When acclaimed cellist and Dresden Music Festival director Jan Vogler found himself out of work at the start of the pandemic, he turned to his close friend Thomas Hesse, who’s been a leader in the music business and venture capital for more than 20 years.
“[Vogler] said, ‘Can we do something about it?’” Hesse, the former President of Sony Music for Global Digital Business and U.S.
Sales/Distribution, told Pollstar. “I said, ‘Sure.’ Streaming and a paywall are a commodity. We need to build something … that really is going to serve both fans and artists and create something special. Really what we’re after is building a new format for live entertainment.”
Vogler and Hesse teamed up with entrepreneur Scott Chasin – whose success founding startups over the years includes ProtectWise, which was acquired by Verizon – to launch the ticketed livestreaming platform Dreamstage in August 2020, with Hesse as CEO, Chasin as CTO and Vogler as artistic director. The platform boasts a high-definition audio/video signal and multi-camera angles, and allows fans to buy merchandise and VIP experiences. Fans can download the Dreamstage app to watch livestream concerts on their TV screens via Apple TV or the streams are viewable from PC, tablets or smartphones.
As in-person shows return, Hesse explained that Dreamstage sees the future of livestreaming as offering both extraordinary virtual events that fans “just couldn’t miss,” as well as simulcasting in-person events so fans around the rest of the world can join in.
“Our goal was to create a platform that would make live music as relevant in the virtual world … as sport is today,” Hesse said. “Sporting events, obviously, people go to in person, but they watch a lot of it from the comfort of their home because they want to watch a lot of sports.”
Being at the forefront of innovation in the music industry seems to come naturally for Hesse, whose career highlights including helping Sony Music evolve from being a physical, CD-selling business to a streaming business and co-founding leading music video platform VEVO.
“I think this is the opportunity now to really move the needle in the live business, which really hasn’t changed in hundred years,” Hesse said. “And I see our business really not so much as competitive with the traditional live business at all. I see it as trying to be complementary – as growing the pie and getting more people to watch more live music. And so in that sense our competition is not live events … but people’s time in the evening when they could be watching another Netflix or Hulu episode, but instead they should be watching a [live] show from one of the artists they love somewhere in the world they just can’t be at that moment. Or an exceptional record release party that they can now be part of because it’s entirely virtual.”
Hesse notes that Dreamstage has a commerce engine and a streaming engine that are fully integrated. He adds, “We’re incredibly reliable and scalable. We ran three concerts simultaneously last weekend on the same day – Train, Blue Light Bandits and a Pride festival.”
As the company was growing, Dreamstage hired a few people that had been in the live side of the music industry to help with those relationship connections including Justin Bridgewater, who started in January as head talent buyer and was promoted in May to head of artist and venue relations. Bridgewater was most recently a senior talent buyer at AEG Presents for two and a half years, and before that he spent more than 12 years at United Talent Agency.
“It’s [been] exciting as the platform has been developing being a part of the product and helping guide a lot of the changes that we’re doing here to try to increase engagement of the fans and the artists,” Bridgewater said. “The space is new, so having been a former agent for the majority of my career, I could really go to the agents and explain to them why this is a good platform for their artists and how it can fit into a plan.”
Dreamstage has hosted more than 60 events since launching with highlights including “Yo-Yo Ma: Beginnings,” featuring performances of some of his significant “firsts” throughout his career, and “D Smoke: The Black Habits Experience,” featuring special guests Rhapsody, Tobe Nwigwe, Kirby, BJ The Chicago Kid, SiR & Buddy.
Captured Live At Georgia Aquarium — an acoustic livestream concert presented by Dreamstage
Livestreaming is great for artists who have an engaged fanbase who are technologically inclined to want to watch material in that way, as well as a plus for up-and-coming artists in the development stage. Bridgewater notes that livestreaming can also help artists find where their fanbases are and use that as a tool to build their touring future.
“The events where the artist has a plan and is engaged and has their team engaged – whether that be the publicist, their record label, their management company, their agency – I think those are the ones that we see have [had] a great level success because everyone’s really behind it,” Bridgewater said. “Like this upcoming Mastodon event. These guys are really excited about doing something different and really wanted to create something that was a unique experience.”
The Grammy-winning heavy metal band is performing a livestream concert at the Georgia Aquarium on July 15 at 9 p.m. ET in their hometown of Atlanta. The show, which marks Mastodon’s first-ever acoustic performance, will feature the band sharing exclusive commentary with an inside view into their creative process. Bundle merch packages are available with $1 from each T-shirt bundle going to support the aquarium.
“I think fans are always wanting more of [the] feeling like they’re a part of something,” Bridgewater said. “And there is a way to connect with artists and their fans, even if you’re not there in person. We’re hoping to bridge that gap with the future of the simulcast events.”
Audio streaming service Deezer made a strategic investment in Dreamstage, which was announced in May, to help the company grow and expand operations.
In addition to the Apple TV app, Dreamstage is working on a native iOS and Android app that will allow fans to really interact with the shows.
“We feel this is just the beginning of a massive opportunity; we’re investing heavily into product and tech,” Hesse said. “We have an amazing team of engineers that will continue to introduce incredible interactive features that will continue to make this experience ever richer and more rewarding.”