Changing Lanes Panel At Pollstar Live! ‘The Pandemic Ushered In The Era Of The Digital Fan’

Jamal Jimoh of Hitco Entertainment & Mary Kay Huse of Mandolin
– Jamal Jimoh of Hitco Entertainment & Mary Kay Huse of Mandolin
appear at Pollstar Live! on June 17, 2021.
Pollstar Live! has always been known as one of the best spots for networking and making new business connections, whether at the Opening Reception, the after-party following the Pollstar Awards, Agent Live or the hotel lobby bar. At the panel “Changing Lanes: How to Turn Shutdown Fan Engagement Into Post-Pandemic Ticket Sales,” panelists were just about ready to make deals on stage, from TikTok’s Chayce Cheatham and Mandolin’s Mary Kay Huse encouraging Hitco Entertainment’s Jamal Jimoh to collaborate with their respective companies to Lyte’s Lawrence Peryer later telling Jimoh to “see me backstage. I want to work with you.” 
With COVID-19 restrictions bringing traditional touring to a halt, taking advantage of opportunities and a go-getter, seize-the-day attitude has been the name of the game for music executives that managed to find success during the pandemic.  
“I wouldn’t say we changed so much as we accelerated,” Peryer, who was promoted to the role of Chief Strategy Officer at Lyte in January, said when asked by moderator and Tixr founder/CEO Robert Davari about how each panelist’s companies had adapted and changed their strategies during the pandemic. 
“Business either battered down the hatches and cut, cut, cut to make it through, or you invested or you went away. Early on we decided we were going to make it and we invested. It allowed us to sharpen our focus. It changed how we thought about the world and how we fit into the ecosystem. We don’t want people to buy tickets, we want people to experience live events. That’s a broad, mushy vision but it means it should be as fun to acquire your ticket as it is to go to the event. Some people love buying clothes and sneakers – it should be fun [buying tickets].  

The whole experience should be as good as the thing on stage. You shouldn’t have to go through seven circles of hell to go to the show.”

Changing Lanes Panelists:
– Changing Lanes Panelists:
Moderator Robert Davari of Tixr (left) and Lawrence Peryer of Lyte chat with Joel Madden of Veeps at Pollstar Live! on June 17, 2021.
Earlier in the discussion Peryer said the biggest thing Lyte learned is that operating a platform whose ethos is about giving users and rights holders flexibility comes in handy during a pandemic. 
“The ability for fans to get their money back quickly or roll their tickets over, or let fans make reservations and get in line before they know when events were coming back – that gave people hope,” Peryer said. “On socials fans would say, ‘I’m going to so and so event, we just have to get through this.’ We made a decision very early on, any time we talked to one of our partners or people in the outside world, ask them what are you worried about? After a few weeks of doing that, what we needed to do became clear – our policies, how we manage money. That helped us get through the pandemic and come out the other side.”
Ticketing platform Veeps, which was founded in 2017 to help bands sell VIP offerings directly to fans, had offered live streaming before the pandemic but it wasn’t a service that was utilized by many. After COVID shut down touring, Veeps shifted gears to focus on livestreaming — but the company’s mission has remained constant. 
“The mission we were on from the beginning was helping artists solve problems,” Veeps co-founder and CEO Joel Madden said. “Those early days [of the pandemic] all the way through to the fall everything kept getting pushed back. It was about learning how to be flexible, be adaptable and work together as a team.”
Madden, who was initially best known in the business as the lead vocalist for the pop punk band Good Charlotte, added, “The success of the platform has been the artist. So we try to super-serve them and their fans: How does livestreaming fit into the artist’s career and where does it compliment the live business? That’s our focus. Each artist is going to have a version of what we believe is a new vertical in the business and their career. We have to tailor that to each artist.
Noting that live is the best place for fans to experience the connection they have with artists, Madden said that while Veeps serves fans digitally, it all goes back to that moment fans get to remember forever where they’re at the show. 
“With the rush back to live we’re going to continue to help artists develop the live streaming aspect of that and continue to serve fans of the era. …I think all great companies are built in collaboration with artists and great teams that care about artists. With livestreaming you have to do it when it feels right to you, you can’t force it just because you have an opportunity.. …I always lean into that and I think the fans feel it and we all feel it when it feels authentic.”
Many of the panelists concurred that in addition to approaching business from an artist-forward philosophy, it’s all about authenticity. 
“On a business side, transparency is such a key piece of storytelling,” Jimoh said. “People are stripped bare when it’s a screen in front of their face, [rather than being on stages]. We saw artists just thrive … kind of stripping back that layer and realizing there were audiences everywhere and presenting yourself in a more authentic, human way.
“One thing we saw was that fans love a point of ownership —  they love knowing they have a specific piece and attachment. Whether that’s layered into the streaming … someone who logs into IG live for five minutes or Clubhouse for five hours. It’s about connectivity.”
Chayce Cheatham of TikTok
– Chayce Cheatham of TikTok
appears at Pollstar Live in Beverly Hills, Calif., June 17, 2021.
Chayce Cheatham, label partnerships at TikTok, chimed in and said, “The thing I learned the most [during the pandemic] is that this business truly never stops — 24/7 in a pandemic, the artists need you. At the end of the day, everything is in the hands of the artist. Artists are the driver of their own destiny. They can put everything in their own hands and use digital, you don’t have to have a big label behind you. As an artist you always have to be talking to fans and to Jamal’s point, being authentic – showing them you’re just like them, but you have a dream to support. That always on mentality.”
 Along with live companies pivoting during the pandemic, the past 15 months also saw new companies successfully break into the livestreaming sector like Mandolin, which was co-founded by CEO Mary Kay Huse after she previously spent six years as an executive at software powerhouse Salesforce.
“We firmly believe the pandemic ushered in the era of the digital fan,” Huse said. “So we’re all about how does our platform create all sorts of digital experiences? And not thinking about the digital fan as solely someone sitting in their living room watching a livestream. The digital fan can do a one-on-one meet-up after the show. Or get a copy of the show after. You can skip the line to purchase merch. I think attaching a livestream to every in-person show is counterintuitive to anything we want to do. We dont believe in that. We do think livestreaming plays an important role in reaching fans you wouldn’t normally reach. We’re seeing effective livestreams for album releases. Livestreaming isn’t the only digital experience our platform offers.”
Starting Mandolin during the pandemic taught Huse a lot, including the importance of taking risks and the willingness to try new things. 
“One thing I noticed was the power of the fan community,” Huse said. “And the power in trying new things and seeing how venues came together and collaborated on things we’d never done before. Less of a learning and more of inspiring – the power of people to come together.”