When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the live music industry was one of the first to shutter, and due to the transmissibility of the virus it was one of the last to reopen. Across the world, musicians found themselves with nowhere to perform as once fan-packed venues were forced empty by lockdown restrictions.
Not the most ideal time to takeover a web-platform company that connects musicians to fans and venues, but that is exactly what GigTown co-owners Brian Wahlstrom and Joe Cardillo did when they purchased the company from founders Steve Altman and son Andy Altman in April 2020.
Wahlstrom, who is now CEO, said he and Cardillo, now COO, were already driving the majority of GigTown’s sales by the time the pandemic began and because the Altmans were involved in other business ventures they took over the company in what he described as a “very fair deal.”
“Really, they wanted to see GigTown have a chance. It was a better fit for Joe and I to take over as musicians who understood the product but also understood what it needed to continue to grow,” he said. “We decided we would see what we could do to survive through this period of time when there was literally no live music happening and see where we go from there.”
‘A Scramble’ for Business
Where it went from there was “a scramble,” Wahlstrom said, as the entire music industry was searching for new ways to make money.
“A lot of the artists quickly found a way to perform by getting good audio and then putting a show together online,” he said.
GigTown adapted to the new online music model by adding a feature to the artist pages on the website that allowed musicians to link a Zoom address to their shows that encouraged tipping. Beyond virtual tip jars, online performances also found more lucrative audiences.
“GigTown was able to quickly pivot as we saw a need for virtual shows – anything from corporate happy hours to private parties on Zoom or even a date night. People still wanted to hear artists perform some of their favorite cover songs,” Cardillo said. “This was rewarding for us because we were able to help artists sustain while still giving music lovers some high-quality entertainment.”
Through the pandemic shutdown, GigTown generated over $550,000 in artist payments, mostly from corporate clients, some of whom sponsored performances on a monthly or even weekly basis.
“They were very generous in terms of what they were able to afford and which artists they were able to work with,” Wahlstrom said.
In addition, GigTown also had some clients who pay for the company’s artist booking services that were based in states where COVID restrictions were more lax.
“One of our biggest clients was in Texas and Arizona and they were having weekly live music programs as normal,” Wahlstrom said.
Focus on Features
Through the pandemic, GigTown remained profitable by staying lean and focusing on adapting to the new environment while preparing for the future.
“We worked on overall strategy, thought of exciting new app features, helped artists with content and improved their GigTown profiles, and prepared for when the world would open up again for live music in person,” Cardillo said, “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we remained optimistic and put our best foot forward every day.”
With pandemic restrictions on live events ended, GigTown is looking to take that optimism and continue to grow by building out “a backlog of features” the company has been thinking on, Wahlstrom said.
One of the features will be to allow artists to sign up for GigTown using only a mobile phone. Currently, signups are through the website only.
Artists will also be able to promote their shows using the mobile app, which is important because most shows booked through GigTown are non-ticked events at venues like restaurants or breweries where the show may not be promoted in other spaces.
“It’s pretty difficult to find a consolidated listing for these kinds of shows that is accurate,” Wahlstrom said, adding that when artists are able to easily add these shows to their schedules, “it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Cardillo said the new features will make GigTown into a “Yelp for local music.”
“But even cooler because you can really dig in and easily check out musician profiles and current shows on the GigTown app,” he said, “Now that live music is back, I am excited to create more awareness that GigTown is an amazing place to discover, book and connect with local musicians in your area.”
A Modest Capital Campaign
Along with building out features, GigTown is also focused on marketing the platform in cities across the U.S.
To fund these new goals, GigTown has set up a Wefunder campaign. The company is just over halfway toward raising its modest $50,000 goal. On the fundraising site, the company touts its growth trajectory of $240,000 in revenue in 2020 to $390,000 in 2021, its lean operation, its positive cash flow and its over 8,500 artists and 90,000 users.
Also, with music lovers’ pent-up demand for live music, it is a good time to grow a music company.
“It is very difficult for venues to find artists now, everyone is booked,” Wahlstrom said. “In terms of our business, we are as busy as we were before the pandemic.”
CEO: Brian Wahlstrom
Business: Live music booking platform
Revenue: $390K (2021)
Headquarters: San Diego
Notable: The GigTown platform was built by former Qualcomm engineers alongside professional musicians.