In my twenties, I planned my life around concerts. There was nothing like being in an intimate venue, drinking cheap beer from a Solo cup, waiting for my favorite bands—Minus the Bear, Wolf Parade, Grizzly Bear—to walk on stage. But to figure out when musicians would be in town took commitment, studying tour schedules on individual websites, mapping out when they’d be at a nearby venue, and using a variety of platforms to track down tickets.
Now that I’m in my thirties and generally trying to live like a grownup, that feels like a lot of effort. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. By some estimates, a full 50% of concert tickets go unsold; only one in five Americans go to a live music venue every year. While music-streaming services help people access music and discover new artists, services that target individual fans and connect them to live events haven’t enjoyed the same visibility. This has been an obstacle for music lovers like myself, but it’s also had a detrimental effect on musicians who make, on average, 80% of their revenue on concerts.
This is slowly changing. Streaming services are working to make it easier for users to find upcoming concerts near them as they listen to music. Last month, for instance, Pandora acquired the independent ticketing agency Ticketfly for $450 million with the goal of integrating concert discovery and ticket sales into the streaming platform. The move also provides Pandora, which has been losing money, with a new source of revenue.
One company that’s been leading the charge to connect fans with live shows is Songkick, a concert-discovery service founded in 2008 in the U.K. by Ian Hogarth, 33. “The way we looked at things, it’s pretty hard to find out when your favorite artist came through town,” says Hogarth. “You’d have to be very proactive and browse lots of listings in a local newspaper or sift through a giant email that a ticketing company would send you that would have everything from musicals to hip-hop shows.”
With a background in machine learning and big data, he developed a platform that aggregated every single concert taking place in every single city, then automated the process of sending personalized alerts to particular fans. Today, Songkick’s app integrates with Spotify, YouTube, and Pitchfork, allowing fans to track when particular musicians are performing live and buy tickets directly from that same mobile platform. It has a base of over 10 million monthly active users.
Earlier this year, Songkick merged with CrowdSurge, an artist ticketing service also launched in 2008 by another Brit, Matt Jones, 29, who used to promote concerts for the like of Adele, Ellie Goulding, and Mumford & Sons. (The company will continue under the name Songkick; Jones and Hogarth are co-CEOs.) The partnership made sense, because while Songkick was obsessed with making concert-going much easier for fans, CrowdSurge had the needs of the artist in mind. “When I first started promoting, I was under the illusion that artists had some sort of understanding of who buys their ticket—but they didn’t,” Jones says. “It was very opaque to them.”
Jones created a ticketing platform that could be integrated into an artist website, allowing that artist to set up an allocation of tickets fans could register to have a chance to buy during a 48 hour pre-sale window. This allowed the artist to gather data about their fans and also have some control over the service fees. Over the last seven years, Crowdsurge built a solid portfolio of artists from Paul McCartney to Kenny Chesney to Skrillex and Jester.
Hogarth and Jones met several years ago, and their companies seemed like a match made in live music heaven. Over the last year, Songkick raised $16.6 million in Series C funding from the likes of Y Combinator and Sequoia, allowing it to grow its user base and begin to sell tickets; this meant it could earn a small referral fee for sending users to sites like Ticketmaster. “There was always a massive inefficiency in the market,” Jones says. “The Songkick guys and us were tackling different ends of the spectrum, and over the years, we started to tread on each others’ toes a bit.” By merging with CrowdSurge, a new world of revenue-generating opportunities opens up by helping artists to connect directly with fans and sell them tickets. Songkick earns 10% on the face value of a ticket, up to a maximum of $10.
This new, turbo-charged version of Songkick makes it easier than ever to buy tickets directly from the platform, but only a portion of the artists take advantage of the ticketing functionality. Hogarth explains that Songkick aims to comprehensively list all the possible concerts in a given location, from the smallest club venue to the biggest stadium. Over 100,000 artists actively add their live shows to the platform. “We believe that if any artist can upload their music on Soundcloud or Youtube, they should be able to put their music on Songkick,” Hogarth says, adding that a big part of their work is educating smaller artists about the nuances of the ticketing process.
Songkick is interested in what happens when artists have more control over their sales. This was a big part of Jones’s vision with CrowdSurge; the platform was flexible enough that artists could change the ticketing process in interesting ways. Bands like the xx and the Avett Brothers, for instance, asked fans to register early and would randomly select who would get early access to flat-price tickets (something you can’t do via Ticketmaster). “When artists feel comfortable and confident owning their own ticketing experience, they do what artists do best, which is reinvent things and think about doing things in completely different ways than we’ve seen before,” Hogarth says. “Our allocation of tickets to the artists has been a bright spot for innovation in the industry.”
Ultimately, Songkick believes that empowering the artist in the ticketing process is the way of the future. Recently, musicians have been questioning status quo in their industry. Taylor Swift, for instance, took her music off Spotify as an act of defiance against how little they compensate artists and wrote an open letter to Apple Music about how unfair it was for them not to pay artists during the three-month free user trial period. On the other side of the spectrum, Miley Cyrus put her entire album, Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, on Soundcloud for free.
While only the biggest artists have been able to take a stand when it comes to streaming services, Songkick wants to create a platform that allows artists of all sizes to creatively experiment with different models. “There’s been a lot of artist exploration around new ways of leveraging streaming music services,” Hogarth says. “We believe artists will do something similar with ticketing.”