Why You Should Care About All The Music Startups, Alive And Dead, Whose Name Starts With “Gig”
If you work in the music industry, you are probably noticing that there is a growing cohort of entrepreneurs looking to disrupt live music, and for good reason.
Firstly, it goes without saying that the live business is booming. I could probably retire now if I got a dollar for every time I heard someone exclaim, with a combination of excitement and desperation, that “live is where all the money is.” Indeed, revenue from live entertainment is projected to continue growing until at least the end of this decade, in contrast to declining physical (CD/LP) sales. Artists are touring more and more, festivals are getting bigger, tickets are getting costlier, and fans are willing to shell out an ever-increasing amount of money for great concert experiences.
Secondly, with large, idle spreadsheets, endless cold emails and phone calls, and lack of cohesive institutional memory, processes like concert booking, promotion, and ticket collection are notoriously outdated compared to the innovations we are seeing on the consumer side of music (streaming, music discovery, virtual reality). Entrepreneurs are finally starting to realize this gap in innovation, and are scrambling accordingly. As a result, the live events space as we know it is in a state of persistent, unpredictable flux.
I wanted to give this notion some visual, quantifiable proof — so, with a simple Google search, I managed to dig out 18 music startups whose name starts with the word “gig.”
Gigbloc. GigTown. Gigzolo. Gigwish. Gigstarter. Gigmor. Gigger. GigMasters. Gigmit. Gigwell. GigMaven. Gigfairy. Gigflip. Gigwax. Gigturn. Gigbox. Gigalize. Giggem.
This is far from a comprehensive list of all the startups disrupting the live business, as many have chosen not to include “gig” in their name — I’ll name a couple right now: Jukely, Bandsquare, Jamplify — but it’s a good starting point and demonstrates the diversity and scope of live entertainment. Some of the above have a stronger presence in the United States (Gigzolo, Gigmor), while others are popular in international markets (Gigfairy); some have a track record with larger festivals (Gigmit), while others focus more on access to local acts (Gigbloc, GigTown); some are targeting agents and promoters (Gigwell), while others are aimed at artists and fans (Gigflip, Gigalize).
More importantly, if you click through the links, you will notice that some of these startups are alive and well, while others died out in the early 2010s. There are probably many more “gig-somethings” that are secretly in the making as I type, and even more that died out and disappeared from the Internet. As with every other sector in the startup world, it is clear that the passion for innovative, transformative ideas is just as substantial as the lack of sustainability in the execution of these ideas.
Why is the word “gig” so popular? For one thing, it has several connotations. Live concerts. Quick, easy, one-off income sources. The sharing economy and the democratization of employment opportunities. In particular, with the rise of apps like Uber and Airbnb, people are attracted to “gigs” because they allude to financial empowerment on an individual as well as universal level. In the context of music, it implies that artists have innumerable opportunities to perform, and that venues will have access to a constant stream of artists to host.
This growth in opportunity also scares me a bit, though. Trends in company names tell us not only about a common mission, but also about how overcrowded a market really is. For instance, there seems to be quite a lot of overlap in customer base among startups focused on booking acts (just reading the sub-headers of some of their websites: We help event professionals book amazing DJs, musicians & more. // BOOK MUSICIANS FOR ANY OCCASION. EASIER AND FASTER. // Booking system for bands, promoters, and venues // DJ booking made easy). If music behaves like other sectors, only a few of these startups will come out on top in the long run.
Aside from the overcrowded ecosystem of live music, one caveat in the future of these startups is that their success relies heavily on promoters’ and artists’ willingness to adopt new technologies, which tends to be lower than that of consumers. If we consider streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, they were built by and for tech entrepreneurs; at least in the beginning, there was no genuine cooperation with the music industry or consideration of the industry’s financial future, so the startups were not held back by some old person’s fear of the Internet (and now are facing frequent legal allegations). In contrast, by their very nature, concert booking startups work directly with the music industry, which leads to friendlier interactions with music professionals but arguably slower progress.
I can’t help but recall how Cortney Harding recently pointed out that 18 out of the 30 “music startups to watch” at the 2013 MIDEM Conference no longer exist. The last thing I want is for live music entrepreneurship to melt down in the same way. There are ideas represented in these gig startups that really, really excite me — including but certainly not limited to customizable maps of the local music scene, smarter touring decisions through high-level data analytics and crowdsourcing campaigns, and transparent, un-gated listings of performance opportunities. If dozens or hundreds of people are running a marathon, however, in which the wind and weather at large are constantly pushing against them, and no one has a clue where the finish line is or what it even looks like, someone is bound to stumble.
This post was inspired by one of my many brief Twitter threads. Follow me on Twitter and let’s talk music-tech!