“I’ve Seen the Future and I’ve Left It Behind”: An Epitaph
After Six Years, Gimme is Shutting Down the Gimme Metal and Gimme Country Apps
On July 29th, 2017, I published a piece entitled, “What is This That Stands Before Me?” — a line lifted from the first track off the first Black Sabbath record. The article announced the launch of Gimme Radio. In the piece I explained that after years of shaping the digital music industry at companies like Apple, Beats, Napster, and Google, myself and co-founders Jon Maples, Andy Gilliland, and David Rosenberg were going to change digital music forever. We saw the shortcomings, and we were here to fix them.
Our goals were not simple and not small. We set out to create a new platform where fans could have meaningful connections with one another and the artists they loved. On Gimme, music discovery wasn’t going to be dictated by algorithms or editorially driven “thematic” playlists, but rather hand-picked by the most trusted sources — the artists. We wanted to build a venue where fans of genres outside of mainstream hip hop and pop were not marginalized, but catered to; and where the business model was not obtrusive ads or a one-size-fits all $9.99 monthly subscription, but selling the goods and services fans craved.
And change it we did. In a time before the words “creator economy,” “social audio,” and even “community” were commonplace for digital media products and services, we built two vibrant communities of hundreds of thousands of fans that were ignored by every other music service: Gimme Metal for the metalheads and Gimme Country for the fans of Americana and Alternative Country. At a time when there were no off-the-shelf chat services, we built our own; where there was no software to deliver true radio-like quality experiences to the phone, we took old school terrestrial radio software and rejiggered it for a digital-first, mobile experience; because there were no systems that could automatically plug into multiple wholesalers and vendors and connect with an e-commerce storefront, we built one.
Everything we did started and ended with the music fan. We knew that music fans don’t just come in one size, and so we built for the four music fan personas we identified: the Influencer, the Explorer, the Socializer, and the Collector. And we created revenue streams that played into each of these personas’ spending habits.
Ask the hundreds of thousands of fans who registered for the service or the 1,600-plus artists who hosted shows or appeared on the platform; ask the independent Metal and Country labels with whom we’ve created millions of dollars worth of exclusive goods and services. They’ll all say the same thing: Gimme matters. And what’s most astounding, is that we did all of this with just six full-time employees and with a little over $7M in funding over the course of six years. I’m incredibly proud of this small, but powerful team who forever changed the digital music landscape, and I’m confident that Gimme has proved that building communities of fans on a genre-by-genre basis is the next step in the evolution of streaming music.
But, sadly, today, I’m writing to announce that we are pulling the plug on Gimme on April 29, 2023. Even though the music fans, artists, and much of the music industry love Gimme, and even though we proved that engaged communities could generate real money at a higher average revenue per user than other music platforms, we unfortunately find ourselves in an economic climate where we have been unable to raise the financing needed to support the streaming services and grow Gimme to reach all music fans across all genres.
But before April 28th arrives, I wanted to tell our story and share some of our learnings. They are important.
COME FOR THE CONTENT…When we started Gimme on a white board in my basement in the Excelsior neighborhood in San Francisco, we knew that we had to create a streaming experience that was exciting and allowed for authentic music discovery. That’s why we chose radio as the core of the experience. Great radio (not what you hear today in your car or online) is still the most powerful medium for music discovery and still the best way to build community (as someone once said, “when you listen to radio, you are never alone”). Hearing a real DJ play hand-selected music is what makes people fall in love with new music and discover the forgotten gems. Gimme believed that if artists hosted the radio programming, then a community would first form around that artist, then expand to other artists’ shows, and ultimately to the Gimme brand itself. We let our DJs play whatever they wanted to keep the programming exciting and non-formulaic, spurring real discovery. We let the artists talk as much as they wanted in between tracks to bring the programming to life with their deep knowledge of the genre, years of war stories from the road, and personal tales of the artists, tours, producers, and other musicians they’ve encountered throughout their careers.
We also knew that to build communities of music fans you must be authentic. That’s why we built our communities on a genre-by-genre basis. We knew we couldn’t create a home for Metalheads with marketing materials showing a guy in a cowboy hat. This kept our messaging, branding, and creative on-point. It also meant we could be very efficient in our marketing spend. Because we solely targeted fans of a specific genre, we attracted listeners at a cost per acquisition of $.40 or under.
Our marketing strategy proved to be very effective at building valuable audiences for new artists — the hardest thing for any new musician to do. A new Metal or Americana artist hosting a show on Gimme got immediate access to thousands of pre-qualified fans, without having to spend a dime on Facebook and Instagram ads that don’t offer the same type of rich engagement. That’s why we’ve been directly responsible for young bands getting record label deals over the years and why we’ve had a real impact on so many artists’ careers.
