Local Current Blog

Is “crowdbooking” the future of live music?

Jordis Unga's Showkicker page lists prospective shows for her fans to support.

Minnesota native Jordis Unga has taken a novel approach to booking her upcoming hometown gig at the Fine Line Music Café.

Showkicker is a new platform that aims to allow artists to book their own shows, with upfront pledges from fans who promise to buy tickets if a given performance is scheduled. One of the founders, Carley Dillon, an economist, describes the experience that inspired the idea: “Instead of enjoying the show we came to see, we spent the whole concert frustrated that we paid so much and that the artist wouldn’t receive a dime of it.”

There are a number of different ways that music shows are currently booked, but a typical arrangement is for a show to be booked via arrangement between an artist and a venue. The artist and the venue agree on a ticket price, and the venue (often going through a vendor like Ticketmaster, which collects its own fees) sells tickets; artists receive an agreed-upon cut of ticket sales. Established artists can often command a minimum guaranteed payment, but up-and-coming artists playing smaller clubs sometimes don’t get paid until a club sells enough tickets to meet its expenses at an agreed-upon threshold.

Essentially, a conventionally-booked show represents a mutual gamble that at a certain ticket price for a certain artist on a certain date, enough tickets (and, subsequently, drinks and merch) will be sold that artists and venues cover their expenses and, ideally, realize a profit. If ticket sales are slow, venues risk going into the red and artists can barely recoup their gas money (if that). If sales soar, there can be resentment as to whether the proceeds are being shared fairly. While it’s rare that an artist truly wouldn’t receive a single dime from a paid admission at a conventionally-booked show, that is a possibility under certain circumstances.

Inspired by the already successful model of Kickstarter, Showkicker is attempting to change the way we approach booking concerts. Its founders have trademarked the term “crowdbooking” to describe their model. A fan can start a “kicker” and act as an “ambassador” for a band he or she would like to see play in his or her city. Using social media tools, fans promote the show and attract other fans to pledge (that is, promise to buy a ticket), at a chosen price point. Once enough fans have pledged, Showkicker helps facilitate negotiations with a venue, and a show is booked.

In theory, then, a service like Showkicker could help both artists and venues by reducing uncertainty: a show doesn’t get booked until a critical mass of fans have guaranteed they’ll buy tickets. Showkicker also allows venues to book acts; or, a band or artist can establish a kicker to plan a whole tour, as Jordis Unga has done.

Born in Forest Lake, Minnesota, Unga recently starred on NBC’s The Voice and she turned to Showkicker to book a string of concerts around the U.S. At the moment, she is focusing on the Midwest, specifically on Minnesota.

“I decided to bring the album release show home, to Minnesota,” she said. She’s excited to be out of L.A. to start this new chapter of her career. “The tour is going to be insane,” she says. She’s hired an 11-piece band, and she has longtime connections to many of its members. “I’m putting this show together, like this is my life, my journey. And I’m finally releasing a record.”

Showkicker has greatly facilitated the process for Unga, she says, and she’s excited to be one of the first artists to use the platform. “The format is super-easy to use. Plus, once we announced the show and everything was up and running, everything went really smoothly. It’s a cool platform because touring is difficult. If the fans create the demand, then it’s a more efficient way to get your music out there.”

Unga isn’t afraid of playing to small audiences, noting, “there’s something to be said about cutting your teeth and playing every club and travelling across the country,” but she says she’s appreciated the way that Showkicker has helped her ensure she’s following her fans’ demand rather than relying on guesswork.

Of course, relying so heavily on fans to promote a show carries its own risks, but Dillon believes that the time is right for a platform like Showkicker. “The live show industry,” she argues, “cannot stay the same.” The Showkicker founders weren’t the only ones to conceive of crowdfunding live music booking; RABBL offers a comparable service. (Dillon says Showkicker differentiates itself from the competition with additional options for artists and venues.)

Dillon sees many opportunities in the future for Showkicker, whether it be for musicians like Unga coming out of gigs on TV, artists needing some help to recognition, or big acts looking for a custom touring experience.

Unga’s album will be released in early May, and you can pledge—that is, buy a ticket—for her show at the Fine Line on April 26 via her Showkicker page.

Gabby Coll is an undergrad at St. Olaf College pursuing her B.A. in art history and Spanish. She loves Minneapolis, Twitter, and a good Cappuccino.