Seated Co-Founder David McKay Talks Data, Artist Empowerment via Ticketing

David McKay, Seated

The high-tech ticketing world is largely about data — who’s buying, when, why and how. That data is valuable to everyone involved in the event ecosystem. However, in a world where content is king and the artist or athlete largely comes first, there may be an opportunity to put more of that data into more of the artist’s hands – and there seems to be traction on that front.

“I always thought it was insane that an artist could be playing in front of tens of thousands of fans at an arena and have no idea who was in the audience because they didn’t sell the tickets to them,” says Seated CEO and co-founder David McKay. “And I always believed that artists were the best marketers in the world and they should own their first-party data. And so everything we’ve been doing for the past five years has been really about putting artists in control of their data.”

Seated, which McKay started with John Griffin in 2017, was acquired by events producer and music startup Sofar Sounds in 2021. The platform powers tour listings, presales and primary ticketing for major artists including Maroon 5, Lil Nas X, Miley Cyrus, Harry Styles, Megan Thee Stallion and more. For presales, the platform powers exclusive access for tours through text message alerts, with artists including John Mayer, Jack Harlow, and Brandi Carlile.

McKay says the company recently sent out its 20 millionth text message alert to ticket-buying fans, and has signed up more than 1,000 artists for exclusive presale, largely by word of mouth from artist managers and labels looking to benefit from first-party data.

Pollstar: It seems Seated and parent company Sofar Sounds are really artist-first, and somehow not every sector of the music business is yet.
David McKay: It’s so important for you to know who your customers are, and that’s just a core initiative of every industry, but in the music industry, the artist, the actual business, doesn’t have access to any of their listener information because Spotify and all the DSPs hold that information. They don’t have access to any of their ticket buyer information because the promoters and ticketing companies hold that. We’re still like this odd industry that doesn’t empower the businesses to actually allow the brands themselves to own the core of their own data. That’s really what we’ve been doing for the past five years.

Since we started, we’ve sent over 20 million text messages to help artists drive more sales. We know that text messages are the most powerful way to get those time-sensitive alerts out to fans because 98% of people open a text message, 90% see that within the first three minutes of us sending it and through the deals that we have with affiliate partners. We know that we’ve driven hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ticket sales just over the past 12 months since this return to live. So we know the effectiveness of these text messages and that’s why artists are really relying on us to power those text message alerts.

What kind of data do you acquire that artists and their teams might otherwise not?
In that (presale) window before tickets are actually released, there are many artists who captured hundreds of thousands of new emails and phone numbers through this flow, because if I were to just drive traffic to Ticketmaster, there’s just a countdown clock. It says, “Come back in six days when tickets get released.” This is the most powerful part of our platform. Any time there’s a dead end, that’s where a fan would just get a countdown clock on Ticketmaster or a sold-out message as well.

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via Seated’s developer page

Billy Strings is an awesome example of someone who utilizes our waitlist feature when tickets are sold out. We drive fans to a waitlist instead of driving fans to Ticketmaster where they would just see a sold-out message. So our whole thesis has just been if a fan’s going to hit a dead end anyway, capture their data and empower the artist to own that. Then we will offer the service of automating those alerts about new tickets, getting new shows that have been released, and reminders when the tickets go on sale.

The other interesting thing is when you’re setting up your alerts and we have millions of people subscribed to alerts. So we know the affinity toward traveling for specific artists, which is really interesting. We have a large enough userbase to know the similarities of artists that they’re interested in.

Then there’s buying behavior. We share that data back with the artists where they see this is a fan who’s signed up for every single presale, and this is a fan that’s signed up who’s actually converted and bought tickets every time.

That can really help gauge demand, I’m sure.
Artists can log into their insights tab and see in real-time how many people are signing up for tickets or how many people are joining the waitlist, on a show-by-show level. That’s so powerful because they’re able to make decisions before tickets get released. (Singer-songwriter) Ashe put on a show in London and put it up for presale.

It was at a small venue and they got thousands and thousands of people that signed up to get the presale access. So what the team knew even before tickets went on sale to that event was, “Hey, we should confirm a second show in this market.”
Historically, if you put a show on sale and it sells out instantly, you don’t know if it’s sold out the 600-cap venue because 601 people wanted to go or because 6,000 people wanted to go.

There are 40,000 artists in the Sofar Sounds ecosystem, and the tools that we’re building that are applicable to John Mayer also apply to artists who are playing local shows and artists who are doing regional tours. … They should be having fans sign up and express their intent to buy tickets even before tickets are available.

You handle primary ticketing for artists as well.
Two hundred and ninety artists use us to actually sell the ticket where we are the merchant of record. We are taking 10% allocations for their presales, bundling them with merchandise and other offers to the top fans.

The buyer gets a receipt from Seated and if they have questions about their order, they would contact our customer support. Our primary business is servicing the presales end to end. And that represents the majority of our revenue and that’s a standard where we added a ticketing fee to the customer.

We have two business models. We have affiliate deals with most of the major ticketing companies that pay us an affiliate commission when one of our text message alerts results in a sale. That’s how we’re able to provide that service for free to artists.

Ticketing has always been considered a difficult sector for startups, for many reasons.
The nice part about it is that we’ve grown by word of mouth. The way we’ve grown is by working with a team on one artist and then they really get it. Once you use the product, you understand that hey, we should be doing this for every tour and every show and every scenario.

Early on, when I started the company, that was certainly a calculation where it felt like within the industry there were plenty of ticketing companies that were servicing event promoters and venues and their needs.

There wasn’t anyone focused solely on the most important part of the equation, which is the artist performing on the stage. If you were to launch a brand-new ticketing company and you want to gain any kind of traction, I mean, you need to raise tens of millions or in the case of some of these hundreds of millions of dollars to fork over large advances to buy up the exclusive rights.

Very often in that, the venue and promoter space, it’s not the best product that wins. We didn’t want to play that game. We were like, we’re going to build the best product and we’re going to offer it to artists. And we’re going to build the best team and services around that. And I think that’s what Sofar Sounds also noticed and found valuable. They said we can scale this to the 40,000 artists in that ecosystem.

But the major primary ticketing companies work closely with artists as well.
Where we really think that we’re going to continue to be the most valuable is on the artists that are local and want to start capturing text message subscribers for their local shows like through the Sofar Sounds network, even artists that are doing the 1,000-capacity, 2,000-capacity rooms.

Not all the artist services teams at all the different promoters and ticketing companies have the capacity to take that on. So our approach is, can we build software that is repeatable so that it scales up and down the pyramid of artists and can really apply to artists?

I definitely wouldn’t want to knock (Ticketmaster EVP of Music) David Marcus and the Ticketmaster team, because they do an amazing job for the artists they service and we kind of want to take those learnings and bring it to tens of thousands of other artists.
There’s a whole bunch of artists that aren’t getting those nationwide touring deals and they’re working with scattered individual promoters across the country. So for us to be able to offer a unified service, to help them capture data, and engage people through text message, they find that really valuable.