For much of the past decade, we’ve been witness to the music industry eroding in a truly historic fashion. This tends to happen in industries when a new invention comes along to make it obsolete. Horse and buggy manufacturers experienced this with the rise of the automobile. Candle makers spiraled into poverty due to the light bulb. Even the recording industry itself replaced the “booming” sheet music industry in the mid-20th Century thanks to technology that allowed music to be recorded and sold. This allowed for a small empire to be built on records, eight-tracks, cassettes and ultimately CDs, creating unfathomably wealthy artists and executives who traipsed the globe and lived in palaces. Then MP3 technology was born, the tsunami of illegal downloads hit without warning, and worldwide recording industry revenues were cut in half in less than a decade—a loss of over 20 billion dollars.
Of course, the biggest losers in the industry’s collapse—in financial terms at least—were the musicians themselves. If record labels couldn’t make money and artists couldn’t sell their songs, how were they supposed to get paid? The real irony in all of this is that before the technology to actually record music ever existed—way back to the late 19th Century before the phonograph was invented—musicians made money through their craft in one way and one way only: they played for people anywhere they could. They played in massive concert halls and on street corners, in bars and in hotel lobbies. Music was an artist’s time and effort that gave the public an escape from their day-to-day din. The public paid for that escape, and musicians were able to make a living.
So it’s only fitting, and fantastically ironic, that technology has brought the music business full circle, back to musicians playing to their fans for their daily bread. This return has spawned a revolutionary new website called StageIt.com, which has taken the age-old model of musicians playing anywhere and brought it into the 21st Century. Thanks to streaming video and easy-to-use webcams, the concept is relatively simple: musicians who are part of the site play thirty-minute to hour-long sets at a specific time, on a specific day. Fans pay varying prices for entry into these forums, allowing them to not only have access to an “exclusive” show via webcam, but also have the ability to interact with the musicians who are playing.
“This is not a concert,” StageIt founder Evan Lowenstein says, “but rather a fan experience.”
Lowenstein knows the trials and tribulations of trying to be a successful musician, as he was himself a successful musician right before technology drove the old music industry model off a cliff. You may or may not remember the identical twin brother singer/songwriters Evan and Jaron, who found moderate success through three studio albums released between 1998 and 2004, with their single “Crazy for this Girl” rising to number 9 on the pop charts. You’ve heard it and probably won’t openly admit you like it. It was through this first career that the seeds for StageIt.com were planted—the technology just wasn’t there to support it … yet.
“There weren’t web cams everywhere and streaming video wasn’t very good yet, or was way too expensive,” Lowenstein says. “So I had to sit on the idea and hope nobody else did it first.”
By the middle of last decade, when the music industry really began to crumble, Lowenstein began to explore the tech world. He began the mobile texting company HookUpFeed, which is now one of the bigger marketing platforms that allows merchants to connect directly with consumers. With the success of that company and connections in Palo Alto, Lowenstein began to learn about this brave new world and finally saw a way StageIt could exist. “I look at the internet business as an ocean,” he explains. “It’s wide open and it’s very beautiful and there are a ton of possibilities, but all of a sudden something can come up from nowhere and kill you.”
Rather than getting killed, though, StageIt is looking like a better and better idea each day as more and more people rely on streaming content for their daily entertainment, with some millennials giving up regular TV altogether. But what makes it truly revolutionary is how it could become a reliable revenue stream for musicians. One of the most frustrating things about being a musician is figuring out how to effectively connect with fans, especially between shows, tours, and albums. This platform not only makes that possible, it makes it profitable.
“The majority of a tour, you’re on the tour bus, you’re backstage, you’re stuck in your hotel room, not connecting with fans and not making money for your music. We’re about convincing artists they are going to make more money doing what they do best and have more time to have a personal experience with their most loyal fans,” Lowenstein says. “Most fans are people who have to show up to work every day—so the artists become that in a way, showing up to work for their fans.”
I check out a couple shows on the site, and while the quality varies through web cams and sound, the experience is about as unique as it gets. Fans make requests and interact with the artists, and the artists respond, making it more of a high-end Skype session with great music than a concert experience. In fact, it’s not a concert experience at all really—there’s no jostling in the crowd, no immersion in the scene with a live performance. Everything is relatively clean and controlled, as most web-based interactions usually are. Lowenstein agrees with this, saying he finds it “boring as hell” to watch a concert film on TV or on his laptop.
“We don’t sell music, we sell time and access,” he says. “This isn’t on CBS, but we’re taking you to that place CBS can’t get to—the back of a musician’s tour bus as it’s cruising down the highway, inside a hotel room while they’re on the road, or in the studio when they’re taking a break. It’s all live and never archived, which makes it truly one-of-a-kind.”