Business

Mandolin Raises $12 Million to Fuel Post-Pandemic Livestreaming Strategy

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Livestreaming became a necessary music experience in 2020. Now, startups founded to fill the concert voice must think about next steps once fans are allowed back to venues

Livestreaming startup Mandolin has raised $12 million in Series A funding to bankroll its growth strategy as live concerts return and online concerts aim for the mainstream.

Mandolin’s funding came from several venture capital firms, including 645 Ventures; Foundry Group, investor in Harmonix and Mixhalo; "venture studio" High Alpha; and TIME Ventures, the investment fund of Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. High Alpha and Benioff also took part in Mandolin’s seed round that was announced in October 2020.

CEO Mary Kay Huse says Mandolin’s strategy fits with 645 Ventures’ experience in consumer and B2B technologies.

"Not just their investment but their experience will help supercharge our growth strategy — particularly in such a fast-growing company," Huse tells Billboard.

Mandolin will use the funding to build the company from 50 employees at the end of 2020 to an estimated 100 by the end of the year, Huse estimates. About half of the staff are headquartered in Indianapolis. About a dozen people focused on artist and venue relations are in Nashville, with more staffers in Los Angeles and New York. People with tech expertise are also located in Denver and San Francisco.

Founded in the wake of COVID-19, when the Internet was the only respite for concert-deprived music fans, Mandolin exits the pandemic to a drastically different reality. With vaccination rates over 50% in many states, and venues re-opening and booking shows into 2022, in-person concerts and festivals are back in full force. For Mandolin and its investors, the question is whether livestreaming will remain after pandemic-weary music lovers leave their homes again.

"Yes, I believe it absolutely is here to stay," says Huse. "I think that sentiment is shared across a majority of the industry."

She adds, "Very few people had experienced a live stream pre-pandemic. Anywhere from 80 to 90% of fans surveyed have now experienced one and whole the majority of those fans absolutely plan on going back to in person shows, they also want to continue to have the option of streaming live."

One reason Mandolin likes its chances is because its new platform, Mandolin Live+, uses its core streaming business as a jumping off point to the rest of the concert experience.

Huse compares Mandolin’s plan for Live+ to the way people enjoy sports. Most fans choose to watch the game live from their homes and enjoy the pre-game, halftime and post-game shows. Some people attend the game and increasingly use their smartphones to enhance their experiences. Simply watching the field, court or diamond has become a bore. Streaming apps give audiences on-demand video replays. And newer sports venues allow people to order food and drinks from their seats.

Transforming the concertgoing experience inside venues could be the game-changer that sets a livestreaming company apart. Venues will follow businesses such as grocery stores into contact-less ordering and pickup, which became a standard retail offering that will live beyond the pandemic. The same cloud-based platform could power a smartphone app that provides a venue with new tools, and a concertgoer with features such as multiple camera angles, something Mandolin is currently piloting, says Huse.

"It gives us more shows and more opportunities to amplify in-person experiences which we think ultimately is the more exciting vision," she says.

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