Over the last few weeks, we've been talking about Songkick's new "Detour" feature, which artists are using to set up shows in "off the beaten track" places, where they'd be unlikely to tour normally, but via Songkick, they discover there are enough fans to make it worthwhile. Considering how often we hear from musicians that touring is such a crap shoot on whether or not you'll make money, it's great to see more tools spring up to help take away that risk. There are a few interesting side effects of all of this. First, beyond just taking some of the risk out of touring, it's also helping artists find different fans they can reach via touring. That doesn't mean they drop existing places, but that they can expand their opportunities. But the second, and perhaps more interesting aspect, is the social one -- in which fans have been using Detour to bring in more fans. That's because one of the ways that Detour can be used is to effectively have a competition, in which cities compete to see which one has more fans willing to crowdfund an appearance by an act they love.
"I've been wanting to go to these countries for years because I'm a fan of their rich musical traditions. Songkick Detour seems like a brilliant idea as it gives me a sense of connection to the people before I go there."
There's a competitive element to this. There are twelve cities (in nine countries) competing (the twelve were picked by going through Songkick's data, to see where Bird had lots of fans -- sometimes in surprising places) for six open slots for shows in February of next year. The setup is basically that the first six shows that have fans crowdfund 250 tickets get the open slots for the gigs. It will be interesting to see if fans in the different cities rally to encourage fans to buy in to get the concert.
These efforts remain very experimental, so who knows how well they'll succeed long term, but I love the fact that we're still seeing unique innovations in different aspects of the music business. Obviously, for many artists, touring has become a bigger part of their revenue stream lately -- but it's also one part of the business that many artists complain has extremely high costs and risks. The system has been inefficient for years, allowing the business to bleed musicians. So it's encouraging to see more attempts to improve the efficiency of the concert business -- and doing so in a way that gets more fans connected to bands, and allows acts to find "out of the way" places to play live, while minimizing the risk of doing so.
When we talk about alternative business models for music, one that always is discussed is live performances. Like it or not, this is a very big (and growing at a rapid rate) part of the market. We've never argued that live performance is the only alternative business model (though some pretend we've said that), but it's hard to deny that it is an area of opportunity for many artists. Now, many people -- quite rightly -- point out that the aggregate data on touring doesn't tell the whole story. Big acts with massive tours can take in lots and lots of money, while it can be quite difficult for acts that don't have that level of support. We've heard the story plenty of times of bands going on tour in a crappy old van, only to show up in places and play for 5 people who don't care, having spent much more on gas to get to the venue than they make from the door. This absolutely happens. And it sucks for bands.
But there's no reason that needs to happen.
We've talked about alternative ways of touring, and even how artists like Jonathan Coulton used tools like Eventful to have fans prove there was enough demand at a location before he'd perform there. We've also talked about how there were a growing number of tools that can make touring/live efforts more effective and less likely to lose money. And one of those tools is Songkick, which already helps alert people to concerts they may be interested in, with evidence that services like that, alone, help drive more people to shows. But now Songkick is expanding even more, with a new effort called Detour -- which has some similarities with Eventful. Songkick talks about how they were able to "crowdfund" getting musician Tycho from his home in San Francisco to London for the first time to perform, by gathering up a ton of his fans to prove that there was demand.
Tycho's manager had been worried about doing any sort of European tour, because it's expensive to get there, and if the fanbase wasn't there, you're making a huge bet. Enter Songkick Detour:
We chatted to Tycho and his team and it seemed like they’d need to sell a few hundred tickets to make it feasible to come to London, so we created a simple website, Detour to allow Tycho fans to pledge. What happened next was pretty insane! We emailed the fans on Songkick who were tracking Tycho, and over 100 of them pledged money for a ticket. Gideon was pretty thrilled to see how many other people shared his passion for Tycho. But 100 or so wasn’t enough to get the show confirmed so the Songkickers took it into their own hands & started to contact friends and music fans who were either into Tycho or should be! Within a short while we hit our target and the gig was on! Wow.
Boom. But it didn't end there. As Ian Hogarth notes in the post, because the show was crowdfunded, it also changed the nature of it. Just as we've seen with other crowdfunding efforts, it gives supporters some sort of effective feeling of ownership and thus making the event successful isn't just about going to a cool show, but about really being a part of a success story. And that can take things to another level:
To be honest at that point I didn’t think things could get much cooler. To see fans rise up to help their favourite artist go and tour in a new country was overwhelming. The sense of community and excitement was really special. But then I went to the concert itself and realised the real power of this concept. Everyone at that show was there because they made the gig happen and the atmosphere reflected that. It was beyond intimate and the connection between the band and the fans that started online carried into the gig itself. One of the fans that came made this lovely video of the show and you can get a feel for how special the atmosphere was. Tycho was so appreciative of the fans that made it happen, and brought over some beautiful signed posters for the event which he gave to some of the first fans who pledged.
No one has ever claimed that there's a magic bullet for success in the music business (or any business). But the status quo does not need to be the way things stay. There are all sorts of opportunities to make live music better, more efficient and more enjoyable for everyone. And it seems like this little effort from Songkick is a nice step in that direction.