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Friday, June 5, 2015

Startup MAGNIFI Uses Streaming Music to Pair Touring Acts With Fans

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 12:51 PM

click to enlarge Wayne Skeen (Founder, on the left) and Toby Gabriner (CEO, on the right). - JAY BLAKESBERG
  • Jay Blakesberg
  • Wayne Skeen (Founder, on the left) and Toby Gabriner (CEO, on the right).

is a venture-backed, Bay Area-based music streaming startup that grew out of local indie music label Ninth Street Opus. It focuses on connecting touring acts with fans in various local scenes by allowing fans to stream tracks (for free) by bands coming to town soon. So if you’re looking for a show you can just hop on MAGNIFI, peep some tracks, and then (if you dig the tunes) click a few buttons and you’ll have tickets to see the band live.

We sat down with MAGNIFI CEO Toby Gabriner, who previously CEO’ed (a video technology company acquired by AOL in Sept. 2013 for $465 million) to talk about the launch of the latest dog to enter the music streaming fight.

When and why did you become involved with MAGNIFI?
I joined in late January of this year. To be honest, it wasn’t a hard decision. I grew up a San Francisco native and passionate music listener, attending shows at many of the venues here in San Francisco. I spent the last 17 years in medium technology and always dreamed of getting involved in the music space. So when I started having a conversation with the folks at MAGNIFI (which was then DeliRadio) and really started understanding their vision for the platform (which we have now launched) to connect listeners with touring artist, it was a natural and exciting fit for me.

Financially, how does MAGNIFI compare to the other streaming services on the market? Do the artists get paid per stream?
We’re the first streaming service to be focused around connecting listeners to artists who are touring, and right now artists make the lion’s share of their money (65 percent or more) from touring and playing live shows. So our big push is to enable listeners to both discover and find bands that play locally (but not necessarily local bands), and really get fans to become engaged with the music and ultimately buy a ticket to see the artist.

We’ve been in beta for over six months and we’ve seen there is an 8 percent engagement rate by fans on tracks they listen to, and 2 percent ticket click on tracks they listen to. So this is incredibly powerful data that demonstrates our platform is pushing fans to go exactly where the artists want them: to see concerts live, where the artist make up to 80 percent on any tickets that get sold.

Do you get a kickback for references to ticket sale sites?
Right now we don’t have any focus on monetization.

So you don’t get a kickback?
Ticketing is an area that we will continue to explore, but we don’t today, no.

I mentioned 2 percent of the plays convert into a ticket click, and if you do that math all the way down that converts at 10-100 times what an artist would typically receive on a stream.

Does that 2 percent mean the user clicks over and views the ticket sale site, or does it mean they actually buy a ticket?
What we do is provide a link to enable the transaction to occur. We don’t actually have the transaction occur on MAGNIFI. But even if you assume some conservative transaction numbers off of that click it’s still — I mean artists get a fraction of a penny on a stream — this is significantly higher. And any monetization effort in the future will be very much aligned with ensuring the artist are front and center in getting paid.

How many songs can fans listen to?
It’s really up to the artist. Some artists have one track, others have a few that they have uploaded. The typical listening experience (and there are different ways you can listen to music in our platform, based on your location, preferred genre, over even by venue) is one or two tracks per artist and about 50 tracks on a playlist of upcoming artists that are playing locally in that genre in the next month or two.

Can any band sign up?

Any band can sign up but what we’re really focused on is pushing and promoting bands that are touring. You may have noticed a first of its kind curation concept where our users can upvote and downvote music and things of that nature. So you really start to get community involvement in curating the music and that can help direct fans to the types of artists or music venues that they would be more oriented towards.

And the other part of that is that we also give fans the ability to share out tracks, favorite and follow bands, and things of that nature. We also allow bands and fans to follow each other. So if you have a music taste that I think is really good I can follow you and get alerted whenever you follow a band or favorite a track. The community involvement is a powerful component.

