This article is a continuation of a series of articles on monetized music platforms (check out part 1 here). The idea for the series came from my frustration at watching lots of amazing performances on Facebook and Instagram during the early days of COVID-19, where I knew none of the performers were getting paid. The artists might have been receiving some tips, but that was no way to deal with their long-term need to generate income. These next two platforms are showing some real results and will hopefully become staples for many singer/songwriters and artists.
As with most businesses during the pandemic, everyone is looking to retool what they were doing in the physical world and adapt it for the virtual world. Such is the case for new platform RoadNation. The idea for RoadNation came from founder Steve Marks (yes, the Steve Marks that was the former Chief of Digital Business at the RIAA) and a conversation that he had with his son’s piano teacher about the challenges of touring. The concept, a “direct to fan” platform designed to help artists tour smarter and more efficiently, was just hitting the market in its physical model when COVID-19 forced them to pivot substantially and take the idea online.
In its original form, the platform aims to partner artists on tours, thereby pooling their resources so that they can make more money in the long run. The road map entails identifying cities for tours by enabling fans to choose the locations. Then, RoadNation helps artists generate significant revenues in advance of a tour to ensure that it is financially viable. This involves artists selling merchandise items and experience opportunities (i.e. meet and greets, instrument lessons/master classes, personalized video messages) with different price points, which both contributes to a show’s income and generates direct connections with fans.
RoadNation helps their clients set the parameters of a tour so that the money raised beforehand guarantees that they have a sound business plan. When the pre-tour campaign ends with fans helping to build the momentum, RoadNation gives the band 85% of the proceeds and success ensues. Says Marks, “Our direct artist-to-fan platform democratizes touring while helping managers, agents and venues optimize revenue and mitigate risk. The result is more shows and more fan engagement.” Before the pandemic hit, agents were really starting to buy into the model to assist with booking tours. Super agent Tom Windish was an early adopter of the RoadNation model.
The “Livestream Road-Less Series”, which is the virtual version of the RoadNation model, provides artists the opportunity to perform and monetize livestreams through a branded channel, and provide concerts and fan experiences through streaming platforms such as Twitch. Artists receive a free customized RoadNation.com page to sell their unique experiences and merchandise. The series also includes curated virtual concerts featuring groups of artists. Although the model has mostly been working for independent artists, I see it as viable for artists at all stages of their careers because live touring is NOT coming back any time soon with the uncertainties of a fully tested vaccine for the coronavirus being a year or more away.
Although the model has mostly been working for independent artists, I see it as viable for artists at all stages of their careers because live touring is NOT coming back any time soon.
Further, sometimes physical touring just doesn’t work at all stages of an artist’s career. For example, if a female artist is pregnant and uncomfortable, a physical tour is not going to happen, but a live streaming performance from home is totally doable. This could also help if a band member has an injury or just can’t leave home for whatever reason. This virtual model will work even when the physical live touring market begins again. Think about all the rural places you could reach in a virtual world that could never support a live performance model because they simply don’t have the venues or enough people to finance a physical tour.
It’s been a long time since touring was reimagined. For many new artists, touring is a grueling and unenjoyable yet necessary part of the process of growing their business. Often without any professional direction, they tour to empty venues and have no money for basic necessities because there was no sound business plan set up prior to the tour. RoadNation takes the heat off any new indie artist and gives them the guidance they need to succeed. Steve Marks has amassed a great team of colleagues who know the touring business, are lovers of music, and truly want to make a financial difference in the touring market. “Like so many of us in the music community, we are heartbroken to see the toll that the coronavirus exacts on artists and all who help bring music to life,” said Marks. “We want to do our part to create powerful moments where artists can do what they do best — bring music to life — and fans can again feel that special connection to their favorite artists and support their work.”
Evan Lowenstein (from the band Evan and Jaron) founded Stageit a little over a decade ago. He has hit many financial ups and downs along the way, including almost having to shutter, but instead, he decided to reduce the staff to three people in 2015 and cease taking a salary. Since COVID-19 began, Stageit has increased its subscriber base by over 10,000 new users because there was finally a great need for a platform that monetized live streaming performances. Stageit also has another edge over its competitors as it obtained performing rights licenses from the start when others like Facebook and Instagram did not. However, Lowenstein could not get the traction he needed to keep things growing with the mass crowds that would gravitate to other streaming platforms… until now. The other differentiator for Stageit is that artists can obtain information from their fans after the gig is over, allowing them to maintain a database of qualified fans for future shows.
There are upwards of 700 live streaming performances by artists per week on Stageit and in a two-week period ending April 7, 2020, Stageit made $884,000 (vs. the $500,000 they made for the entire year in 2019).
Stageit artists perform live online shows from their laptop that are not recorded or archived so that each performance experience is unique, just like a live physical performance experience. The artists choose their start time and perform for 30 minutes with the option for a long encore. There are upwards of 700 live streaming performances by artists per week on Stageit and in a two-week period ending April 7, 2020, Stageit made $884,000 (vs. the $500,000 they made for the entire year in 2019). Stageit has 500,000 plus registered users who pay to see live music on the platform. Fans are encouraged to be an active part of the show and ask questions, request songs, and chat with other fans. Artists can set the ticket price for their shows and fans can also tip them throughout a performance.
Stageit suggests that in the beginning, artists should employ a “Pay What You Can” model for their first show, and then slowly build up to solid ticket prices that increase from show to show or even in selling a particular show. In this way, the artists grow their market viability, one step at a time. When the show is over, the artist is given a report of the financials. Upon earning 250 Notes ($25, e.g. 10 notes =$1.00) or more, the artist can request a cash out. It then takes up to 10 business days to process payment.
Stageit takes 20% of the artist’s show revenue to cover costs associated with the show. Stageit costs include, but are not limited to: bandwidth, servers, transaction fees, support, and a blanket license with the PROs to cover the costs to pay songwriters and publishers for the performances of their songs on Stageit. To help musicians during this time, Lowenstein has increased artist payouts from 67% to 80%, and over five thousand artists have either signed up or reactivated their Stageit accounts since the pandemic began. “I’m up at all hours trying to convince banks that we’re like the Red Cross for artists in need of money,” he said, pointing out that several musicians have made over $50,000 each on Stageit in April 2020, with the platform’s highest earning shows netting $100,000. If you are an artist concerned about a viable platform that compensates performers fairly, Stageit might just be the place for you.