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Detour: Crowdfunding the future of live music

Songkick founder Ian Hogarth on the evolution of Detour and the future of the service dubbed ‘Kickstarter for gigs’

Since its founding in London in 2007, Songkick, the service that lets you know when your favourite bands are in town, has become one of the success stories of the London start-up scene.

It’s now the largest database of concert listings in the world with partnerships with the likes of Youtube, Spotify and Soundcloud.

With the release of their new crowdfunding platform for gigs in London, Detour, the Songkick team are poised to take the live music industry by storm. Tech City News caught up with Songkick founder Ian Hogarth to talk about Detour and the future of crowdfunding live music.

Where did the idea for Detour come from?

IH: The idea for detour came roughly at the same sort of time we were setting up Songkick in 2007.

We basically had two insights. The first was, we had lots of people who didn’t have time to keep track of everything coming to their city, and as a result stopped going to concerts, and we just thought, we can make that better, we can make that easier, and if we did, more of our friends would go to concerts with us.

The second insight, as really avid music fans we’d see on every artist’s Myspace page or Facebook page, the comments basically all say the same thing — “come to my city,” and we’d leave those comments, but we would feel like it never really influenced whether the artist came to us or not, and we had this kind of crazy idea — What if, as fans, we could kind of leave money to say we’re really going to be there so the artist would know with confidence there was enough capital to go there?

And as Songkick keeps growing and growing, that’s always been part of the long term vision of the company, this idea of making concert going more demand driven, and it just felt like it was time to see if it would work.

What effect could Detour have on the industry?

The impact on the artists and promoters is huge, because the risk that they are collectively taking in going to new markets and new venues is huge, so if you can really start to forecast the demand based on fans stepping forward it can really change the number of shows that can happen and the inefficiency within the system can be removed.

Ultimately it means more money flows to artists which is a good thing.

I think often bands know they have fans somewhere because they’ll be told through Twitter and Facebook and they’ll see the plays on Youtube. But it won’t really mean anything in terms of being able to play a show because ultimately there’s financial risk involved in booking plane tickets and traveling half way round the world.

And that’s the key insight in detour, we’re not just letting people click a button to say ‘I’m interested’, it’s not a ‘like’ button or a ‘follow’ button. It’s actually a real commitment of money, and really changes the risk profile of the event.

Do you have plans to expand the service beyond London?

The plan is to open it up to the rest of the UK as soon as we can and that’s one of our main priorities.

Once we’ve done that we’re going to open up more widely as well – we hope to open in more markets by the end of July.

What is the thinking behind bringing artists and fans closer together in this way?

Ian Hogarth with Songkick co-founders Michelle You and Pete Smith

The overarching philosophy of Songkick is that we believe an amazing concert experience can change your life.

It has done for everyone who works here, and the reason we get out of bed in the morning is to try and make more people have those experiences.

The reason that those experiences are so magical and so memorable is because of the connection between the artist and the fans.

What makes a great concert is the atmosphere, and the atmosphere is the function of the artist and the fans, not just one of those two. It’s that connection that matters.

One of the most interesting things about Detour is that the shows themselves have quite a unique atmosphere. I think that’s a function of how the group of people came together online to make the show happen, and then offline together in a room – it has a big impact on the atmosphere of the gig.

Was cutting out middlemen in the live music industry an intention of yours?

There are a lot of middlemen in the concert industry. You have agents and promoters and ticket vendors and there’s quite a lot of stuff in the middle.

Our take on it is that there’s inefficiency introduced by the way that system is currently working. More than anything the inefficiency comes from the fact that the system is working the same way that it did in 1990, despite the fact we’ve had huge changes in recorded music discovery and huge changes in social networking. So really what Songkick is doing is providing the concert industry with the technology that its been waiting for.

There are going to be people that embrace it very actively because they can see how positive that is, and there are people who are going to be afraid of change. But overall, it feels like we’re going to be a part of the industry rather than cutting out middlemen.

Fans have started to use Detour to book acts other than just music. How did that come about?

We’ve had our first comedy concert confirmed with Aziz Ansari which is this Saturday night. We’ve been surprised by the number of different things that it’s been used for and that’s very exciting from a platform perspective because it suggests that it could work for an awful lot of different artists and fans.

I think it would be very interesting to see as it gets bigger what sort of things it gets used for beyond the stuff we’ve seen so far and that’s one of the most exciting things about doing product development on this, it’s quite hard to predict what people are going to use it for, and as a result, every time we release something we’re thinking ‘what are they going to do now?’ which is really exciting.

Do you think crowdfunding more generally has the power to change the way we all do things, or is it more transient? Is it a trend, or is it here to stay?

I think crowdsourcing is the key trend to focus on, because it is enabled by the web and by mobile, and ultimately is a powerful way to ensure that supply and demand are well matched.

So I’m expecting to see it remain a big theme as the web evolves.