How will this change the music streaming ecosystem? Because it’s a competitive market and there are lots of options already out there for music fans.
What we’re introducing is very different than the larger streaming services in two ways. One is that it really does connect the digital with the physical. It’s not just listening to music and then downloading, it’s listen to live. We’re oriented towards connecting the touring artist with people looking to find shows. In San Francisco there are 30+ touring acts playing music on any given night and lots of folks don’t even know. You’ll see a band and may have never heard of them, but they play just phenomenal music. So MAGNIFI creates an orientation, context, and connection around the bands that are playing. And that’s different because it has a local feel to it. So you can actually go and physically see these bands.

And another thing that’s different is the community involvement, and we’ll be introducing more and more features around that. There are a lot of the other services where you can follow people’s playlists but we’re looking to get much more engaged with community curation, commenting, and maybe even meet ups in the physical. So there’s a community aspect to what we’re bringing to the market.

Why wouldn’t someone just use Spotify and then Bands in Town to figure out where bands are playing?

Two reasons.

1) You’d be bouncing between two services and that creates friction.

2) And the other more important part, our application is orientated around bands that are upcoming and playing in your area. So we may not displace (and we won’t) Pandora or Spotify per say, but we’ll be an alternative and if it’s a Wednesday or Thursday and you’re trying to figure out if you want to see music over the weekend or discover new bands we’re much more oriented around that. The largest streaming services tend to be oriented around larger artist and things of that nature. The local aspect is that there are music scenes and if you go in and set up our London listening experience it sounds very different from our San Francisco or Austin, Texas experience, and that is very unique to what we bring to the market. Aggregating the pieces we talked about – Spotify, Pandora, Twitter, and Facebook — all encapsulated into a single environment is very attractive to users, and the artists love it. We are pushing their agenda and getting people to come see them live.

How many artists do you have on the platform and what efforts do you have to acquire more — particularly larger names?
We have 17,000 artists that have signed up and put their music and tour dates on our platform. We have ongoing efforts to acquire more but we are starting to get a fair amount of inbound as well as the outreach effort, particularly in the larger metropolitan areas with a lot of bands rolling through like Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.
You’d be surprised at some of the larger names we have. Unless you’re in the lucky 1 percent, most artists still make the lion’s share of their money touring, and not all of them sell out their tickets. So the feedback we’ve received from the artist community, managers, and promoters, has been extremely positive. So the overwhelming sense we have is that we’ll start to see more and more named and smaller emerging artists sign up. Ultimately the idea is that we are providing this connection between fans who are looking for artists they know and have a sense of when they are touring, and I encourage you to listen to the local station, there’s probably a number of bands you’ve never heard of playing great music.

Venues typically operate at 65 percent occupancy. If we can move that to 65 percent to 75 percent, everybody benefits, including larger name artists.

Can you talk a little bit about your user base?

We’re still in the very early days. We had about 50,000 registered users during our beta period, gleaning understanding, and future functionality. We will now start to be a bit more aggressive in attracting new users to the platform. Our focus is to be region by region. Right now we’re focused on the San Francisco market. Anybody can sign up, but we’ll be more aggressive in our acquisition efforts in the coming weeks and months. So we’ll be demonstrating the digital to the physical, by putting on sponsored shows in various markets and having users register on our apps to get tickets to the show, and things like that. So we’re working closely with artists and venues, and really bringing to life what our value proposition is by doing that.

Do you think Facebook’s lack of a good option for bands has enabled platforms like MAGNIFI to shine? Did they fumble the ball on band pages, where Myspace in the past had succeeded?
Not sure if it’s a fumble, or if that’s a fair characterization. I think the difference, when you start talking about “Why couldn’t somebody just use Bands in Town and Spotify” and all these different things, I think it’s a focus issue. I’ve had a couple successful outcomes in my career, and spent 20 years here in Silicon Valley, and the companies that I see that are successful are the ones that have a real focus.

Look at Twitter. Who would have thought you could just airlift updates out of Facebook? You can do a lot of what you can do on Twitter on Facebook, so I don’t think it has to do with what Facebook can or can’t do. What we’re focused on is local scenes and providing the ability to listen to music that is going to be upcoming in that particular city or town and that’s a very unique use case. It’s not what these other companies are focused on. So I don’t think it’s a fumble, it’s an issue of users flocking towards products that provide focus.

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About The Author

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome is SF Weekly's former music editor.

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