Facing the music in a tough market

Live entertainment events in Ireland, including music, arts, and theatre generated €1.7bn of revenue over the last 12 months and supported employment for almost 11,500 people, according to a recent report.

However, the changing nature of the music industry makes it increasingly difficult for up-and-coming bands to find an audience. Two Irish start-ups are using new technologies to help emerging music artists to find fans. Firstage hosts gigs in augmented reality, while the Muddy app helps new bands be discovered at festivals.

Firstage founder Keith Lawler describes the platform as a “new type of venue” where bands can play to an unlimited audience. He uses the example of a band from Ireland, which could potentially have a huge following in Australia, China or Japan, but the costs involved in playing overseas are prohibitive.

“What we’re trying to do is give them the opportunity to play there in the virtual space,” he said.

The concept for Firstage was dreamed up in a coffee shop in Dubai where Mr Lawler and co-founder Neil Harrison, both professional musicians, were working for an advertising agency.

There’s no real music scene in the UAE, and they felt “starved” of live music experiences, Mr Lawler said. “So we said ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could just beam them in here.’” They worked with developers and built a hybrid platform to do that.

Mr Lawler, who had toured the world with Limerick rock duo, giveamanakick, says Firstage won’t replace going to a gig, but it gives a more “intimate personal experience in the digital world that you would get from listening to a Spotify or watching a video on YouTube.” A band records on a green screen in the Firstage studio or plays a gig live-streamed on the app. Artists make money when fans buy tickets through the app to the virtual gig for €1 to €5. With Firstage, bands can play exclusive live gigs for brands or earn a retained fee for pre-recorded content.

Ian Henderson, who launched Muddy app with IT entrepreneur Rob Beresford in 2016, wants to help emerging musicians be discovered by new fans at live gigs and festivals.

Mr Henderson describes Muddy as a “Shazam for live music”. Muddy has already worked with a number of independent festivals including Body&Soul, Castlepalooza, and KnockanStockan.

Users download the app, and they can check the lineup, stage times and create a personal schedule for the festival. A unique feature is that a fan can find out more about a band or artist playing at a venue through a profile on the app, which links back to their Spotify or SoundCloud account, Mr Henderson said.

The app is monetised by charging a fee to festivals that they partner with. Another stream of revenue is through brand activation; at this year’s Body&Soul Festival, cider brand Bulmers paid for splash advertising on the app.

There are plans to use the data collected from users to further enhance the discovery process, so bookers and talent scouts who are looking for the next big thing can see which artists are popular with fans.


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