there’s that much engagement with the management community as yet,” he said. Although some other managers might disagree – the startup has been reaching out a lot in recent times.
Cohen talked about the need to join up the dots – how can artists follow up with the 500+ people who attend a gig, and connect with them on the various social networks, or on a mailing list. He also talked more about what he’d like to see from smart promoters to justify their middleman role.
“The ones that are really open with their data and not holding it back. That’s what makes the difference. If they’re not providing the information that they have, it sets the tone for the ecosystem of no one else doing it,” said Cohen. Parker said that promoters putting more effort in non-digitally – turning gigs into club nights – is also something he looks for.
What about using ticket companies to get data on fans? “Ticketing companies aren’t that forthright,” said Cohen. “I know they have the information, but they just make you work so fucking hard to get it. Sorry!”
The conversation turned to livestreaming gigs online on YouTube and other services. Will fans pay for them, or should they be ad-supported, and what impact do they have on the crowds at the actual concerts?
Cohen talked about the tiers of artists: superstar acts at the top, and “everything else at the bottom”, with pubs and clubs going out of business regularly, and artists making the same money or less from small gigs than they did 10
“I don’t think for livestreaming that anyone cares for a band that pulls in 200 people,” said Cohen. Parker agreed: “If there’s not the demand for people to go to a show, there’s not going to be the demand to watch them online. I think it’s great if you’re Coldplay, of course…”
McRoy was asked about what’s going to really unlock the potential of mobile ticketing. “If I could answer that, I’d probably be quite an important person in this industry!” he said, while warning that theories about people seeing a gig poster and buying a ticket there and then on their phone may not be hugely appealing.
“People, when they’re on the street walking, they’re not going to spend 25 Euros just spontaneously. They’re gonna think about it, so they need to be reminded again. When you’re sitting looking at Facebook on your computer, you’re more likely to purchase. It’s all about knowing the psychology of the consumer.”
Parker noted the emergence of new apps in the US like Applauze and Thrillcall that have a focus on mobile ticketing (and also discovery of gigs in the first place). But McRoy sounded a note of caution on forcing people to buy tickets on their phones, noting that in 2014, not everyone has a smartphone still.