It wasn't easy for StubHub to get into the concert game, which they are with the NextStage Concert Series. Glenn Lehrmann, head of communications for the ticket re-seller, was very aware of perceptions of the company.
“We get a lot of criticism that we don’t have skin in the game," he tells Billboard. "From an industry perspective that’s the most frequent comment we get. And it’s difficult to have skin in the game when artists don’t traditionally want to work with you. I was afraid that we would go ahead and try and do this program, we’d reach out to the artist community and get a whole bunch of people who said, 'That’s great, I still don’t want to work with StubHub.'”
So imagine his relief when on May 18 he arrived at the Roxy in Los Angeles for the opening of the StubHub NextStage Concert Series, featuring Lykke Li, to see that people had begun lining up at 6 am for the chance to see the Swedish singer in an intimate, 500-capacity venue.
The NextStage series isn’t the first time StubHub had been the name on the marquee (they put on shows at South By Southwest in 2013) but Lehrmann is aware this series is very different. “Artists are out at South By looking for a bit of a payday. It was great to have some cool talent there, but it’s a different thing to be sitting here on Sunset Blvd. at the Roxy and be willing to have your name headline next to something that says StubHub,” he says.
Getting a buzzworthy artist like Lykke Li was huge for properly launching the series, which will feature five dates this year in five different cities including Nashville, San Francisco, and more. “I think it was important for us to find artists that you wouldn’t expect to come work with StubHub. The fact we got someone like Lykke Li has really changed the way artists are starting to feel about us,” Lehrmann says. “As soon as we announced her we got calls from other agents wanting to see if their artists can play in the series. So one kind of begets the other, and having Lykke Li start it off for us is really going to help.”
The other aspect that helped excite artists is that all of the proceeds are going to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, benefitting music education. According to Lehrmann, music education was the perfect way for Stubhub to show their commitment to the music industry.
“We started a foundation about two years ago focused on really supporting kids’ access -- sports, music, arts. And in particular we were really focused on the music side,” he says. “We felt like we may not be working with artists and putting money in their pocket directly, but we certainly can make a difference in making sure that music continues. Knowing how much arts education was being cut in schools, we felt like making sure kids had an ability and access to continue to play was something that we could really make a difference in.”
That certainly caught the attention of Grouplove, which will be headlining the Nashville show next Friday, June 11. “We feel lucky we can lend our name and a performance to helping benefit a meaningful cause that is close to our hearts,” Grouplove’s Ryan Rabin tells Billboard. “This opportunity arose for us to be part of a generous charitable event, and we jumped at the chance. Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation wasn't an organization that we were previously familiar with, but it is exciting to learn of the generosity on StubHub's behalf to encourage music and the arts for all kids, a cause Grouplove is incredibly passionate about.”
Grouplove will be appearing at Bonnaroo this year, and perhaps not coincidentally, Superfly, the company that puts on Bonaroo and Outside Lands, is booking the NextStage series for StubHub. But aligning themselves with a company with a proven record for festivals makes perfect sense for StubHub, which is looking to branch out musically, as evidenced by shows they are doing with Pandora.
“We’ve been a sponsor of Pandora’s for a number of years; this is the first year we’ve kind of done something programmatically. We were down here in L.A. a couple of weeks ago for Tokyo Police Club,” Lehrmann says. “It’s nice, we’re really trying to work with more of that indie music crowd and that indie music artists. We’ve been traditionally centered around a top 10, top 15 acts, that’s our bread and butter. We want to grow that tail and torso.”
StubHub is pushing this series as being about music discovery, which allows them a lot of leeway in booking acts. “To me, discovering a new artist is anyone I haven’t heard before,” he says.
Ultimately though, Lehrmann is aware he wants the shows to have people lining up all day on Sunset Blvd. for a chance to press against the stage as a crowd-drawing artist plays.
“The way we thought about the series is, let’s find established artists that we’re doing underplays. So we wanted the shows to be the kind of show where people were gonna stand on line and wait a long time,” he says. “Because we were ticketing it ourselves for the first time, we wanted to make sure they were going to be shows that sold out really easily. You don’t want a charitable show to be sitting there with a hundred tickets left at the end of the day. So for this you can charge a little more for a ticket because all of it is going to charity and you get people who are huge fans and a once in a lifetime experience for a lot of people. Someone like Lykke Li is not gonna play a venue this size for a long time.”