Side Door Booking App Brings House Concerts Into the Digital Age & A Tour Near You

Scott Munn
Laura Simpson and Dan Mangan, founders of Side Door.

The new service matches performers with hosts for intimate shows.

Canadian musician Dan Mangan and music industry professional Laura Simpson have come up with a browser-based, mobile-friendly booking business that matches live performers to show hosts -- from homes to warehouses to wide-open fields -- according to their profile preferences.

The performer could be a comedian, lecturer, actor or even a balloon animal-maker, but musicians will likely be the primary users. Side Door allows touring artists to do one-off shows, book entire tours or, maybe more helpfully, fill in holes in itineraries. Those who want to attend these shows can purchase tickets through the site.

The platform officially launched last month with a mobile app planned for release later this year. As Mangan explains it, “Side Door is a platform community where hosts and artists match for gigs, concerts, shows of any kind, in any place. So if you have space that can fit 20 people, you can bring culture, you can bring performances, to your space.”

So far, Side Door has more than 1,000 artists on the platform and more than 400 “vetted hosts” in North America. According to Mangan, “It's growing every single day.” They’ve already matched shows for Broken Social Scene, John K. Samson of the Weakerthans and Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta!

“We want to create a really transparent and friendly marketplace where artists can interact, perform and be in dialogue directly with people who want to take out the gatekeepers, take out the middle people,” he explains.

The web site has a FAQ section covering a range of anticipated questions from “What happens if someone gets hurt?” to “What should I say to my neighbors?” as well as rules about liability, code of conduct, food and drink, radius clauses, low ticket sales, allowing children and more.

New profiles are vetted by Side Door staff but ongoing business is self-policed, based on post-show reviews. Mangan acknowledges that personal safety, as well as protection of property, are big issues and says there are a number of ways Side Door deals with liability.

“One is transparency. We let the host know, ‘This is an event in your home, just like any other party that you might throw. So it's up to you. You need to know the laws and bylaws in your city about what's allowed.’ Side Door is the virtual booking agent and the host acts as the promoter,” he explains.

“Another way is education, best practices; setting up the host with checklists and everything so they are prepared,” Mangan continues. “The other thing is social contract, so testimonials and reviews to hold people accountable, just like Uber and Amazon. It helps people keep each other in line.”

The artist and host negotiate the fee split, then sign off before the show is confirmed.

“A lot of hosts don't want to take anything at all; they want to give it to the artists or they can decide by sliding the bar left and right and it changes the split,” says Mangan. “Depending on the capacity and the ticket price, you can see the bottom line. You can see it recalculate.”

At a later date, he hopes to add an option on Side Door for guarantees or flat fees. All parties are expected to promote the show, whether or not it’s set as private or public. Ticket revenue is held in escrow until midnight, the day of the event, and then paid automatically to the artist by direct deposit through Stripe Connect.

“That’s the other beautiful thing is that it’s all digital. There's no envelope full of cash. You don't have to ask to get paid at the end of the night at midnight,” says Mangan.

Mangan, who has released a handful of albums and won two Juno Awards, is currently on tour behind his latest album, More or Less. He played San Francisco Wednesday night and heads to the U.K. and Europe April 4-16 with more sporadic dates booked in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. from May to October. None are house concerts.

“I've done a lot of house concerts in my day,” he says. “I remember thinking even from an early on time, ‘Why isn't there a tool to match people up?’ because you always had to get an email from someone or have an ‘in’ through another artist. You had to call them up, ‘What was the phone number of that person in Waterloo?’”

His business partner Simpson, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, began hosting house concerts in 2011 through her company Syrup Factory. She also worked for seven years as a journalist for CBC and Rogers Radio, then as export development officer and communications manager for Music Nova Scotia. She also managed and produced for the Halifax Jazz Festival, CAPACOA and the East Coast Music Association. Mangan, who resides on the other side of the country, in Vancouver, British Columbia, began a house concert network for artists on his label, Madic Records, in 2015.

“We didn't invent the house concert,” he says, “but we're trying to mainstream it. We're trying to make it really common that you would just walk two blocks down, walk into a stranger's house and go to a show.”


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