Where some see a crisis, others see an opportunity; where many see a world in which live music is facing an existential threat, Fabrice Sergent, the managing partner of concert discovery site Bandsintown, sees it simply changing shape.
That belief has guided the company’s past six months, during which Sergent and his team developed Bandsintown PLUS, a new subscription service that offers users 25+ exclusive livestreams per month for just $9.99, with an initial slate of artists that features Phoebe Bridgers, Fleet Foxes, Jeff Tweedy, Soccer Mommy, Flying Lotus, and Adrianne Lenker, among others. The initiative is a natural extension of Bandsintown’s mission to support working artists, says Sergent, and he envisions it resonating even in a post-pandemic world.
“We are very lucky, if you understand our position: We have, on one hand, half a million artists being registered on Bandsintown and using our tools; on the other hand, we have 60 million registered fans,” Sergent explains via Zoom. “What fans tell us is that 60% of them now are watching livestreams more than once a week. And to me, it’s complementary. […] It’s almost as if livestreaming pushed fans, within 10 months, into another world, while it took 10 years for the fans to evolve from CDs to Spotify.”
Sergent sees Bandsintown PLUS not as a temporary replacement for traditional touring, but rather as a long-term addition to it—an opportunity for artists to expand their footprints and engage with fans in a more personal way. “I’m not telling you they won’t go on tour. They will go on tour. And they’re just craving to do so,” he says with a laugh. “But it will be a new source of revenue opportunity that will be during the tour. They will add virtual cities, they will add virtual meet-and-greets, and it will be additive, not competitive.”
These livestreams are not unlike sporting events that are broadcast live, Sergent argues—there are fans who prioritize being there in the flesh, of course, but there are also those who don’t. “You and me know that there is nothing better than going to a football field and attend[ing] the game in person. It’s a different experience. But, still, there are lots of people that are watching it on TV and love it. So I feel that it’s compatible, and that’s why I think it’s going to stay.”
Another advantage Bandsintown PLUS aims to provide is accessibility: Where before, fans who were hungry for live music had to trawl artists’ social channels for stream details, piece-mealing their ticket purchases across a variety of platforms, they can now find a consistent source of livestreams via Bandsintown PLUS, all in one place and with no need for a la carte ticketing. “There’s a subscription, there’s a style, there’s a tone,” says Sergent. “There will be friends, I guess, if they are subscribers. You will see all of the same people, so at some point you’ll stop to interact and react. So that’s the type of experience—we’re trying to create that clubbish type of experience that some people like in the venue next door.”
And the $9.99 price point is also key to Sergent’s vision for Bandsintown PLUS, particularly during a pandemic in which unemployment has shot up and stimulus checks have been notoriously elusive. “For fans, one should not forget, frankly, that we are in one of the worst economic crises that we ever lived,” he points out. “And so, right now, can everybody attend a live show and pay tickets for every single live show?” The initiative aims to lower both financial and geographical barriers to live music, allowing fans a simple window into their (new) favorite artists’ worlds.
While the value proposition for fans is clear, Bandsintown’s brief initial announcement left some wondering, “What’s in it for artists?” In a world where companies like Spotify pay fractions of a cent per stream, a $10 price point versus 25+ artists per month raises a red flag. Sergent is emphatic in dispelling any such concerns, explaining, “The artists right now are getting very well-compensated through a booking fee, just like as if they would play at any other venue. And we absolutely want to compensate all artists, so not only the larger acts on this poster, but also the smaller ones.”
“On top of that, should [the artists] want to, we will help produce,” he continues. “So we have agreements, and we invest in the quality of the show and the production. And lastly they will be able to sell merch.” Sergent touts the platform’s arrangements as generating more guaranteed revenue for smaller acts than they could have come by on tour, continuing, “I think if and when it will scale, we will add more shows, more acts, and we will stick to our commitment to add acts that are also on the rise and also to be discovered.”
Sergent argues that Bandsintown PLUS has more in common with Netflix than Spotify, taking on short-term risk so as to scale their platform and shift the livestreaming paradigm entirely: “We don’t ask the artist to sacrifice anything in terms of compensation at this stage. That’s not our model. We are, in fact, quite the opposite. We want them to benefit from it right from the get-go.” It’s a big swing, a fact of which Sergent is well-aware: “Given the size and scope of Bandsintown, we can be reasonably ambitious with this project. If you ask me who is right now making a sacrifice […] it’s us. We are investing, for sure. Bandsintown has to improve and grow this subscriber base to a level that makes it sustainable. That’s the challenge to us, and we are entrepreneurs and we are standing by our beliefs.”
Bandsintown PLUS launched last week, and Sergent is pleased with the initial response from fans: “We have seen amazing engagement from fans and such a beautiful contribution from the artists,” he says via email. “As we had live Q&As with Soccer Mommy, Sir Chloe, Mindchatter and We the Commas, and Rodrigo y Gabriela, fans were able to ask questions through our host, Elia Einhorn, who engaged with the artists in meaningful conversations.”
An engaged fanbase is a good start, but a big fanbase is the platform’s ultimate goal—just as many artists want to reach enough fans that their career is at least somewhat sustainable, Bandsintown PLUS will need to continue to tap into those of us who can’t stand living in a live music-less world in order to scale successfully. “Now it’s gonna take some time, and that’s not gonna happen overnight,” Sergent acknowledges. “It’s gonna be slow, to convince these fans. So we are gearing up for a long fight. But we believe this fight is worth it, because it’s opening the gate for, in fact, very significant revenue for a much larger number of artists.”
Before it was an industry-leading film and TV streaming juggernaut, Netflix was just a company that mailed out DVDs. If Sergent’s vision comes to fruition, perhaps Bandsintown will someday look back on its days of concert discovery from similar heights.
Bandsintown PLUS continues tonight with performances by Bridgers and Ethan Gruska at 9 and 10 p.m. ET, respectively. You can see the service’s complete upcoming schedule here.
Scott Russell is an associate music editor at Paste and he’ll come up with something clever later. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.
Revisit Phoebe Bridgers’ 2017 Paste Studio session below.