In a world of filters and deep fakes, Gimme was full of real, hot-mic moments that kept listeners chatting in our communities long after the show ended and coming back week after week. Hearing Dave Mustaine talk about the earliest days of Megadeth, or Will Carroll from Death Angel talk about his run-ins with Yngwie Malmsteen, or Jesse Dayton talk about playing with Johnny Cash — those are stories you couldn’t hear anywhere else. And because we let the artists play what they wanted, we introduced people to the most up-and-coming artists, while also exposing new generations to classic country deep cuts from Joe Ely or Jessi Colter and proto-metal classics from bands like Captain Beyond and Montrose — tracks that will never end up on playlists on the legacy music services. I’m incredibly proud of the way our programming helped democratize music by raising the voices of artists that don’t get the attention of the music industry. My favorite example is our Iranian metal special with a band member in Tehran who had to smuggle his voice tracks out to us in fear of persecution. And while Country radio struggles to get to ten percent of songs played by female artists (see: Tomato-gate), more than a third of the artists played and participating on Gimme Country were women. We still have a way to go, but I’m proud of our role in moving the industry in the right direction, and am honored that we had the privilege of working with artists like Margo Price, Jaime Wyatt, and the legendary Leann Womack.
…STAY FOR THE COMMUNITY. Once people came into the platform to hear their favorite artist host a show, it was Gimme’s job to engage them, and, ultimately, get them to self-select as part of the GImme Metal or Gimme Country community. Through a mix of expert community managers and entertaining snippets provided by the beloved Gimme Bot, we encouraged the listeners to interact with one another and with the artist-hosts in the live chat, Gimme Live. There have been over 7.4 million comments made in the chat in just under six years. Thirty percent of our listeners did more than listen: they purchased, liked tracks, but mostly they had meaningful real-time conversations with other fans and with artists. The community used the chat to hold weekly trivia contests, fantasy football leagues, and book clubs. Once our listeners became engaged in the community, they stayed for unbelievably long periods of time — time during which Gimme was able to market other physical music, merchandise, fan collectibles, and membership in the premium community we call “The Brigade.”
The Brigade was designed as a fan club. This was not just a digital music subscription. Join the Brigade for $4.99 a month and you got access to past shows, 15% off in the store, access to special goods, a VIP newsletter, a physical patch, and T-shirt. We thought that the archive would be the driving marketing message and primary reason people subscribed, but here’s a little secret I’ll let all the big legacy music services in on if they don’t already know it: most people don’t care about archived content. The reason people joined the Brigade depended on what type of fan you were, and we designed it so there would be something for each of those personas I mentioned earlier: the Explorer wants to dig into the archive, but the Collector joins to get the 15% off in the store, the Influencer wants the personalized patch and T-shirt, the Socializer signs up to get the digital badge next to her name in the chat. Maybe most impressive is that the members of the Brigade interacted in real life too. They promoted live shows at local clubs together, they went on vacation together, they organized meet ups before concerts in their towns, they helped one another through tragedy, and shared in celebration.
Our communities not only supported one another, they supported Gimme. Before anyone other than the earliest tech adopters ever uttered the phrase, “Decentralized Autonomous Organization, aka DAO, Gimme fans took ownership of the product. In 2019, we raised over $500,000 through crowdfunding — $250,000 of which came from members writing checks averaging $1,300. That’s a meaningful amount of money for our listeners — maybe the difference between taking a vacation or not that year — and it demonstrates just how much the service meant to our fans. And this direct support from listeners reinforced our commitment to keep our fans at the core of everything we did.
CREATE HIGH ARPU CHANNELS… We started out selling vinyl. Why? Because we believed that buying vinyl is a strong signal that someone is a true music fan. We knew that if we could figure out how to attract the vinyl buyers, we could then start to build the core of a music fan community and then, over time, expand that community into non-vinyl buyers. We’ve sold millions of dollars of vinyl records in the last few years. We created a vinyl record club where fans spend $30 each month to get a Gimme exclusive vinyl variant. The lifetime duration of a vinyl club subscriber is 22 months with a lifetime spend of $660. And these guys are buying more than just those vinyl records. We expanded our offerings to include merchandise, other physical music, virtual tipping, ticketing, digital goods/NFTs. We knew that our different personas of music fans have unique spending habits. It’s why we gave the Collector the ability to buy every vinyl variant, the Socializer a way to directly support the artists via tipping, the Influencer a way to purchase a digital badge. Gimme’s platform was built to support all these different spending habits and it’s why our average customer spent $123 in 2021, compared with Spotify’s $54 and why from September 2022 through February 2023 we did on average over $100K in top line revenue per month. It’s why our ARPU (across all paid and free users) was $1.10. With the $5M raise we were hoping to close, we were projecting to triple our revenue within twelve months. Imagine having the means to expand to 15 genres and millions of fans across Gimme Hip Hop, Gimme Rock, Gimme Classical and beyond? What would that look like for Gimme, the industry, the artists? It would have been big, that was the plan and we were on the cusp.
