Social Web


Watching live music online is nothing new, but if you want to catch certain acts from the comfort of your home, you may need to buy a ticket or at least a virtual one. Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers reports that more and more musicians are staging online concerts as a way to make money.

JEFFREY PEPPER RODGERS, BYLINE: At midnight on a Wednesday, the young, Irish singer Janet Devlin kicks off an acoustic show. She's in London, but her audience is all over, from Norway to South Africa to the U.S. A few hundred fans have paid $8 to watch online, and some have been chatting with each other for hours and even leaving tips of $10 and $25 for Devlin before she sang a note.


JANET DEVLIN: (Singing) I don't care if Monday's blue. Tuesday's gray and Wednesday's, too. Thursday, I don't care about you. It's Friday. I'm in love.

RODGERS: This concert is on a website called Stageit. The technology for streaming live events has been around for years. But Stageit and another site, Concert Window, have made it easy to play online shows and make money doing it. This is good news for musicians hit hard by the plunge in royalties and CD sales, says singer-songwriter Christine Lavin.

CHRISTINE LAVIN: I'm intrigued with the idea that the Internet that has really hurt a lot of us financially has now opened up a new avenue for ways we can make some of that money back by connecting us to audience members who are not in the same town where we are.


DAN BERN: (Singing) Sitting in a town in New Mexico named after a game show...

RODGERS: For artists, online concerts can help fill the gaps between regular gigs. Folk-rock songwriter Dan Bern plays Stageit shows when he's at home in L.A. or has downtime on the road.

BERN: You know, I've been touring for so long, and I run myself ragged sometimes going from place to place. And suddenly here's a venue where, in a sense, everybody comes to me. Or I suppose I come to them, too, but without having to put any gas in the car or jump on a plane.

RODGERS: The appeal is the same for fans. Sherry Kennedy often travels a long way from home in Ohio to see Dan Bern and appreciates being able to catch him online.

SHERRY KENNEDY: I love that I don't have to get ready. And I can just cuddle up on my couch with my dog and watch the show with whoever I want to watch it with.


DEVLIN: (Singing) I don't mind...

RODGERS: A laptop concert is an unusual sort of experience. The performer can't see or hear the audience but can read their chat and questions. There's a lag time that makes it tough to have a normal conversation, yet it feels very intimate.


DEVLIN: (Singing) Oh, I, I spy with my little eye...

RODGERS: One of the keys to Stageit and Concert Window is that shows are not recorded. Evan Lowenstein, the founder of Stageit, is clear that he is not in the record business.

EVAN LOWENSTEIN: What we like to say at Stageit is that we are a company in the music space that doesn't sell music. We sell time. And the mere fact that fans know that time is money - they're willing to pay.

RODGERS: In fact, fans seem willing to pay significantly more when it's their own choice. Concert Window used to have a $5 set price for tickets. As soon as the site gave the option to pay what you want, people started paying almost twice as much per ticket. Dan Gurney, a Celtic accordion player, is cofounder of Concert Window.

DAN GURNEY: This is how the music industry is going to grow again. It's through flipping that equation and asking people, how much is music worth to you, and how much you want to support it?


SARAH BAREILLES: (Singing) I'm not going to write you a love song 'cause you asked for it, 'cause you need one, you see. I'm not going to...

RODGERS: It's free to play a show on Concert Window or Stageit. And performers range from little known acts to big names, like Sarah Bareilles or Jimmy Buffett. The sites take about a third of the proceeds from tickets and tips. Stageit makes tipping a bit like a game show. Top tippers win prizes like signed posters or Skype sessions, and super fans often tip hundreds of dollars or more, says Evan Lowenstein.

LOWENSTEIN: You know, the large artists - we've seen people make over $50,000 in 30 minutes just from a laptop. In fact, our biggest show to date is about $66,000. I think that number really started to turn heads in the industry.

RODGERS: At this point, it's hard to say how the emergence of online concerts will affect offline performing. Christine Lavin is one artist who believes they can be complementary.

LAVIN: I don't think that this would ever replace live performing. I think this is just a whole new way to connect us up with people. And my feeling is if people like what they see at these live shows that are on your screen, that if we come to your town, they will come out and see us live, I hope.

RODGERS: As for the Irish singer, Janet Devlin, she's using the money from online concerts to help take her band out on the road. For NPR News, I'm Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers.


DEVLIN: (Singing) It could be wonderful. It could be wonderful.


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