Andrew Bird today announces his next tour: a 12-city South American affair in February that's unlike any other tour that the 39-year-old indie rock musician has ever put on.
Bird teamed up with U.K. concert-discovery startup Songkick to try out a new approach to planning his tour and selling tickets. Instead of booking the venues and then announcing his stops, Bird waits until a minimum number of tickets are sold in each city before committing to the show.
Songkick has staged 10 such tours for bands since December 2011, mostly in Europe, to experiment with this model, which it calls Detour. Ian Hogarth, its chief executive, wrote detailed case studies on two tours, one put on by Tycho and another by Hot Chip, both of which are published on the company's blog.
The result: Sold out shows for both acts.
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Hogarth credits the success to the viral, grass-roots nature of music fans who are armed with a modicum of digital savvy. The Hot Chip concert took place in Folkestone, a British coastal town with approximately 45,000 inhabitants about 70 miles southeast of London.
"Over the past 10 years, as live music has become more corporate, the routes that bands take have become more predictable and generic," Hogarth wrote. Hot Chip's band members "were really excited about the idea of using Detour to play a town they'd otherwise not get to."
Actually, one "superfan" in Folkestone made all the difference by personally emailing 2,000 friends to sign up for the Hot Chip concert. Once 200 people pledged, by entering their credit card information and agreeing to pay the ticket price, the concert was on.
"Concerts that occur this way feel fantastic," Hogarth told Billboard.biz. "They tend to be very authentic and intimate. The fans felt a sense of community because they felt they collectively made it happen."
Hogarth said Detour continues to be in "beta," meaning it's not an official product widely offered by Songkick as it continues to experiment with the concept. Among the tests he wants to do with Detour: trying it out on the U.S., a market that is complicated by the fact that most top artists are committed to exclusive touring and ticketing contracts that make these sorts of ad hoc "Detours" more difficult.
Detour offers one crowd-pleasing advantage to these old-school contracts. By pre-selling tickets and committing only to locations that have sold enough tickets to make then worthwhile, it takes away much of the guesswork, and risk, that promoters take on.