One Direction & Justin Bieber's Managers, Live Nation Invest in $20 Million Artist-to-Fan App

Two former AOL executives are convinced music artists relationships with their fans can be much more focused, direct and improved, and, with the investment of Justin Bieber, One Direction and Calvin Harris' management firms, they've raised $20 million to prove their point.

Erika Nardini, who was the chief marketing officer for the media company, and Ran Harnevo, who ran AOL's video operations, plan to unveil a mobile app called Bkstg in the fourth quarter that, Nardini says, "will connect artists and fans directly to create an ongoing direct relationship" that will include video, ticket and merchandise sales, as well as a social platform.

"When you look at the fan experience on the web it's broken, says Nardini, Bkstg's president and chief revenue officer. "They have to navigate, say, 15 different platforms that artists work with [to promote their work], whether it's a gaming company, Facebook, YouTube, Live Nation, Twitter, you name it."  

It's what she calls a "very siloed" situation. Bkstg, on the other hand, intends to become the single destination for fans to connect with their favorite acts "across all platforms", as well as a place for artists to obtain the tools and data that "will enable them to know who and where their fans are," and even to distinguish between their avid and casual fans. 

Ideally, fans will be able to watch their favorite artists' videos, keep up with their tour plans, buy merch and tickets to local shows and interact with other fans –and the artists themselves – via the app.

Meanwhile, Nardini, says artists that sign on with Bkstg will create content to their own specifications (as opposed to the specifications set by the platform) and will own any data that they glean from posting content on the site (unlike other platforms, which usually keep that information for their own use).

Acts will be able to access geographical and demographic data, for instance, as well as "which fans are consuming the most video, text and photos or just want to know when someone's coming to town so they can buy tickets," Nardini says. "Bkstg believes the data belongs to the artist first and foremost and the data should be comprehensive." 

Both parties will use the platform gratis, but Nardini says Bkstg will generate revenue by taking a cut from tickets, merch and other monetized offerings.

"Bkstg will offer the ability to understand their fan base and then also to be able to create a direct personal relationship that maps to what the fan wants and what the artist has to share," she says. 

It's an ambitious goal, and one that has been attempted, with varying degrees of depth and success by platforms such as MySpace, BandCamp and Fahlo. Indeed, Harnevo and Nardini are in the process of rebuilding that last site and converting it into Bkstg using $20 million raised from a group of strategic investors that includes Global Group, Mark Cuban Companies and Deep Fork Capital as well as touring and ticketing giant Live Nation, Modest! Management, which represents the top-earning musical act of 2014, One Direction; Three Six Zero Group, which manages Calvin Harris and Deadmau5, among other EDM stars; and Scooter Braun Projects, the parent company of Braun's management firm, which guides the careers of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Carly Rae Jepsen.

 That a number of artist-centric companies have chipped in funds certainly suggests that they see a need for a more focused platform for their clients' relationships with fans, and Nardini, who says that Bkstg aims to launch with 70 to 100 artists, explains that the app will work to accommodate artists that already have well-subscribed social and sales platforms in place as well as those mid-level and independent artists that don't have the time or funds to create a satisfying web experience for their fans.  For the latter, she says, "we want to bring technology to artists that makes content creation and commercialization easy for them. For the established artist, Nardini adds, "We are open to partnership. If an artist is working with Live Nation, we'll integrate Live Nation into Bkstg so that a fan can purchase through Live Nation."

Bkstg will be headquartered in Los Angeles, with offices in New York and Kiev.