In its most extreme form, engaging that active database of fans has involved booking, producing, and promoting shows that require fans to purchase the tickets mainly through the app instead of the venue's box office or website. WillCall has done this at Rickshaw Stop with AraabMuzik and Thrillcall has at Brick and Mortar Music Hall with Thee Oh Sees. It's a simple way to strong arm a fanbase of a hip act into at least trying your app and exchanging a little bit of information. Anyone without a smartphone (In this city? Ha, I know, right?) is presumably out of luck.
And building a user base can be an end in and of itself: "Remember Going.com?" Kowal asks, "Similar thing. It was an RSVP service, and they were throwing money around at promoters, and all it really was a user grab. Basically getting an entertainment-centric user base and eventually I think they sold the company to AOL. That's a pretty smart business move."
In the meantime it's a deal for the smart (or smart phone-enabled) concert-goer, with tickets through WillCall being service charge-free. Venues — particularly ones specializing in live bands — have the most to gain from partnering with the deal. If you have five to six shows a week throughout the year, giving a portion of your tickets to a third party to promote and sell is a no-brainer. Particularly when it comes at no financial cost.
Currently WillCall is taking no cut out of the tickets they sell. Rickshaw Stop is a frequent listing and host of WillCall events, and Axelsen was very clear about his support of the relationship, saying "I am a big fan of WillCall! Great partners with Popscene and I see instant results each week with their reach and ability to generate an extra buzz around our weekly Popscene shows (and bring out last second bodies, too)."
Selling tickets — especially when they're limited — isn't easy. Storytime: In 2004 the Pixies were reuniting for a tour. One of the only shows for hundreds of miles was at UC Davis, and hardcore fans traveled just to buy tickets, camping out in front of the box office. At the same time, the ability to buy tickets online had only recently been introduced and many people rolled out of bed moments before the box office opened to snag tickets from their computer. No tickets were set aside for the physical box office, though, and consequently, when the show sold out almost instantly, most of the hardcore fans with the tents and sleeping bags were out of luck.
Coming out of a culture where people stand in line to buy phones (or in this city — ice cream) but expect ticket-buying to be effortless, the current wave of apps is in danger of emphasizing the worst problems of Ticketmaster or Craigslist, giving preference based mainly on access to technology, which could underscore broader economic issues. Here's a contemporary paradox: people buying tickets for shows on smartphones to see crusty bands that don't even have smartphones themselves.
The real key may be in combining the slickness of discovery apps with ticketing systems like Ticketfly or Eventbrite. "With their analytical tools, I can determine who my best and most loyal customers are," Kowal says. "I think as the ticketing companies get better at what they do, as they begin to emulate the Ticketflys of the world, they may make a lot of these sort of start-up apps irrelevant or just end up snatching up whatever little pieces of technology they have and adding them to the ticketing system."
But Dinch, at least, says he has no intention of selling his company to a broader ticket vendor. "I want this to be something that's the next pivot point of how we think about music in everyday life. And maybe that's audacious and stupid, but I'm fine for now. The bottom line is that I have no desire to sell this company to anybody and I'd rather slowly build it the right way."