Last Thursday night, Korn fans gathered watch their favorite band’s first-ever online meet-and-greet, for $3 a piece — a pittance, by live music standards, but a sizable sum where online music is concerned — on a website called StageIt.
Then, disaster: The band didn’t show. After several postponements, some fans became irate in the way that only a group of online people who are waiting for something can get. But ultimately, those who weathered the hours-long delay were treated not only to the question-and-answer session they’d paid for, but a live performance by the band as well.
Moments like that have been a long time coming (and not just in Korn’s case, which was apparently due to a scheduling issue on the band’s part). Although live online music combines two big trends — digital and live music — shows like this can be notoriously difficult to pull off, due not only to technical (and scheduling) difficulties, but also because of the challenges of securing the rights necessary to record and distribute audio and video of the events.
StageIt attempts to solve the live online music riddle by allowing any artist with a broadband-connected laptop, microphone and webcam deliver live, non-archived events (not archiving them simplifies the copyright situation), offering their fans inexpensive access to backstage moments, private jam sessions, and crowdsourced interviews. Taken together, the StageIt experience sits somewhere between reading a band’s blog and watching them perform live — both in terms of what fans experience and what they’re willing to pay.
So far, artists have earned over 100,000 “notes” ($10,000) by delivering artist appearances to fans using StageIt — hardly a massive influx of cash to a strapped industry, but it’s a start. The Los Angeles-based recording artist Lelia Broussard, prices her online shows at $6.50, and generally draws about 50 people — not a bad payday for an independent artist playing a show from the comfort of her home. Meanwhile, for larger artists like Korn, for whom a few hundred bucks is a drop in the bucket, StageIt represents a deeper form of communication with fans than Twitter’s text snippets afford. And as with Twitter, there’s no limit to the number of fans a band can admit to its StageIt show, although many choose 50 to 100 people, which improves the chat feature and each fan’s chances of having a direct interaction with the artist.
StageIt founder and CEO Evan Lowenstein, a 17-year veteran recording artist (in part with his brother Jaron), saw the internet’s potential for closing the gap between artists and fans early, releasing a record in 1996 released a record with their band’s URL on the spine of the record. According to him, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other tools that help artists to reach fans don’t mesh with the way artists communicate, which is with music, not text.
“If you’re an artist, you have a knack for communicating, and the method you’ve chosen is music,” Lowenstein told Evolver.fm. “You write your lyrics, and you decide to sing the lyrics. Instead of saying ‘I’m in so much pain,’ you sing it out. A tweet might be interesting, but it doesn’t do justice to the artist who wants to communicate via a different medium… [his brother Jaron, now a country artist] has found that instead of spending two hours tweeting for nothing, he gives his fans a better experience, he doesn’t have to do it as often, and everyone wins.”
StageIt sessions are is always live, never pre-recorded, so the site’s paying customers know they can chat with the artist, request songs live, and that they’re experiencing the artist’s appearance as part of a group — a welcome remedy to the usually-solitary experience of listening to digital music.
So far, this app is web-only, but Lowenstein says that mobile app versions are “app-solutely” in the works. We imagine a television-based version of this app would be fairly exciting as well, so that groups of people could take in these shows together.