Dream concerts made real: You buy the tickets, he’ll wrangle the talent

songkick detour outdoor shows at London's beautiful Somerset House

If you’re a fan of live music (and really, who isn’t?) you should be keeping an eye on Ian Hogarth. As if concerts and festivals weren’t awesome enough already, this guy seems to be on a mission to make them better – or at the very least more frequent. 

… We’re live music fans first and foremost, and we’re people who understand technology second.

His first creation, Songkick, is a concertgoer’s best friend. The app will scan your music library, sniff out the artists you like, and send you alerts whenever they’re playing in your city. In this writer’s opinion, it’s right up there alongside Led Zeppelin and The Beatles on the list of the best things to ever come out of London.

But Hogarth has outdone himself. Songkick is great, but it almost pales in comparison to his latest project. This new service, called Detour, is basically a crowdsourced event funding platform that’s been described as a sort of “Kickstarter for concerts.” Hogarth and the rest of the Songkick team launched the service in London a few weeks ago, and users have already booked dozens of shows with it.

Being the live music junkies that we are, we just had to catch up with Hogarth to find out when we can expect Detour to launch in the States. Here’s what he had to say:

DT: So how long have you been working on this Detour project?

Ian Hogarth: So, we had the idea for Detour at the same time that we founded the company, so that was in like 2007 when we founded Songkick. We had the idea at the same time, but we put it on the shelf until around the start of 2012. We started doing these kind of one-off tests to see if it would work, and given that it was a natural extension of Songkick, and then when we saw that it worked really well, we’d get people like Hot Chip and Andrew Bird and a bunch of other bands. In December 2012 we then launched a kind of more scalable and platform-like version of it in London, and you know, we’ve basically been working on it ever since.

Hold up – you’ve been planning it all along?

Yeah. I remember we talked about it when we got funding through Y Combinator’s demo day thing, for example. There were two related insights we saw around concerts – the first was a lot of our friends didn’t go to concerts even though they wanted to, and the reason they didn’t go was it was just too much of a hassle to keep track of who was coming through their city. That incited Songkick, and Songkick now has over 800 million people using it all over the world, and the average person who uses it goes to twice as many concerts as someone who doesn’t.

concert funded by Songkick Detour

The other insight we had was that, you know, really really ardent fans would like to be able to influence whether an artist comes to their city. You see it every day; there’s hundreds of thousands of comments on Facebook pages saying “come to my city!” but no way for that to really change how concerts [materialize], because a comment is just a comment. Detour is a kind of way for people to take it a step up and say, “I’m in, here’s my credit card,” and that really can influence whether there’s a concert or not. 

For those who might not know, could you explain how Detour works?

So it’s only available in London right now, but the plan is to open it up elsewhere as fast as we can.  So, if you’re in London, you can build a list of bands you’d love to see live, you give us your credit card, and say how much you’d pay, and then and other fans join in. And when it gets to a sort of critical mass, we work with promoters and artists to make the show happen. And one important thing that I should emphasize is, as a fan, if a concert that you pledged for actually turns out to be confirmed, we then send you a message saying “can you make the date or not?” If you can make the date, then we give you tickets, which you’ve got as a guarantee, if you can’t make the date, no problem, we’ll refund you. So it’s actually kind of zero financial risk for the fan, but it does require them to take a step forward and be more than just a commenter on Facebook – they actually have to put their credit card in, and sort of take that extra step.

It seems that the press has Detour pegged as a “Kickstarter for concerts,” which made me think; why not just use Indiegogo or some other crowdfunding platform to make a concert happen?  What’s the benefit of doing it through Detour?

songkick detour birthdays concert posterYou know, the reality is that I don’t actually think Detour is very similar to crowdfunding, and the real reason for that is that if you look at those sort of crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, [they’re] about a creator saying, “I want to do this, would you help me?” And that works really really well for those sorts of uncertain creative projects like making a book, making an album, or making a video game; but with Detour what we’re doing is we’re letting it all be initiated by the fan. The fan says I want this to happen – and this is a way for a fan to influence whether a creator comes to their city or not, and so i actually think it does fit in general framework of crowdsourcing, but it’s very different than what exists on other crowdfunding services, because I think it’s ultimately about empowering fans to help artists, rather than it being initiated by the artists.

What’s your plan for expansion? Can we expect a Detour launch in the States anytime soon?

Yeah, well I think the nature of this thing is that we want to grow as fast as we can without reducing the quality of the actual experiences. One of the things thats been so awesome about Detour is the quality of the concerts themselves. The atmosphere has been absolutely amazing because of the way [the concerts] come about, and that’s actually the most important thing to get right as we scale things up. We’ve taken a fairly big step in the last couple weeks by opening up to anybody in London. The next step will be to open up to anybody in the UK, and then we’re gonna start looking at other markets. I’m just as excited as you are to take it outside the UK – the only reason we’ve been doing it here is that it’s easier to test some of this stuff on our own doorstep, so we can go to concerts and make sure they feel how they should feel.

I want to talk for a minute about the name “Detour”. It seems to suggest that this is a rethinking of the way artists book shows. A word that gets thrown around a lot these days is “disruption.” Do you Detour as a disruptive service that’s going to change the music industry forever?

songkick detour goat concert posterI guess the way I look at it is that, there’s been an enormous amount of change in the music industry since 1990, right? You’ve had Napster, you’ve had YouTube, you’ve had iTunes, you’ve had Soundcloud, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Artsits’ lives and the way that fans listen to music has changed radically over the last twenty years – you’ve also had dramatic growth in global markets that want to see music live. Places like Mexico City. Many bands sell more tickets and play to more people in Mexico City than in New York City now, so the world has changed both in terms of how recorded music and in terms of global markets – the live music has actually stayed basically the same as 1990 – you know? The same process occurs to make a band go on tour. Band talks to agent who talks to promoter who takes all the risk, who puts some tickets on a ticket site, and then fans want to buy or not. and I think what we’re doing in Detour is empowering the people that currently make concerts happen – the artists, the promoters, the fans – by giving them a new system to make that all work in a more sort of net-native way. That, I think, is really what’s going on here, so I think the world “disruption” is a bit lame. All we’re trying to do is to adapt the technologies to what’s amazing about live music, and then in the process make things better for everybody – in particular better for the fans, artists, and the promoters.

Alright, as the creator of Songkick and Detour, you must be a music lover. Who are your favorite artists right now? What are you listening to?

There’s a bunch of bands I’ve been pledging for on Detour that I really want to see. I’m on more of a classic tic right now, so Liz Phair is one I’d love to see. In terms of new music, I’ve really wanted to see a rapper called Curren$y in London.

I get the impression that all this business started out as a sort of self-serving endeavor that would make it easier for you to see the bands you like, and then it just grew into something bigger. Am I right?

sk DETOUR logoOh yeah. I think there’s a reason that we’ve been able to see how technology could improve live music, and that’s because we’re live music fans first and foremost, and we’re people who understand technology second. I would say that I’m more of a music fan than I am a technologist, even though I have a masters degree in machine learning. My passion, my biggest passion, is around music and art, and I want to make things better when it comes to these experiences, and so I think that the Detour idea and the Songkick idea really just came from us being fans thinking “how could this be better?” you know, for everybody.

(Images © Songkick. All Rights Reserved.)

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