10 Questions with ... Evan Lowenstein
January 31, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Evan and Jaron -- Three Top 40 hits (including the worldwide hit "Crazy For This Girl") appeared on nearly every major talk show from Leno to The Today Show, and were featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, Vanity Fair, US Weekly and countless others including being named to "People's 50 Most Beautiful."
StageIt: Founder & CEO
1) The tag line for StageIt.com is, "A front row seat to a backstage experience." Please tell us about your vision for your new company and how you came to found StageIt.com?
The vision was to capitalize on the connectivity of the Internet and the advancements in broadcasting technology to allow artists to share intimate experiences with their fans by simply using a laptop, and then finding a way to monetize those experiences in way that would be amenable to the fans.
The front row seat is the most expensive in the house but the place everyone wants to be is backstage. When an artist looks into their webcam, regardless of how many other people are watching, the viewer has a front row seat. The StageIt experience is incredibly intimate, not unlike meeting your favorite artist backstage. Hence, "A front row seat to a backstage experience."
I came to found the company because I needed to find a way to connect with my fans in a way that wouldn't devalue me as an artist, but at the same time really understood the needs of my fans. In truth, I didn't set out to build a company until other artists who were familiar with the idea began pushing me to create something for them as well.
2) How does StageIt.com differ from other live webcast ventures that have come before?
Other live webcast ventures set out to create a broadcaster and then went searching for customers. StageIt was created with a specific customer in mind and everything that came after was in an effort to serve those needs. That has created many tangible differences including:
A) StageIt features artists only and those artists need to be approved before taking the stage. So, you won't find dog kennels or dudes getting high in their dorm on StageIt (unless those dudes or dogs are singing!).
B) StageIt has no advertisements. So, you won't be seeing mortgage ads or free iPod offers on our site.
C) StageIt features artists that value their content and are comfortable asking their fans to pay them for their time. As such, you will find that shows on StageIt cost money. Since we don't allow free shows (beyond 10 viewers) an artist can feel comfortable charging in an environment where he or she knows other artists are charging as well. Some of the other sites have begun flirting with charging but they're not sensitive to the position it puts an artist in by charging when everyone else is offering shows for free.
D) StageIt features a Tip Jar. A ticket price and a Tip Jar?? That's right. This gives artists the ability to keep the ticket price lower (so that more fans can attend) while giving those fans that would like to be more supportive the ability to do so. Additionally, since so many artists have charities they support, the Tip Jar allows them to raise money directly for causes that are important to them.
E) We don't archive. Each StageIt experience is an once-in-a-lifetime event. We believe in Value = Experience/Frequency. That is, the value of an experience goes up or down in direct proportion to its frequency. By keeping the frequency low this creates more value for not only the show, but also for the artists themselves. At StageIt, we're more interested in helping artists go viral and not their videos.
F) There are many other little things we do to help an artist manage the expectation of his or her fans. These include everything from our reminders and thank you notes, to giving the artist the ability to play an encore (and then limiting the length of that encore). All these extras show the artist that we get them. As we like to say, "When it seems like everyone else is out to get them, we just get them."
3) What has been the audience reaction to the StageIt.com webcasts?
It probably makes most sense for me to share some actual E-mails that we've received. Please note I have not altered these E-mails in anyway other than removing the sender's name. Therefore, they may contain typos.
"- i just want to say this is a tremendous project. i am 55 and have always been interested in music. through stage-it, i have been able to be turned on to great musicians Liela, Bess, and this providence who i found to be tremendous, that i would never have otherwise heard of. after each of their shows i have procured their music on itunes and added it to my library. KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK. i certainly hope to get to listen to EVan soon, as i understand he is the mind behind this project, but his next show is sold out. THIS IS A GREAT GREAT PROJECT> keep up the good work".
Of interest is that Notes is the name of our currency. 1 Note = 10¢.
"Hi everyone at StageIt... as I am not sure who's going to be helping me on this. :) Is it possible to get an advancement of Notes, like say $25.00 worth. B/c right now, I guessed wrong when payday was,(I know one of these days I need to buy more Notes, for they go so fast! StageIt is addictive!) and hopefully will have all my bills paid, so I can pay back as soon as I can. Thanks again?"
please also check http://getsatisfaction.com/stageit to see some other comments.
4) How could radio tie in with StageIt.com for their in-studio interviews? Are there future plans to feature artists on radio web sites?
In theory, the tie in would be quite simple. Most radio stations already webcast their in-studio interviews as is. So all they would have to do is run the stream through StageIt.
However, it's important for us to make sure that any alliance we make is in the best interest of our artists. Radio stations' interests lie in satisfying their advertisers. Their advertisers really only care about how many people are listening when their ad is playing. I certainly don't mean to make this sound negative because it's not. In fact, radio is still a very powerful medium in the discovery of music. It's just that to an advertiser, music is filler to keep the audience engaged long enough to hear their message. While a music fan sees ads as something they have to sit through in order to listen to the music.
The inherent conflict is that radio wants to attract as many listeners or eyeballs as possible, while StageIt is really interested in attracting the fan that appreciates the value of an artist's time. Over the past ten years, music fans have been given all the content you can eat for free and it has hurt many artists' ability to make any amount of money from their craft. I'm absolutely not about to take an ethical stance here or get into the positives and/or negatives that illegal downloading has created. I'm simply saying that StageIt was created to help artists make money and give fans the ability to support the artists directly.
