Strategic Conversation with Ian Hogarth, CEO of Songkick
1. Artists and investors might define Songkick as a ticket broker, data provider, content aggregator, or social network. How would you define the company?
Wow, that’s a wide range of descriptions! I hope it’s not that ambiguous! We are first and foremost a personalized concert alerts service – telling you when your favourite bands come to town. As part of delivering on that promise we aggregate every concert happening, so we can reliably alert you, and make it easy to share that alert with friends, because most people go to concerts in groups.
2. Last year you attended SXSW on your own and gave a well-received presentation on Songkick? This year you co-hosted a SXSW event along with Rdio and Soundcloud. Looking back, how has Songkick evolved and grown over this last year?
It’s been really exciting – our monthly unique visitors grew over 1000% over that year and it seems like more and more fans are relying on Songkick to keep track of live music. We’ve also really expanded our network of partners – we’re now powering concert dates across a wide range of partners, from video (YouTube, Vevo), artist platforms (Bandcamp, Fanbridge, Mobile Roadie, Soundcloud, Topspin), music discovery (Grooveshark, Hype Machine), search engines (Yahoo!) and music labels (Warner Music Group). That’s been an amazing validation of the quality and comprehensiveness of our data. We’re now working with about 150 different ticket vendors around the world.
3. What are the main hindrances specific to artist relations that Songkick faces daily? (i.e. how much of a challenge has ‘artist buy-in’ been when artist are faced with so many new tech platforms).
With most artists making 90% of their income through touring, concert data is critical and the processes for managing that data at present are often manual, involving multiple stakeholders. There are big benefits in automating parts of that process, in particular helping artists to enter dates once on Songkick and then automatically publish them to other platforms via our API, saving hours of manual labour. In helping artists to transitioning to a more automated solution, it’s been absolutely critical for us to spend time with artists, managers, agents and labels to develop our system in collaboration with them. This is mission-critical data.
4. Currently, artists make upward of 90% of their total earnings of concerts, a ratio that concerns many who feel a more balanced earning model is needed. What are your thoughts on the artists’s reliance on concert revenues at the expense of traditional revenues from recorded content?
I think it depends on how long a view you take on things. Less than 100 years ago the majority of revenues were from live performances and we are returning to that state. I believe that fans pay for a unique connection to the band they love. That can take a number of forms – attending a live peformance which is by definition unique, being involved in some sort of patronage e.g. what you are seeing happen on Kickstarter or buying exclusive merch or memorabilia. I think the mix will continue to shift, but will be unified by a fan’s desire to connect more uniquely with a band they love.
5. Do you see a time soon when the percentage earnings swings back towards a more balanced earning model for artists?
I think it will take a major technology shift for that to happen. Those shifts are happening faster and faster though (e.g. social, mobile in the past 10 years) and I would not be surprised to see a change occur that creates a new and meaningful stream.
6. In terms of your role in directing users to ticketing companies and brokers, is Songkick working off of a flat fee or a % of the ticket purchase price?
We work on a % of the ticket price. The fan pays the same price.
7. If it’s a %, what do you say to those that argue you’re just another company pulling on the purse strings of a (possibly overvalued) live asset?
The way we think about it is that 50% of concert tickets currently go unsold, with the number one reason being that fans are not aware the band is in town. That points to inefficient marketing spend around concerts, partially due to concert marketing taking place offline in print etc, and not targeted to an individual fans music taste. Songkick is helping to move that promotional spend online and driving incremental attendance in the process.
8. As the music industry is often criticized for lagging behind changes taking place more generally with new technology users, who do you view as the leading thinkers on where the music industry is headed? For example, who’s leading the way on the music industry side vs. those seen more as part of the tech sector?
Personally, I’ve been generally very impressed with most of the people I’ve met in the traditional music industry. They are clearly aware of the importance of data, and want to be using best in class tools to help their artists. We’ve made some major progress at working with these companies, for example our recent deal with Warner Music. We have more like that on the way.
9. Has your involvement as data provider to artist networks like Bandcamp, Crowdsurge, and Soundcloud influenced the development of your business model? Has access to their data produced insights that have moved Songkick in new directions? [i.e. getting at the point of how critical it may be for these strategic partners to collaborate with their data, and maybe a followup on how they actually go about working with each other]
I think the main thing is that it has reinforced how critical the quality and comprehensiveness of our concert data is. Everything comes back to having the best data in the world. We’ve continued to hire some of the most talented data engineers in the world to ensure we continue to push the envelope there.
10. Are their plans for integration with other cloud based services Pandora, Rdio, Rhapsody, and/or Spotify?
Absolutely, we want to power concert dates wherever a fan is listening to music to increase the possibility they decide to see the band live.