Brave new world

Mobile concerts apps vie for your credit card love and attention — what's next? And why should we care?


MUSIC You're watching a band live at the Rickshaw Stop, or Café Du Nord, or the Warfield, and you're maybe a little tipsy, but it sounds like, really, really good right now. You feel inspired, mesmerized even, and looking around, you can tell your friends are feeling it too — sonic elation. It's a rare moment in this town, that emotional connection between you and the artist, with so many other possible distractions. Speaking of which, you pull out your smartphone, tap, and swipe to automatically tip the band $5 extra. You get the fuzzy do-gooder feeling. You feel bold and connected, and perhaps still a bit drunk. Did she just wink at me? The future is now.

"Probably about a year ago we realized we made purchasing things very easy, which at the time was just admission into shows," says WillCall co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch, clad in a black WillCall T-shirt and grasping a glass of whiskey from an oversized wood booth in the Mission's Dear Mom, which is around the corner from the WillCall office.

"The entire concert experience doesn't end with getting in. There's a lot of friction and noise; if you already paid to get in, you shouldn't have to schlep around more cards."

Hey there, concert industry 2.0 (or rather, 2k13). WillCall, and other concert convenience apps such as Thrillcall, Timbre, Bandsintown, and Songkick, have been vying to alleviate and embolden your smartphone ticketing experience for just a few years now.

In fact, WillCall and Thrillcall, both local San Francisco-based start-ups, each launched their apps in February of 2012. And in the past year and a half, they've independently seen raised profiles, their own buzzy pop-up shows, and likely more than a few confused consumer comparisons.

And re-upped versions of both, launching this summer and fall, could determine the future of these companies in differentiating their space.

At Dear Mom, Dinch is speaking of WillCall's newest push to include a few more concert options within the app beyond tickets, or an "in-show experience," which means not only purchasing tickets to a few select shows, but also swiping the app to buy merch, tip the band on stage, or create a custom festival package.

Thrillcall, meanwhile, is set to release its own version 2.0 in October. Along with a sleeker look (Thrillcall has been criticized for its less-than-flashy interface), there will be a slightly different system for the app, which now displays full concert listings for the night, but only offers deals and direct ticket purchases to a small handful of shows.

"The next version of the app is going to take all of the historical data we have, all of the input you want to give us, and it's going to start manicuring that listing," says Matthew Tomaszewicz, co-founder and head of product marketing and business development at Thrillcall. He's a friendly and inquisitive Kevin Bacon-type sitting in one of the metal chairs in the floor-to-ceiling glass-walled lobby of the SOMA building where Thrillcall currently sets up shop on the 11th floor.

"We're not at recommendations just yet, because there's an interstitial step where we're going to start putting out some stuff we think you'll like, but the only way we can build recommendations is if people interact with it," he says cautiously. "I'm a little careful about calling it recommendations because I don't want to give that expectation of 'oh, you said I'd like this.' It's more, OK, well, we culled a little bit here with some filters and lists of things you might like, and how will people respond?"


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