“Track Your Favorite Bands & Never Miss Them Live.” An Interview With Michelle You of Songkick

Capture5653 (Part 1 of 2) Recently, I spoke with Michelle You, who is cofounder and Head of Product at Songkick; the live music database and concert alert system. In this interview, You talks about the challenges of raising awareness about her company and it's services, how they're making it easier for people to keep up on your favorite live shows, and the tribal aspects of concert goers.

Kyle Bylin: To this day, I still remember my first concert; it was Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Zombie, Soil, and Mudvayne. Perhaps the best definition of organized insanity that I've ever seen. In less than four hours though, that show changed my life and, in the years that followed, I went on to see over one-hundred live acts.

During this time period, the number of music choices that a fan like myself faced exploded and genres fractured into niches and honestly, keeping track of the happenings in all the different bands I was into became quite a big task. But, I was a teenager and had nothing better to do than to find out what tours were being routed in my area. There was a time or two on occasion though that an artist came through and I missed out, because for whatever reason I didn't know that they were coming through or I missed that one on-air announcement.

Live music database Songkick amends many such plights of the modern age music fan by allowing them to track artists that their interested in—as well as suggesting similar groups of interest—and the happenings at the venues and locations of their choosing. This means no more having concert alerts scattered across email announcements from bands, promoters, and venues or waiting to hear updates from the area radio DJs. Now fans can track their concert going and artists within a centralized location and buy tickets to shows in a single location.

How have you positioned your company to raise awareness among fans, both those who visit and know about your site and those who've never visited there, about live music in their area? And what are the greatest barriers to overcome when attempting to reach music fans online?

Michelle You: For fans who visit and use Songkick, the best way we can raise awareness about live music in their area is by telling them about shows they want to go to. Our service is pretty simple: track your favorite bands and never miss them live. Actually delivering on that statement is what we work our ass off for every day. There are two components to it. First, having perfect knowledge of every concert happening around the world for all types of artists.

To do that, we index hundreds of different live music sources around the web: ticket vendor websites, venue websites, local newspapers, and more to make sure we have the most comprehensive database of live music possible. We also rely on fans to add those super-DL shows, like free in-stores or last-minute concerts that won’t necessarily be publicized online.

Second, we personalize those concert alerts. The overwhelming problem you face is wading through the vast oceans of information out there on the web. We don’t want to send you yet another concert listings newsletter you have to scan to figure out which shows you’re interested in. You tell us which bands you want to see, and we email you when shows are announced for those bands. There are several ways you can track artists on Songkick: you can do it one by one on our site, download our iTunes application, which automatically tracks all those bands for you, import your Last.fm profile, or import your Facebook likes.

"We want to be your own personal music nerd researching shows for you and emailing you
every day about new concerts."

For fans signed up to the service, the biggest barrier to overcome is this personalization aspect. It’s a pain for anyone to sit and track bands they want to see live and there will necessarily be holes in that information because they forgot or got lazy or own the album on vinyl and so it’s not in their iTunes library, etc. Figuring out smarter and less involved ways for Songkick to know which bands you’d want to track is a big challenge for us.

For raising awareness among fans who don’t visit Songkick, the biggest challenge is reaching them in the first place. We recognize Songkick is a relatively new service and, moreover, fans won’t necessarily think to look for shows online; we can’t sit pretty in our little website and wait for people to come to us, we have to reach them where they’re already listening to and discovering music online. That’s why the partnerships we’ve done with sites like YouTube, Vevo, Hype Machine, Grooveshark, and more are so important to us. It’s putting local, relevant concerts in front of people just as they’re checking them out on the Hype Machine or as they’re browsing videos on YouTube. So as you find a new band to fall in love with—bonus!—Songkick’s telling you about a show near you.

KB: Many of the traditional methods for raising awareness about shows consisted of massive poster campaigns and lots of traveling to all the different restaurants, coffee shops, and record stores where you thought that fans would be most likely to come across your event flier.

As the years have passed though, many places, especially in larger cities don't have or allow just anybody to hang up posters in their place of business. Or, if they do, the bulletin board isn't in the most ideal or visible location for people to stumble across your event unless they are purposely looking for it.

So too, many of the local record stores and places that kindly advertised these events are closing their doors.

As the social ecology of music culture that existed in the physical sphere is increasing moved online and many of the central hubs in the offline world disappear, what will it take to integrate the many disorganized bulletin boards and record store window fronts into the web and connect with fans—with contextually relevant messages—and give them reasons to buy tickets and attend live shows in their local area?

MY: Live Nation has famously said that 50% of their tickets go unsold because people didn’t know about the concert. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve. 

We want to take the work out of keeping tabs on when your favorite bands are coming to town. One of the wonders of the web is its ability to efficiently aggregate and distribute information. We’re pulling together all those various bulletin boards, flyers, and sources of information into a comprehensive, structured database; we then alert you about new concerts, rather than relying on you to visit every coffee shop in your town to find out about the show.

"What it takes is perseverance, an obsessive
attention to detail, and a voracious knowledge
of every weird corner of music."

Mashing up all these sources of information is not pretty—it’s messy and involved—but we’re totally committed to solving the problem.

That said, all of us at Songkick love the print culture around live music—posters, ticket stubs, flyers, memorabilia—we spend hours browsing the images people add to Songkick.

KB: Live music is a super-social, tribal gathering of like minded fans who have invested themselves in the culture surrounding an artist.

If you go to shows often enough, you start to recognize the overlapping members of different tribes and the frequency through which they go to the same shows. If only you knew what other shows that were attending, there is a good chance that you might be missing out on a show or two that would've been of great interest.

As well, there are many influential music-minded people who are attending shows, critics and bloggers and what not, whom might also be of interest to find and track, to see what shows their interested in and ultimately, what they thought of the performance that night. Your platform allows fans to do these things.

In what ways does overlying these elements to the live music experience recontextualize the way fans thing about concert going and how well do you think these initiatives have serves to push fans to attend more shows than they would have otherwise?  

MY: You’re totally right on with the tribal aspect of going to concerts—that’s one of the things that makes live music so unique, it’s an experience you share with other people. We have a copy of The Disciples by James Mollison, which is a great photography book about that.

As I see it, there are at least three types of relationships to other fans on Songkick: 1) people you know in real life, 2) people you don’t yet know, but share similar tastes with, and 3) people whose taste you respect and who are able to influence you. These are fluid categories that overlap.

Going to concerts is a fundamentally social experience, and all of these relationships can augment the discovery and recommendation of live music—you’re probably more likely to go to a show if you know your friends are going, if you can easily invite friends who like the band, if you meet other like-minded people you can go to more shows with, or if someone whose taste you respect recommends it to you.

"We’re currently focused on improving Songkick by harnessing the power of these relationships."

It makes me happy every time I hear stories about people meeting through our site.

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