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Interview: Evan Lowenstein of Stageit

Evan Lowenstein Stageit

Stageit is an online video platform that allows artists to stream and monetize live performances while interacting with their fans in real time.

I spoke to Evan Lowenstein, the founder and CEO of Stageit, about using technology to connect artists and fans and running a thriving music startup.

After The Show: What are a few key attributes essential to being a successful entrepreneur, especially in the music & tech worlds?

Evan: That’s an excellent question. The first thing that comes to mind is tenacity. Perseverance. Having the vision and belief that what you’re doing makes sense. Not quitting. The challenge when you have a concept that is so unique – people will tell you you’re crazy or barking up the wrong tree, which can cause you to question your belief.

But as an entrepreneur, listen to your gut. Try to go back to whenever you had moments of success – even as far back as 5th grade – and tap into that. Having a good idea is arbitrary/an opinion, but knowing what success tastes like and knowing ‘I can do this’ is essential.

How do you sustain and motivate yourself when you’re running a startup in the months or years before it reaches that profitability point?

Exactly – it’s lonely at the top. What you just asked about is perhaps one of the largest reasons why people quit because they can’t get through that pre-launch time. Just getting a company to market is a huge accomplishment. It’s about perseverance and staying focused so you can really dig deep into your vision and your project.

It’s interesting that the tip jar is such a popular and lucrative part of the Stageit experience – my gut reaction was that artists might perceive it as being degrading or amateurish.

A lot of people in the beginning thought it would cause us to fail. The reason I knew it was going to be the tipping point to our success – pun intended – was because we listened to what the consumers were saying.

The advent of mp3s meant fans were able to drag, drop/copy, paste – i.e. steal music. They said ‘give us the music for free or cheap and we’ll pay you on the back end.’ Thousands of people actually tried to send money into Napster for music they liked.

This is not about double dinging. It’s about giving fans the opportunity to come in for cheap and be true to their word – they will pay less on the front end [for the Stageit ticket] but if they like what they see, they’ll pay more after.

We did research behind the methodology and psychology of tipping. By showcasing those who tip in real time, the artist is able to thank the fan in real time, which causes excitement and the fans to tip even more.

Why did you decide to use the Stageit currency notes system as opposed to just plain dollars?

Once you get into dollars and cents it can get weird when you’re tipping. It’s hard to do credit card transactions for just a dollar. One note equals ten cents. The other real reason is it’s a Vegas methodology…people feel more comfortable when they’re playing with notes. It’s awkward to throw down a 20 dollar bill to an artist.

You let artists place a cap on the number of tickets sold to any given show. What percentage of shows sell out?

Another thing we do to protect the artist is enable them to pull back tickets as they see fit. We’re an elastic venue so we never have to worry about that. I wish that could’ve happened back in the day that I was touring [with Evan and Jaron].

If I’m playing a 5,000 seat venue and there’s only 3,000 tickets sold, I would love to shrink the venue down to 3,000. We don’t have to worry about shows selling out because the artist doesn’t need to be held to the number of tickets initially released.

You cover the licensing, credit card transactions, broadcasting & bandwidth. How does the licensing work – is it a blanket license to ASCAP and BMI or a sync license too?

Just a blanket license to ASCAP and BMI. We don’t need a sync license since we don’t archive the shows. In addition we offer 4 people who work full time, around the clock serving artists. We help these shows get off the ground. A lot of shows don’t need us, but we’re available.

I know people are eager to pay for virtual interaction with the artist. But I still see a discrepancy/irony in the fact that making artists so accessible and even average (they can play a show from their kitchen) somehow devalues them. The artist is brought down to the audience’s level – the separation between creator and consumer has shrunk and the mythology or idolization of an artist seems to be gone.

I respect your opinion but I completely disagree. Do you have a problem with artists tweeting?

That’s the same situation…Twitter is of course hugely helpful to build, connect, and promote, but I don’t think it adds value to the artist when he’s tweeting about, for example, what kind of sandwich he had for lunch that day.

And I’ll tell you why we bring back a sense of mystery and romance to the artist/fan experience. Because of the on-demand nature of media, artists have careers that last 4 minutes. Each live stream is one-time and exclusive and not archived. The quality of the stream heightens intimacy and makes it so valuable.

We’re using technology that people have been saying has ruined the music industry. Our tagline is ‘a front row seat to a backstage experience.’ Even if you’re in the front row seat at a concert, there’s separation.

It’s true that you lose the glam if you actually go to a nasty backstage green room, but it’s real and close and enables the fan to have this moment to “meet” their favorite artist. The artists who are losing in this day and age are the ones maintaining that “rock star” distance.

Fair enough. Have you explored the idea of integrating curatorial or discovery options, positioning Stageit as a tastemaker or gatekeeper where people can discover new artists as opposed to just coming for an artist they already like?

Yes. Excellent. That’s exactly what we’re doing this year. We’re moving from a venue to a destination service. We want to have something for everyone…multiple artists in different genres each night of the week. A destination service where people can come any night of the week and know they’ll find a good show.

With the Kickstarter model, an artist sells rewards (such as Skype shows or other opportunities for artist/fan interaction). Do you see that as competition?

Not at all. For almost a year artists have been rewarding their top tippers with Skype chats and one band is even flying a fan to Haiti for a show. A lot of artists are telling us they prefer to use Stageit because they can get thousands of dollars from our service for 30 minutes of work, and not have to deal with fulfilling orders after.

As an artist originally, how comfortable have you been immersing yourself in business and getting involved in things like the venture capital world?

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 19. Artists/bands are entrepreneurs because they create something from nothing and have to market themselves. Dealing with venture capital is similar to dealing with record labels – they want something for less money and you want something for more money.

But we’ve chosen at this time not to go that route. We’ve gone more of an angel investor route. I want to protect our artists – we just changed our business revenue model from 60/40 [artist/Stageit] to 63-83% [for the artist] based on ‘the more you make the more you take’ to give the artist substantially more money – that’s not something a VC firm would be happy about.

How important is it to Stageit’s growth and exposure that you speak at different music and tech conferences/summits around the world?

Every conference is different. I benefit from a lot of conferences from what happens in the hallways – artists coming up and business development relationships. Every single panel I’ve ever spoken on has immediately led to artists joining our service.

How valuable is it? It’s hard to say – I think often these types of things work on multiple impressions…doing things again and again. And decent press reports on these panels/conferences.

Thanks Evan and Stageit!

Visit Stageit.com and on Twitter.

For more on Stageit, check out these features in Forbes, Fast Company, Business Week, and TechCrunch.

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