Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in America, the live performance industry has come to an unprecedented halt, with concerts, stage performances, festivals and sporting events all cancelled or postponed indefinitely amidst an uncertain future.
DoStuff Media specializes in event listings, working with promoters, venues large and small, local and national artists, bars, restaurants and more to provide an answer to the age old question of what to do on any given night.
What began in 2006 in Austin, Texas as Do512 (512 is the Austin area code) expanded to Chicago as Do312 in 2010 and now operates in twenty-one cities across North America.Today In: Hollywood & EntertainmentCould Taylor Swift’s Surprise Live Album Go To No. 1 Next Week?
But as bars, restaurants and venues have closed amidst self-quarantine and shelter-in-place orders, events ranging anywhere from trivia night to arena concerts have disappeared from the calendar. Ad revenues have dried up, forcing many media outlets to pivot.
“Our entire product and sort of lifeblood is not just the events but all of the people throwing events – from the bar owners to the actual creators and artists, everyone. That’s our entire business, community, friends and everything,” said DoStuff COO and founding employee Kristin Owen. “From a monetary perspective, those people are hurting too. But the way our business works, people come to our site to figure out what to do. And the people throwing events advertise with us to attract bodies to those events – be it Live Nation or bars or venues. All of those different people are spending money with us to advertise and we then get people to the events to which they buy tickets and they buy booze. It’s a very nice, mutually beneficial relationship. Then brands spend money with us on top of that to connect with that audience. But without going to events, no one needs to advertise their events. So I would say 90% of that ad revenue just stopped.”
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As a result, DoStuff Media has been forced to pivot, temporarily rebranding as DoStuff [At Home]. The rebrand began in March, initially listing events that were cancelled. As that quickly began to encompass just about everything, another pivot was made, removing all cancelled events and focusing instead on the rise of online events.
“We were watching this and would sort of see the news and think, ‘Oh, this might affect us.’ Then, ‘Oh, we should maybe think if this will change how we do business.’ And then, ‘Uh oh, these events aren’t happening.’ When South By Southwest got cancelled, that’s when it was like, ‘OK. This is real.’ Because that’s in our backyard,” said Owen. “Almost within twenty-four hours, we got the creative team on the phone and said, ‘Ok, let’s go with DoStuff [At Home],’ and flipped it on. We have a product team including one full-time engineer and one front end developer and the ability for them to very nimbly completely change how all of that worked is pretty remarkable. I’m very, very impressed by the team’s ability to just rethink the whole thing and put it back out there.”
There are many event listing sites that scrape and aggregate available online event info. But what sets DoStuff apart is its ability to drill down on local, establishing a strong presence in each of the markets it serves thanks to a small team of employees in each city.
“It’s really interesting to have hopped on board with a media company and about two months into it, the entire industry has just been turned on its head,” said Alex White, who started as Market and Experience Manager at Chicago’s Do312 just three months ago. “Do312, the lifeblood of that organization is the Chicago community. And they’ve always done a great job of creating a stage and a platform for independent artists and also artists of color and different identities, really bringing diversity to the table,” she continued. “We’ve been able to tell local artists, ‘You know what? There is a brand that has a budget and we’d like to connect you with them so you can tell your story.’ In this day and age, where you’re an independent band – and, of course, now we can’t tour and you’re not selling t-shirts quite as rapidly as you were on the road – it’s wonderful to be able to actually invest in the local talent.”
White completed her undergraduate work at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she’s currently working toward her MBA, and handles both guitar and vocals for Chicago-based indie garage rock duo White Mystery.
Since 2008, White Mystery has performed with artists like Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, punk icon Patti Smith and Gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples, taking part in Levis’ national #Equipped ad campaign in 2014.
Today, White Mystery is releasing 420 live tracks via Bandcamp, a project called Sonic Sepulcher, partnering with DoStuff on a nationwide live stream featuring guests like SNL alum Fred Armisen at 4:20 PM CST.
“You need the technology so that it works from a nuts and bolts perspective. But beyond that, the localness is what makes it work. In Chicago, we have a team of seven who all love the city. They’re so connected in the community and they know everyone at all of the venues and bars and all of the different cultures. They live and breathe that. And so without that, it just doesn’t work,” said Owen. “We did this livestream with DJ Mel and we’re doing it every week. There was about 60,000 comments during it. It had more live viewers than Calvin Harris and Coldplay. And, largely, I think that’s because people are really, really craving that community,” she continued. “We’re going to broadcast White Mystery nationally and maybe that will change the exposure that something like that might get and make it more relevant to a broader audience.”
White Mystery remains independent, booking their own tours and handling all press, guest teaching Music Business at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where the duo has mentored twenty-five students.
In an era where it’s become difficult to monetize recorded music and royalties from online streaming services are low, touring and the sale of merchandise at each live concert has become a crucial revenue stream for independent and local artists.
Loss of that ability to tour amidst COVID-19 has hit many artists hard. But via partnerships with entities like DoStuff, White sees a financial way forward.
“We live in an age where, as an artist, you can develop a kind of micro-audience that’s very dedicated to what you do. And it’s its own little economy. White Mystery has I think 15,000 Facebook fans, about 10,000 Instagram fans, etc. Compared to an artist like Drake, it’s minuscule but we have a direct line to these people who follow the band. With our 420 live tracks, we’re able to leverage our social media – which is a free tool – and communicate that to our audience,” White explained of the new live collection, the rights to which the band owns having stayed the independent course. “There’s still opportunities to bring revenue in as an artist. You just have to be creative.”
About a month into the DoStuff [At Home] rebrand, reaction has been positive. A focus on online events like team trivia and virtual happy hours, in addition to streaming concerts, has provided both content and buzz, with DoStuff noticing a 38% uptick in email engagement.
A new program entitled ‘DoStuff Amplification Project” doubles down on that local connection, offering $1 million worth of promotional support via a series of grants.
“We’re awarding $1 million in paid media to the DO’ers who need to get the message out on what they are doing out there – the bartenders hosting virtual cocktail hours with virtual tip jars, local band live streams, the improv actors and all our friends in the service industries who are making, building and creating and need a platform for showing people. DoStuff is nothing without our audience and their participation, so that’s where we’ve decided to support,” said Owen. “Just submit a form and we’ll promote whatever you have coming up and hopefully get people some exposure and help them make a little bit more money.”
While, there’s no immediate end in sight to self-quarantine, DoStuff is hopeful they can weather what’s yet to come.
“From our perspective, we just have to,” said Owen. “The audience will need us. The promoters and people throwing events will need us. If we can just hunker down and get to the other side, I think that we’ll be stronger than ever thanks to a lot of what we’ve learned and built during this. We’ve just got to get there.”
“I feel like we’re all a part of history right now – every single person who is experiencing this. We’re all going to be voices that can reflect on what’s happening right now, in the future, for some perspective,” added White. “And I think that we just have to keep doing our best and lift each other up – and use the tools that we have available to us with a little bit of a positive mental attitude despite the challenges.”
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