Canadian startup Side Door aims to democratize the concert industry

Dan Mangan performing in an empty hall at Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on March 13, 2020.

Photo by Henry Beckwith / Document

In search of US $ 2 million in seed capital, the Canadian startup Side Door ended up raising US $ 3 million. Not a bad investment for a concept of 10 billion dollars.

“I want to see 100,000 artists that people have barely or never heard of for $ 100,000 a year,” says Dan Mangan, musician and co-founder of Side Door, a Halifax-based online hub that facilitates concerts in do it yourself. “The idea is to develop a thriving global middle class of artists who are not beholden to the gatekeepers of the industry in order to have viable careers.”

The timing for Side Door couldn’t be better. With the release of long live music lockdowns imposed due to COVID-19, cash-strapped touring artists will soon be set on fire in the marketplace. There have always been more acts than venues. Now, because not all sites were able to weather the pandemic, the imbalance will only intensify.

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With Side Door, Mangan and his co-founder Laura Simpson fill a gap by connecting touring artists with mom and pop concert hosts who present paid shows in unconventional spaces such as living rooms, backyards. , town halls and bookstores.

Traditionally, a network of managers, promoters, agents and record companies selects the talents that enter the big places for tours. These industry gatekeepers keep clubs, theaters, arenas, and amphitheatres reserved with performers who can sell enough tickets to fill the halls of an alcoholic and merchandise-buying audience.

“The system works well,” concedes Mangan, a successful singer-songwriter, “but not for touring groups that don’t have an agent to help them book shows.

Enter Side Door, created in 2017 to offer artists and organizers the tools to produce their own “any space is a place” events. The quick and crude description of the company is “an Airbnb for gigs.”

About 90% of the shows hosted by Side Door are music concerts (in person and live digitally), but the service can also be used for dance, comedy, and theater presentations.

Side Door Simpson President and CEO is a music industry professional who in 2011 began hosting house concerts – intimate performances by professional musicians, typically performed in private residences in underserved communities. traditional places.

“These concerts were the only place I saw where performers actually made any money,” says Simpson, speaking from Halifax.

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While Simpson comes from the industry side, Vancouver-based Mangan is a working musician. He is currently under contract with Toronto indie music label Arts & Crafts, but in 2007 he was not at all looking forward to playing a show at the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Calgary.

“Only four people showed up,” Mangan remembers. “It was my first time in town. I didn’t have a publicist. I didn’t have a manager.

Six months later, Mangan was back in Calgary, playing in the backyard of a guy named Doug with singer-songwriter Lorrie Matheson. About sixty friends and relatives of the host were present. Mangan and Matheson made a few hundred dollars each and sold a fair amount of CDs.

“Most importantly, I left feeling that I had made a real impact,” Mangan explains. “I had left an imprint in Calgary.

Mangan won two Juno Awards. More relevant to Side Door, he would create a network of house concert hosts to help artists from his own Madic Records store. This series of small shows was the model for what is now Side Door.

In Mangan and Simpson’s mind, Side Door is not in competition with traditional concert promoters and venue operators. They work with beginner and middle-class artists – “everything from your uncle’s cover band to just below Beyoncé,” Mangan explains – who need help finding places to play.

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“It’s a wide range of artists whose needs are not being met,” Mangan explains. “We see what we’re doing as a democratization of live entertainment. “

Side Door’s first show was in 2017. Stewart Legere of Halifax and Tanya Davis of Montreal performed at Red’s Kitchen, a private residence in rural Quebec with a sink and stove, but no sound system. The company’s biggest show had singer-songwriter Matthew Barber in front of 120 people in an old converted church in Chelsea, Quebec. Smaller shows take place in CEO Simpson’s Lounge, capacity 15.

Although Simpson and Mangan are industry disruptors, mainstream concert operators who have spoken to The Globe and Mail don’t see Side Door as a threat.

“It’s a service to artists first,” says Jeff Cohen, concert promoter and co-owner of Toronto’s Lee’s Palace and Horseshoe Tavern. “The way they’ve built their business complements our own DIY philosophy and fits right in with the traditional independent live music venue.

To use a professional sports analogy, Side Door is a minor league farming system that helps performers move up the ranks from venues to the major leagues.

“It makes it even easier for artists to perform and access for fans,” said Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, an advocacy group. “There is more than enough room in the ecosystem to accommodate new ways of reaching audiences.”

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Side Door has more than a dozen employees dedicated to technical development, customer support and liaison with some 5,000 artists and 2,000 animators. The new funding round (led by Rhino Ventures of Vancouver) will help the company expand more significantly into markets outside of Canada.

“By playing a guy named Doug’s backyard 14 years ago, I was able to turn the system around until people recognized me as an artist,” Mangan explains. “But there is a Doug in every town, and we want that success for all of the Side Door artists.”

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