Spotlight: 'Live From Out There' Organizer Ben Baruch on Earning $300,000 for Artists via Livestreams

Ben Baruch
Courtesy Photo

Ben Baruch

"Our model is making sure that every single person that’s involved in this does get paid. We’re not shy about that. That’s what we formed this for."

In six weeks, the virtual series Live From Out There has brought in more than $300,000 for artists and crews through weekend concerts and festivals. Started by Ben Baruch and Dave Dicianni of 11E1even Group management (Twiddle, Goose, Big Gigantic), the series launched immediately after mass gathering bans and state-wide lockdowns began across the United States in mid-March. As a frequent producer of live streams, mainly for jam bands, Baruch saw an opportunity to continue creating revenue as touring came to a screeching halt.

"I immediately started thinking of other forms of revenue we could start working on to keep the bands and crews alive with the assumption that this was going to get worse, which obviously it did," Baruch says of the series, which kicked off on March 20 with sets from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Goose and more.

When it started, Live From Out There had artists who lived together playing exclusive new sets in venues with minimal filming crews. As social distancing orders intensified, the series moved to live recordings at home every weekend.

Within a week of announcing the series, 3,000 fans had paid $50 for the six-week subscription, which provided access to every performance and the ability to go back and check out previous sets. That number does not include fans who have paid for "weekend passes" to the festivals or for pay-per-view sessions by specific artists.

"Because we manage jam bands, we stream a lot even when they are on the road. It is not new to us by any means. What is new to a lot of people is the consistency that they are seeing now," Baruch says. "We were always in the mindset that live streaming was free. Once we started this, we shifted gears because we wanted our artists to be able to make some money during this time. We’ve seen that the fans have been so supportive."

To date, Live From Out There has brought in $300,000 for the artists, managers and crews involved in getting everything up on Nugs.net, the live streaming platform being used for the series. Phase 1 of the six-week series concluded last weekend with a celebration of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. Prior weekends have included tributes to Bill Withers and John Prine, both of whom passed away in the last month. Participating artists have included Finneas, Craig Robinson, Stephen Marley, John Oates, Shakey Graves, Hiss Golden Messenger, Real Estate and more.

"We do make sure that our artists are paid well and some acts that are on our platform are making more money than they would have been making on tour. For some, where that might not be the case, they are still able to at least survive during this time," says Baruch. "Our model is making sure that every single person that’s involved in this does get paid. We’re not shy about that. That’s what we formed this for."

Artists who signed on early for the series will share in the revenue from the six-week subscriptions, while artists who signed on later will receive portions of subscriptions for the weekends they perform on. In addition, all artists will receive 70% of the revenue generated by their individual shows. A portion of the proceeds also goes to non-profit Sweet Relief's COVID-19 fund, which was established to help musicians who have lost income due to the pandemic.

"When we tell the artists that we are actually paying them, at first they are almost surprised since no one has taken that approach yet," Baruch says. "I’m sure as this goes on, people will follow this model because artists are only going to do things for free for so long. They should get paid."

Baruch attributes a great deal of the success of Live From Out There to his days as a talent booker working with festivals like Okeechobee. He says he has approached the virtual festivals the same way he would a live, in-person event and helped promote them with the same fervor. His efforts seem to have paid off. In the first three weeks, Live From Out There reached more than 1.5 million people on social media, and within the first two weeks it had garnered 6,000 pay-per-view purchases, with prices starting at $4.99.

Baruch has already begun working on Phase 2 of the series, which will feature another six-week subscription model.

"When we started this, we were very much in the unknown of how long this was going to last," Baruch says. "Now that we are clearly seeing that all summer festivals are, for the most part, being cancelled and fall touring is very much in the air, we are recalibrating what we are doing for Live From Out There as a whole and are going to continue doing what we’re doing in the same format for probably more than six months."

Baruch believes the paid livestreams will help artists, crews and more with finances right now, but he also foresees virtual sessions being a part of live music going forward.

"We are also working on new models for band virtual touring. We want to work with specific artists and put together virtual tours for them that are outside of the subscription," Baruch says. "We are hoping that there are going to be some cities where artists can do small shows with maybe 20-50 people in the audience and have that in addition to the livestreaming we will be doing."

SPOTLIGHT:

The best advice I've received is do what you love regardless of what that takes. If you love going into the office every day or starting your work day around 6:30 a.m. and it rarely feels like a "job," you've picked the right path.

I knew I was committed to music when I quit a good job in film working at a talent agency to take a risk and try throwing concerts. I used each paycheck to pay bands and hospitality, cleaned venues before artists arrived and collected tickets and IDs at the door for each show. I had no idea if it would work, but it felt right inside. I loved nothing more than seeing bands happy, which was rare in LA. I saw excited music fans walking in the door and that's when I knew I would commit to doing anything that I could to make this a career path.

Something most people don't understand is doing what we do as managers, agents, promoters, etc., isn’t always that glamorous life that most people think. If they only knew how similar it was to being a psychologist.

What's next is the unknown. It's scary for everyone and doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. There will be and there already is a new norm in every industry and yes, we will adapt. As managers, all we can do is work day and night to try and help keep our bands and crew afloat, keep morale high, keep our fans engaged and continue to get creative. Our Virtual festival, Live From Out There was extremely successful and more rewarding than we could have imagined. We structured it in a way where artists get paid for their time while also donating to our non-profit partner, Sweet Relief. Of course every day has new challenges, it wouldn’t be exciting if it didn't. It would be a lie if I didn't say thats its brought a new level of excitement to bring what I’ve been doing for years in the traditional sense of booking festivals and promoting venues, to an entirely different playing field and seeing it pan out. I'm not one that can just sit on my ass and wait to see how things unfold. I've learned a lot by changing gears and working on some very exciting things for our acts in the virtual streaming space.

Spotlight is a Billboard Business series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact spotlight@billboard.com.

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