A Chat With Stan McLeod Of Headliner: Is There A Career In Non-Ticketed Events?

Little Boots headlining the Cannes Lions Opening Gala
– Little Boots headlining the Cannes Lions Opening Gala
The artist was booked through Headliner

Up until now, private concerts only seemed to happen on both ends of a spectrum: at the DIY end, artists play in living rooms of fans who donated in a crowd-funding campaign or booked them through apps like SofaConcerts.

At the other end, the realm of Sheiks and oligarchs, superstars like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Jay Z, or Paul McCartney grant private audiences to whoever produces an appropriate paycheck.

Headliner claims to have tapped everything in between, and to connect artists of all entertainment genres with people in search of talent for private events. “Almost exclusively all the events that we do are essentially behind closed doors, they’re not ticketed events,” Stan McLeod, co-founder and CEO of Headliner, told Pollstar.

Headliner’s users are almost split 50/50 between corporate clients and consumers: large technology companies and brands, as well as venues and hotels, but also wedding, birthday and party planners in general.

Stan McLeod
– Stan McLeod
CEO and co-founder of artist booking platform Headliner

McLeod used to be a promoter himself. He launched a music technology platform called Bandwagon in 2011, which aims to connect artists directly with promoters of venues and festivals. The platform currently has some 16,000 artists and several thousand venues registered, and has led to a substantial amount of band bookings.

And while Bandwagon may be a great tool to help emerging artists get their feet off the ground and gather live experience, there’s just no career in it. Dealing directly with venues isn’t possible anymore once an artist surpasses a certain capacity. At that point an established network of promoters, agents and venue operators takes over. There’s no way around it for any artist who wants to play concerts for a living.

It’s different with private events, where bookings are placedin a much more straightforward manner: one event, one budget, and a platform that connects the right artists with the right events. It is a large market, according to McLeod, and it is growing. “People are genuinely interested in paying for talent.“

Because the private events market is, well, private, it’s hard to come by hard figures about its actual size. 

“On the consumer side you got things like the wedding market offering some good data. What the corporate sector is spending on things like entertainment and events is quite challenging to put out. Our estimation is that in the UK there is about a billion pounds spent every single year on [private] live entertainment. In the U.S. it’s about 20 billion dollars. That includes verticals beyond music.”

According to McLeod, playing private and corporate events isn’t considered tacky anymore. “The type of talent buyer isn’t always a stuffy office party or somebody’s back-garden wedding. It’s really interesting events. And some of the larger brands, particularly around lifestyle, they get music as much as any music promoter or venue would. They are very respectful of the kind of talent they want to bring in.”

Artists using Headliner have complete control over their profile, their performance fee (of which Headliner takes 20 percent) and the events they accept; the platform provides price guidance, and recommends a fee that is most likely to guarantee a booking. It is an algorithm-based system, which gathers intelligence from the many transactions that have already taken place on the platform – there have been over 750 bookings in the past 12 months, according to McLeod.

“If someone is based in London, and it’s a gig in Edinburgh, of course they need to be able to charge for travel,” McLeod explained. “They can increase or decrease the price according to their needs in real time: charges for transport, PA, performance etc. It’s very transparent, also for the buyers, who understand what they’re actually paying for.”

McLeod believes that there’s a buyer for almost any kind of act out there. While certain events may be content with an anonymous string quartet playing away in the corner, others, especially “the edgier side of technology or lifestyle,” would be looking for something that’s “different, new and fresh, an act that represents their brand.”

Digital Masters Awards 2017
– Digital Masters Awards 2017
The night’s entertainment was booked through Headliner

McLeod has no ambitions of entering the ticketed events marked in the foreseeable future. “That area of the industry is tough and a little bit more complicated. There are more players within it that would make the transactions in our marketplace much harder.”

To guarantee a high quality of artists, Headliner has a vetting process in place. 

“We look at profiles to see: is this artist bookable? About 25 percent of artists who sign up actually make it into the artist search. Headliner collects all the data associated with the artists booking history: “how they price, how they convert, how popular they are. We feed this data back to them. We’re working collaboratively with them to say, look, here’s our baseline, and here’s where you are, and here’s how you can improve.”