All of that said, we have spoken to several major radio stations and the desire to do something mutually beneficial is there. It will most likely revolve around charity.
5) Why are these webcasts not archived? While it is true that a live webcast is "appointment" entertainment just like a live concert would be, many people now feel that we live in an "on demand" world. Are there plans to archive some of these "virtual meet & greets" for those who may have missed them?
We do live in an "on demand" world and I'm certainly a fan. On demand makes a tremendous amount of sense in most situations, however, in certain situations it's damaging.
For example, it makes sense to archive a video called, "how to sew on a button" because I can probably find out that information elsewhere. There is no way I would wait until tomorrow night at 6:30pm to watch you show me how to sew on a button.
And even if you were a world-renowned seamstress that had come up with a new way to sew buttons it would still make sense to archive and here's why: You can only monetize if you can "exclusivitize." Once you show me your new sewing technique, the idea is now out and I can now make my own video and show people the trick.
An artist is different. They always maintain the exclusivity on themselves. You can go to YouTube and watch hundreds if not thousands of people cover hit song after hit song. But that's not the same as seeing the artist sing their own song.
Music videos are archived because they help promote the artist and because there is really no way to stop it. However, when an artist is willing to "meet you" online at a designated time, he or she is creating an exclusive experience. And that's something you can monetize and therefore do not want to archive.
There are other reasons as well:
We've internally tried to archive StageIt experiences so we can show artists who are considering the platform what it's like. But it never seems to translate. A StageIt experience involves meeting your friends online and chatting with them before, during and after the show, requesting songs of the performer, tipping the performer, pushing the performer to play an encore and so much more. Watching an archived StageIt experience is just not the same.
There's no way to interact with an artist if the show is archived. And as I just stated above, interaction is core to the StageIt experience.
Archiving creates a master/sync and requires licensing from the content owners. We operate with licensing from the performance rights organizations. Plus, archiving is expensive!
6) How did you segue from music into the entrepreneurial side of the music business?
I think all artists to a large extent are entrepreneurs. They create something from nothing and have tremendous passion and drive for what they do. I often say that a band is the ultimate startup. So while it's been quite a learning experience for me, the passion and drive allowed me to make up for the lack of knowledge early on.
7) As someone who collects royalties, but could find himself now paying these fees as well, how do you feel about the new royalty rate increases for Internet and terrestrial radio?
I'm honestly not familiar with the particular royalty rate increases you are speaking of in particular. But I will tell you that StageIt collects a distribution fee in connection with its services and incurs license fees by performing music. We have shown that fans are prepared to pay for premium content and in that context there is sufficient revenue to pay all of the stakeholders - i.e. the service provider, the songwriters and the recording artist. Performance royalty rates have increased because service providers have failed to launch business revenues that generate sufficient income. It is a damaging cycle indeed - service providers generate less and so royalties are increased in order to compensate. While the performance societies should work with service providers, we believe that the burden is on the companies that would like to license music to be more innovative and develop stronger business models. Which is exactly what we did.
8) What do you feel is the most important issue facing artists, record labels and radio in the current business environment?
Artists - Coming to the realization that we've gone from an industry of hundreds of artists making millions of dollars to millions of artists making hundreds of dollars.
Record Labels - Coming to the realization that if you can't "exclusivitize" something you can't monetize it. For sixty years, the labels more or less had the exclusive ability to distribute music and that meant that the customer was forced to buy the physical good. The introduction of digital combined with social media has clearly changed all of that.
Radio - Competing with the thousands of other things their listeners could be doing instead of tuning in.
9) Records sales are down for the past decade now. What can be done about this?
Invent a time machine? I think record labels are in obvious trouble because they're in the business of moving product. And as I just said above, product cannot be protected and is therefore hard to monetize; hence the decline in sales.
Yet, everything the labels do still comes back to the product. And believe it or not, there are still quite a few dollars to be made in the circular and that's what's keeping the lights on. The upsetting thing is that it's been 10 years now and there has still been very little to no progress made from the labels. Unfortunately, I think it has a lot to do with some senior executives' unwillingness to adapt, and their desire to just ride this one out. So what can be done? I don't know but I think it's going to get worse (for the labels) before it gets better.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Go with your gut. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
1) What do you do in your spare time?
Read and exercise.
2) What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
That I don't have a TV in my house.
3) Who are some up & coming artists that you admire?
Here are just a few that I've discovered recently through StageIt:
Lelia Broussard, The Ditty Bops, Bess Rogers, This Providence, Eric Lumiere, Brian DeRosa and Melinda Ortner.
4) What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the music business?
I would like to see business decisions made more with the artist in mind and less about a company's agendas.
5) Where do you see the music industry and yourself five years from now?
It's just too hard to call. My best guess would be that we're nearing the end of the record labels being able to sustain a viable business. They're either going to acquire companies that offer new models that allow them to sustain or just sell off their assets.
After the labels no longer stand between the artist and the fan (we're nearly there), there will be resurgence in fans wanting to buy music. Just knowing that the money will be going directly to the artist will make them want to spend the money. But I'm uncertain as to whether or not that will sustain. But it won't matter because by then, there will be some new great thing that we haven't even thought of that will bond artists and fans in a way we can't even begin to imagine.
As for me, I'll still be writing songs and singing them to whomever will listen.