Watching Jonathon Linaberry on vocals, guitar, drums, and harmonica—simultaneously—would be impressive in any setting. But if you're drinking wine out of a jam jar on the roof of a Brooklyn apartment building at sunset, as I was doing one recent summer evening, it’s perfect. "This is one of my best parties, isn’t it?" asks the host as her next act, a five-piece melodic hardcore band called Napoleon, sets up. I imagine it is. Professional musicians generally perform in public spaces. Live music is not something you’d typically expect at a casual, private party for 25 people.
To book these bands, tonight’s host used Gigit, a month-old service that bypasses traditional booking channels and instead matches artists directly with a venue, whether that be a bar, a wedding, or someone’s backyard barbeque. Connecting people with bands via the Internet is not a unique idea. (A site called Bookaband, for instance, promises to "help you hire a band for your upcoming event," but it first requires users to navigate 1990s-era filter pages, while Gigmasters offers bands for weddings and corporate events.) But Gigit's beautifully designed site isn’t just targeting private parties. It's also building a platform for booking music anywhere, including traditional venues and private homes of individuals who want to sell tickets to shows they host.
Gigit's acts look more like what you'd find at a bar or a club than at a wedding, and there have even been a few names, like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, that you might recognize. The startup also plans to add features such as "patron pages" that highlight a host’s past events, and it provides data to hosts about who attends their concerts. Each band’s profile includes sound samples, reviews, and even—via their social media followings’ profile photos—a snapshot of what their fans look like.
Gigit's founder, Tegan Gaan, launched the site in May. When she came up with the idea, she had recently abandoned her career in sales and advertising to pursue photography and writing. While working as an artist, she made a lot of musician friends who had no business acumen. Gigit is designed to help them make money from their talents. It's been an intense seven months: Gaan says she's "stopped sleeping," cut her hair short, and gotten two new tattoos (one says "I should have been a Haxor") since she started working on it.
Gaan, who is at tonight's party filming videos with her iPad for Gigit’s YouTube channel, says her goal is to help bands find an audience that pays them. The startup charges bookers a 20% to 25% fee on top of whatever price bands set for themselves (the artists at this party advertise rates of $500 and $600, which is in the typical range on the site).
There is one obvious potential downside to Gigit’s concept, which comes to light at this particular event. Just a few songs into the second band’s set, at 9:30 p.m., a neighbor threatens to call the police with a noise complaint, and the performers are forced to start packing up their equipment. It’s not the first Gigit gig to get shut down by unappreciative bystanders, and the site has had other squabbles since its launch. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's old agent, for instance, sent a cease-and-desist letter when he found the band's profile page, because they weren’t paying him his cut of their profits. But one month in, Gigit has made good on its goal of paying artists for their work. Even with a tiny userbase of 7,000 people, it’s paid out $12,000 to bands.
Gaan, whose friend is hosting tonight’s now-shut-down party, sees other gig-related opportunities for the site, including sound-system rentals, lead generation for record companies, and ticket sales for private events. She says she’s trying to focus on one thing at a time rather than excitedly chasing after every possible opportunity, or, as she puts it, "Right now I’m just trying to keep it in my pants." Yet at her friend’s party, when noting the decorations have been provided by a startup called Dianne Designs, she points to that, too, as a potential business path.
Jam jar in hand, I comment that in 10 years Gigit could be an entire event platform. "Ten years!" Gaan says with mock indignation, gesturing around the rooftop. "I did all this in months."