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Concert Streaming Was A Lifeline For The Music Industry During Covid. This Ex-Salesforce Exec Is Making It Part Of The Post-Pandemic Future. - Forbes

(Photo by Naki/Redferns)
Some of the pandemic’s first alarm bells came from the music industry. In early March 2020, South by Southwest was canceled. In short order, so was popular music festival Coachella. Soon after, the entire live events ecosystem collapsed, pulling the rug out from under the music business. 
Touring is at the very core of how artists, managers and events staffers make money—tickets and merchandise sales at shows make up the bulk of Forbes’ highest-paid musicians’ earnings. Like every other industry, live events went remote, with concerts streamed on Zoom, Facebook and practically anywhere else that could carry a webcast.
The problem with that, says former Salesforce COO Mary Kay Huse, is that those social platforms are not optimized for music. If people are going to pay to watch a concert at home, the actual audio needs to sound the same as it is in person. So in June 2020, she teamed up with music attorney Robert Meitus and tech executive Steve Caldwell to found Mandolin, a livestreaming platform that would do the concerts justice. The pandemic had created a sink-or-swim opportunity, and they couldn’t waste time getting their platform to market.
“As opposed to spending three to five years figuring out product market fit, I knew that it was going to be a 12-month period where we would know [whether or not] there’s a product market fit,” Huse says. 
A year later, Mandolin is thriving. The Indianapolis-based company has contracts with venues like City Winery and firms like Red Light Management, whose clients include Brandi Carlile and Brittany Howard. In February, it hosted the Tibet House Benefit Concert with performances from Phoebe Bridgers and Eddie Vedder, and will be the streaming partner for Lil Wayne’s Uproar Festival in August. Revenue has doubled every quarter, and Forbes estimates the company is on track to rake in $5 million this year. 
Mary Kay Huse, CEO of Mandolin
Huse’s Silicon Valley connections have helped, too. Her former boss, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, led a $5 million funding round in October that valued the company at $25 million. This week, Mandolin closed a $12 million funding round with a valuation of $47 million.
Their initial success, though, happened at a time when streaming was the only option. Now that in-person events have resumed, Mandolin is betting that hybrid events will be the new normal as artists look to diversify their revenue. “Heading into the pandemic, they were making 90% of their revenue on touring. That did not create a lot of resiliency for them when touring went away,” says Huse. 
Mandolin’s new suite of products, called Live+, goes beyond streaming shows to allow for in-app merchandise purchasing and mobile VIP experiences like virtual meet and greets. These types of features could allow artists to be less reliant on in-person events if ever touring is not an option, says Huse. 
Plus, having a streaming option for an in-person event allows artists and venues to expand their audience. This weekend, Mandolin is hosting the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which costs $400 for an in-person pass. For fans who don’t have the will or means to travel to the festival, Mandolin offers streaming passes for $95. 
Mandolin is not the only game in town, but it did just get a key endorsement. At the Pollstar Live! conference this week, Mandolin was awarded “Best Livestreaming Platform” over rivals like LiveXLive and Driift.
Not everyone in the music business is on board yet, but some kind of streaming offering is increasingly common and expected (even Bob Dylan is doing a streaming concert this weekend with Mandolin competitor Veeps). The pandemic provided a rare—yet somewhat risky—opportunity for tech companies to enter the old-fashioned touring business, with Silicon Valley veterans like Huse building the infrastructure the industry will need when it faces the next disaster. “It’s very uncommon for an industry to be disruptive from the inside,” she says.



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