Q’s With Primary Wave Talent Management’s Deb Klein On Melissa Etheridge Mastering 2020’s Livestreaming Puzzle
True to her roots of the early days of her career when she played the bars five nights a week, Melissa Etheridge has embraced livestreaming on a consistent basis with multiple weekly performances ever since COVID hit the U.S. in March. She also embodies the 2020 philosophy of pivoting during the pandemic, from switching from in-person touring to livestreaming free performances on Facebook to launching Etheridge TV, a subscription service on the Maestro platform featuring five one-hour livestreams and talk shows each week (Cover Song Tuesday, Linda And Me, Mama’s Choice, Friday Night Videos, and the Saturday Night Concert) filmed in her home studio.
Her daily free livestreams between March 16 and May 12 totaled more than 7.3 million views with 74,480 shares. Since June, Etheridge TV has had an average of 1,000 monthly subscribers per month at $50, along with selling a couple of thousand single tickets per month for $10. Etheridge’s manager, Deb Klein of Primary Wave Talent Management, spoke to Pollstar about how she and her client have been inspired to rise to the occasion during this crisis.
How did Melissa’s livestreams evolve from the sets on Facebook to the subscription service?
So we had done 58 concerts from home. We started on March 16 and every day at three o’clock Monday through Sunday, no days off, she went online at 3 p.m. and would perform like four or five songs for the fans, talking and giving them words of encouragement. And then her son – it was terrible – he died of an opioid addiction and she paused [the livestreams].
We had been working on a paid model before this happened; we realized the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere soon. And Melissa tours quite a lot, seven months out of the year, she’s never had a summer off, this past summer was the first time. And so early on we were looking at what she was going to do. And one thing that’s really important is her relationship with her fans, performing – the way it makes her feel, the way it makes them feel. It’s a very symbiotic, two-way street when artists are doing live concerts. And every live show is different because every live audience is different. There’s different energy and there’s an exchange. And so I was [questioning] what are we going to do? How can we recreate this?
Melissa was wanting to be consistent. And I think this goes back to her earlier career where she played the bars and she was there five nights a week and she did three sets a night. That was her work ethic from when she first started. And so for her, she just was like, “OK, I want to do five days a week and I’m going to do three concerts and I want to do one talk show and have guests on.” And that’s called “Linda and Me” and that’s her and her wife. “And I want to do a docu-series on my life. And I’ll show old videos of me performing 30 years ago.” She creates these photo montage, movies of her ancestors to when she was in high school, scrapbook style. We started the paid subscription 21 weeks ago, so we’re at week 21. And every Friday she builds on the story. It’s creating unique content for each night of the week; every day is different. There’s a different theme. And so it’s a monthly subscription that we offer as well as single tickets.
There’s “Cover Song Tuesday” and then a talk show and then she plays whatever she wants and that’s called “Mama’s Choice.” And then Friday is Friday night videos and then Saturday it’s the big concert.
Her schedule and consistency is so impressive.
It’s always been her work ethic and she loves to play. It’s interesting. She loves to do puzzles. And, you know, she made this livestream puzzle in her garage, basically. We have seven cameras. Her wife is a TV creator and running the cameras, doing all the beautiful camera work. Melissa has these loopers and she’s basically building tracks. So she’s got drums, bass, keyboards, piano. She’ll do her own background vocals. And so she’s challenging herself and she’s going deep into her songs and her catalog where she’s doing it differently every time. She’s written over 300 songs. So she certainly has enough to choose from. The way she’s approaching them, she’ll change the tempo, she’ll add different layers upon layers.
The first day we started in March, it was like just her and her iPhone. And now there’s GoPros and a hodgepodge of cameras. We’ve got seven of them and a sound board. And she’s building these loops live every single time. So it’s like a challenge, a puzzle for her. She’s kind of rediscovering all of her music in a new way. And I think that’s also very motivating. She’s becoming a better musician because she’s practicing and playing all the time. So when we’re ready to go back out, it’s not like she’s going to need to rehearse. She will, of course. She’s very much a musician’s musician and keeping up her chops and she can play every instrument. So again that puzzle of her studio and the puzzle of putting the songs together is very appealing and very satisfying for her … and then maintaining the connection with the fans.
We just started beta testing over this past weekend, we’re offering a VIP experience now where people can come to soundcheck. They’re on a big screen so she can see them in her studio and they can see her and she can hear them. And then after soundcheck, they go backstage. You know, this is all via video conference and they have a one-on-one meet and greet with her. They’re in their own home and she’s in her studio. So she’s actually seeing into her fans’ homes for the first time and having this one-on-one meet-and greet with them, which is really special. And then they come back into the main chat room and they’re like, “Oh, my God, that was amazing.”
And they talk amongst each other, and they have that connection with the community. And then they come to the show. And then during the show, I’m like the woman behind the curtain because I’m sitting there. And while we’re running Maestro, this livestream, we’ve got this whole other VIP experience where Melissa can see and hear an audience now in her studio and then in between the songs we take off the mute button and they applaud and she can hear them. And so now it’s taken it to the next level of a real interaction.
We have the chat room and she talks to them and she’s really gotten good at performing as if they were there. But this really takes it to the next level – now they are there.
Is the VIP experience through Maestro or a different platform?
Well, no, it’s on a different platform. You know, it’s kind of the behind the scenes stage. Maestro doesn’t offer a fan cam. So we had to create our own. I worked with some developers up in Silicon Valley. They’re called Chatalyze. They’re brand new. I’ve been working directly with them to create this new product.
Oh, wow. That’s neat.
I know, I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m a tech person now.”
It seems like this challenge has been inspiring for Melissa and you as well.
I mean, I just never want to sit back and do things the easy way and just say, somebody else will figure it out for me. And Melissa had such a unique way of wanting to do it that no one really had a model set up for her anyway. So, you know, she said what she wanted to do, and I said, OK, yes – And! Let’s do this and let’s do this. (laughs)
Having such a great client to work with who’s willing and able to do all these incredible things in this time and offer people music and words of hope and some kind of connection not just to her, but to her whole community … and just seeing that really positive impact every day for me is such a blessing. You know, all of our incomes have been slashed and we’re trying to make something, but it also feels really purposeful and like we’re doing good in the world still with our music,which is the most important thing.
I’d wondered how artists that had done free livestreams would transfer over to a paid model. It’s great you’ve been able to do that.
That’s exactly what we did, we were doing 58 for free and you know, we still post a lot of the content, afterwards we’ll repurpose it. We won’t post the whole thing but we’ll post special songs and share them with our larger community. Not everybody can afford to pay. So we want to make sure that people are still getting the same messages. It’s just, you know, realistically, Melissa needs to make money right now, we’re all doing what we have to do to survive during this time.
I think that we’re going to be doing this for a while. Concerts are still going to be one of the last things to come back, I mean, even with the news of the vaccine, people are still going to be hesitant to get together in crowds. I think that that’s where even once we’re back touring, we’ll continue live streaming when we’re out on the road. We’ll be able to hook up cameras and be able to livestream for people who can’t come to the show, for whatever reasons. So we’re looking at this as a new business model that will coexist alongside our touring, when we get back out on the road.
That’s awesome because some people may not want to gather if they can’t get the vaccine for some reason.
Right. And we don’t get to Australia as much as we’d like. We have a ton of fans in Europe and Australia and other places, off the beaten track, so to speak. So, you know, we really want to keep providing this. A lot of people will say “I haven’t seen Melissa in ages!” and now they feel completely spoiled because they are getting all of these great concerts.