Red Jumpsuit Apparatus is a rock band that plays angst-y, guitar-heavy songs that, a decade ago, would’ve probably been called emo. They’re by no means famous, but the group has landed songs in a few movie and video-game soundtracks, scored a deal with Virgin Records, and even have a couple of minor Billboard hits. But the band from Middleburg, Fla., is even more successful halfway around the world.
“We’ve had multiple successful singles in Australia and New Zealand, but it’s a hard market to tour,” says Ronnie Winter, the band’s lead singer. “We try, but it’s so expensive.” This year, though, they’ve figured out a way. In November, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus will play six shows in Australia with the help of a website called GiggedIn, a Sydney-based platform that allows bands to crowdfund their concerts.
GiggedIn works like this: A musical act offers to hold a concert, and fans prepay for tickets. If enough tickets sell, the concert is on. If not, the show is cancelled, and fans aren’t charged anything. It sounds a lot like Kickstarter because it is. “Kickstarter was a very successful model, and I wanted to see if you can apply the same principles to concerts,” says GiggedIn’s founder, Edwin Onggo. So far the answer seems to be yes. Onggo launched the site last fall, and so far, at least 500 bands have sign up. Most shows funded through GiggedIn are smaller ones, with audiences ranging from 50 to 500 people. Four street buskers even used it to host their first professional concert, attracting 150 people to a small venue in Sydney.
“It’s an interesting idea,” says David Herrera, a music business professor who teaches concert promotion at Belmont University in Nashville. “For a small band, the hardest part of going on tour is the unknown revenue. Most venues pay bands a percentage of ticket sales. You could have a great night or a terrible night, and you won’t know until people show up—or don’t.” With GiggedIn, says Onggo, there’s less risk.
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus is using GiggedIn a little differently than most bands. Instead of picking the venue first and then asking fans to fund the shows, they’re holding a contest to find out which cities have the most fans willing to pay to see them. That way, the fans dictate the locations of their tour. (Sure, they’ll probably make stops in Sydney and Melbourne, but they also might visit Gympie, a town about 100 miles north of Brisbane with a population of 20,000 that otherwise wouldn’t be on the typical tour radar.) “We’re scheduling everything around the fans,” says Winter. Other platforms offer similar services; Eventful allows fans of an artist to come to his or her city. But they don’t prepay for tickets.
Bands that use GiggedIn encounter the same challenges facing those who launch projects on Kickstarter; they have to get the word out and create something—a video, a catchy pitch—to persuade people to buy tickets. “The bands who’re successful are the ones who really work hard at self-promotion,” says Onggo. “You can’t just upload a music video to Facebook (FB) and expect people to care.”
Right now, GiggedIn is available only in Australia, but Onggo plans eventually to expand it to the U.S. and Europe. “[American] bands don’t have a certain number of fans spread out evenly across the country,” says Winter. “They’re in little pockets.” And despite the $4.2 billion concert industry in the U.S., it’s still hard for emerging artists to book shows. “I’ve noticed that midlevel bands have it the worst,” says Belmont’s Herrera. “When you start charging $20 to $40 per ticket, but you’re not a huge name yet, it can be hard to convince a promoter that people will pay the money to see you.”
But if people have already paid the money—well, that’s a different story.