BandPage launches "Experiences" to let artists charge for quality time with the band

By Richard Nieva , written on March 11, 2013

From The News Desk

The record labels and streaming music services haven’t ended the standoff over licensing agreements. And the capacity for artists to make money in a digital economy is still a big question mark. But BandPage, the company known for powering artists’ online music profiles, thinks it has one answer. Today, the company introduced BandPage Experiences, which lets fans pay for interactions with bands.

For example, instead of just selling an album or t-shirt or concert ticket, a band could sell something like a guitar lesson or a private show. How it works: A band lists an experience that it wants to sell on the experience marketplace, and specifies how many are available. For example, at launch, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic are selling meet and greets for four fans each at six of the band’s west coast shows for $150. Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, is selling half-hour guitar lessons via Skype for $2,500. The band Stars will do an acoustic cover of any song of your choice for $200.

Fifty bands are listing experiences at launch, though the company will open it up the platform to more bands later, the company says. It's almost like they've created their own Zaarly, only instead of a landscaping consultation for $40, you get consumable proximity to rock and roll Olympus. At the end of the day, it's yet another tweak on the sharing economy.

The so-called "gig economy" gets its name from struggling musicians. But does that mean they want to be part of it?

J Sider, BandPage’s founder and CEO, says the company suggests different experiences for each band, and recommends that bands organize them into different price tiers: for super fans, fans and listeners. The company also suggests prices, based on other data from the bands financials. BandPage looks at data and analytics on how the band has made money in the past, from ticket sales to merchandise sales, to see how much a fan would be willing to spend on an experience.

A customer pays for the experience through PayPal and messages back and forth with the band to figure out timing and details, like he would on Airbnb.

Sider cites data that says, in other industries, five to 15 percent of the fan base accounts for about 25 percent of the revenue. He also mentions Amanda Palmer, the musician who raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter then stoked controversy over where the money was going and asking musicians to play with her on tour for free. Sider says over half of the money she raised from her Kickstarter campaign came from 4 percent of the funders. So Sider says there is an opportunity to tap into the most dedicated fans.

The opportunity is for artists at every point in their careers, from well known to lesser-known ones, Sider says. Of course, in order for fans to even care if they share an experience with a band, the band has to have built up enough of a cache through more traditional means first. Selling experiences starts to become a realistic option once a band can get about 25 people coming consistently to concerts, Sider says.

Sider believes that artists can actually make a living off of this practice. Indeed, some artists could really run with this. I could see this as a real benefit to moderately successful indie bands, who usually have small but fiercely loyal followings. The idea of charging for an experience is not new. Individual artists’ fan clubs have been doing this for a while. Thuzio has done a similar thing for professional athletes. But BandPage is the first company to do it for musicians on a large-scale platform.

But for the bulk of the music industry, I'm not so sure. It’s hard to see this becoming a common practice for the real A-list acts, who are likely to command the highest premiums. $150 meet-and-greets can't even buy a bottle of backstage Cristal. For those concerned that digital is already eroding the fat margins of the music industry, this "gig economy" may not be welcome.

Some in this camp may embrace the marketing aspect the way they like connecting with fans over Twitter, not expecting it to pay their bills.

If nothing else, the service does shed light on what it means to be a professional musician today. For the purist who’s in it solely for the music making and creative process, it may be disconcerting to have to sell a fan experience to survive. Some artists may be turned off, thinking they are pimping themselves out. But perhaps this is just how the job has evolved in the digital world. And if it helps a working artist to make some extra cash – in an environment where it’s increasingly hard for artists to make money – it's better than waiting tables.