…WHILE PUTTING WHOLE DOLLARS IN ARTIST’S POCKETS. Hey Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, here’s what artists don’t need: more tools and more dashboards. What artists truly need is a place where they can earn while they sleep. That was a core vision of Gimme — to create a platform where an artist can create content to engage and monetize their fanbase directly, 24/7. We wanted to create a world where an Americana artist opens their Gimme profile on Tuesday morning to find that they received $125 in tips, sold nine T-shirts and 10 vinyl records for a total of $570 in sales, and had 42 new people follow them, opening up a direct channel of communication with them.
We proved that communities will support artists. At the very start of the pandemic we were the first service to launch a virtual tipping feature. The community rallied and supported not only each other during the stress of stay at home measures, but from mid March to the end of 2020, Gimme Radio raised over $70K for independent artists. We’ve since had artists that have less than 150K followers on Spotify earn $40,000 in a year from a fanbase of just 1,500 users on Gimme. That artist will never make $40,000 in a year from all the legacy digital music services combined. And it would take over a billion views on TikTok, or 11.5M streams on Spotify to achieve that amount. But these artists don’t have followings on any platform to support that sort of engagement. It’s why the concept of a viable creator economy as it exists today for most musicians is bullshit.
The creator economy only serves the top two percent of artists. What about the rest of them? And I’m not talking about the long tail, I’m talking about the mid-tier or the “middle class” of artists that make up the majority. No one is working for those artists, and this created a huge opportunity for Gimme, to support artists who need it the most. We provided this entire middle class of new, independent, and legacy artists more opportunities to directly sell merchandise and we had prepared to launch artist-specific monthly subscriptions to help the artists monetize direct fan relationships in more meaningful ways. And with our “Airwaves,” artist-in-residence series, we created a new format of radio that allowed artists to make a month’s worth of engaging radio in just 40 minutes, allowing us to attract even the busiest artists on tour like Charlie Crockett, Maren Morris, Matt Pike from High On Fire, and Rob Halford of Judas Priest.
THANK YOU. From myself and everyone at Gimme, a huge heartfelt thank you to the community members and the artists who participated in Gimme. It was a truly special service that existed against all odds. We started at a time when labels and artists were skeptical of just another music platform, a time when investors who had been burned by most past music investments weren’t ready to support a community-based music experience. We launched Gimme with a lot of knowledge and a strong point of view about what was missing from the digital music experience and somehow, with only $75,000 in pre-seed money and a lot of conviction, we did it.
I am proud of what we built for fans, and for artists. I’m grateful for the support we got from the industry (thank you Concord, The Orchard, iHeartMedia, Metal Blade, 5B Artist Management, Telefonica, Techstars Music, Riser House Records, Quartz Hill Records, Wacken Open Air) and from the individual angels, families, and friends. But we always struggled to attract the venture capital that a media tech business like Gimme needs to thrive and grow. We thought that by hitting a $1M, 12 month run rate, achieving enviable fan engagement metrics, and by proving we could build real community, we would be in a much better position to raise the kind of capital required to scale this business to unbelievable profitability. On that we were wrong. We found product / market fit, but we never cracked product / investor fit.
But make no mistake…we were right that communities matter. They are hard to build — you cannot just throw money at artists, build a product, and expect a community to form. It takes time, care, cultural understanding, and deep subject-matter expertise, but when you get it right, communities are powerful, stable and extremely valuable.
We proved this in two seemingly niche areas — Metal and Americana — but it applies to all music fans and fans passionate about any subject matter. It’s why we’ve spoken to European soccer leagues, North American auto racing organizations, big music festivals, and major movie studios about the Gimme approach. I have very little doubt that if any of those organizations started today, they wouldn’t have a podcast over here, a radio station over there, a blog, a Facebook group, a merch store on Amazon — instead they’d have one destination for their followers, fans, and creators, one home. That’s the promise of Gimme.
Just like I used a Black Sabbath line to announce the launch of Gimme, I’m using one here to signal its end: “I’ve Seen the Future and I’ve Left it Behind” from the song Supernaut off Black Sabbath Vol.4 — the first record I ever bought. We’ve taken the journey full circle — we touched the future and now, at least for the moment, are forced to leave it behind. But, I guarantee you, someone will take what we started, expand and fulfill this vision and it’s going to be good for fans, good for artists, and good for an industry struggling to support and serve them.
Please drop into the chat in Gimme Metal and Gimme Country before April 29th to say goodbye. And please reach out directly if you’d like to learn more about how to build highly engaged communities of the most valuable music fans. I’d love to hear from you.
April 10, 2023