Calgarians who have taken in a concert at a local coffee shop on Stephen Avenue this summer, or caught a live performance while waiting for an airplane, have a local technology company to thank for the experiences.
Even though it provides the infrastructure that a traditional music promoter would, Stagehand describes what it does in terms of Airbnb instead of bookings.
“Where Airbnb you’ve got hosts and you’ve got guests, Stagehand you’ve got venues and you’ve got artists. So Airbnb makes it easy for anybody to behave like a hotel, and Stagehand makes it easy for anybody to behave like a talent booker,” said Derek Manns, Founder and CEO of Stagehand.
Across the city, venues like the Ironwood in Inglewood, music festivals like Country Music Week, and corporate locations like the Plus 15 network have been activated—sometimes hundreds of times—by Stagehand.
“So if I’m a coffee shop, and I’m looking to activate my coffee shop by working with local musicians and hosting a singer-songwriter night, we make it really easy for the musicians to find that coffee shop and be part of the program,” said Manns.
He said that where the platform really gets interesting is when larger corporate venues get involved, like that of the Calgary Airport which has hired musicians over 1,800 times to play the terminals.
“It really changed just the whole experience of being in the airport. You’d come through security, you’re getting your belt back on and your shoes tied up, and then all of a sudden there’s musicians playing.”
“It was very popular, both with the musicians, the staff, and the travellers of course.”
What makes Stagehand different from a booker
Manns said that what makes Stagehand different from a booker, is that Stagehand is simply the infrastructure that allows everyone else to become their own booker.
“We have been sort of forced into that role of playing the role of a booker as people start to really understand it, but we’re now trying to focus more really on the technology, on enabling more and enabling scale by getting other people to be the Booker,” Manns said.
He said that the goal is to play a part in diversifying the local economy, by democratizing what has been a relatively insular industry full of proprietary information.
“Data in this whole industry has tended to be very proprietary. Bookers, a big part of their livelihood, a big part of their value is the proprietary nature of their data. What we’re trying to do is make that less proprietary, so that more people will come into the marketplace,” Manns said.
What Stagehand does is open up that data, he said. Artists can see data about venues, venues can see data about artists, and the data that is collected can be used for purposes that go beyond what a traditional booker could provide.
Manns said that he recently has been having discussions with a local hospital about having artists get involved in music therapy for patients.
“I said to them ‘we’ll run this program in your hospital, and we’ll try it in multiple different locations, but as we do that we’re going to collect data,'” he said.
“We’re going to collect data from the artist, how was your experience with performing in the such-and-such space or performing outdoors at this particular hospital, we’ll collect data from the patients, from the visitors, (and) from the staff.”
He said that data could be then given to researchers to measure the impact that a particular performer could be having on improving the health of patients.
On the government side, he said that organizations like the City of Calgary and Calgary Arts Development are also data-hungry, and Stagehand has helped them with unlocking insights about the arts.
“We want to be a tech platform that opens this industry, that I think you could argue has been relatively proprietary and difficult to access, and in opening that industry create more opportunities for artists and create more vital and vibrant local culture.”
Helping up-and-coming artists
Visitors to the downtown core over the lunch hour on August 18 would have heard the folk-rock sounds of Jason Hofer as he played in the Calgary Downtown Association’s Summer Songs on Stephen Avenue series of concerts.
Hofer’s performance on Friday was his first ever with Stagehand.
“A buddy of mine booked it for me. Actually, he gave me the stagehand account and booked it,” Hofer laughed.
“I’m from Bragg Creek, so unless people are looking in Bragg sometimes you won’t find those artists.”
He described it as a super cool, and easy way to get connected with a venue—and to do a little self-promotion to potential new fans. Hofer is currently working on a new album EXILES that is being released throughout 2023-24.
Manns said that as a platform, Stagehand is really focused on emerging artists and lower-profile artists.
“You’re not going to find Paul Brandt or Jan Arden on Stagehand.”
“These are artists that are up and coming, or to be perfectly frank, struggle to make a living. That really is our target market—and by the way, that’s probably 98 per cent of the artists that are out there,” he said.
He said that one of the goals is to get artists who would have otherwise struggled to get in front of an audience, in front of an audience, and get paid.
“If I’m an emerging artist, maybe I’ll get on there if I’m really good, maybe once a quarter or something like that,” Manns said.
“Where do you get other opportunities to play? It’s like Schwarzenegger says, ‘it’s all about the reps.’ If you’re only playing once a quarter or at these bigger venues, it’s difficult to really develop as an artist.”
He said that they’ve been able to get artists opportunities to play dozens of times at the airport, or a half dozen times on Stephen Avenue, or at other venues like Brookfield Place or Madison’s.
“I won’t suggest that these are equivalent to playing at a bigger theatre and an Arts Commons type stage. But it’s an opportunity to play and an opportunity to grow.”
Returning vibrancy one (hundred) concert(s) at a time
Mark Garner, Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) said that they partnered with Stagehand to put on 200 shows over the summer.
“It adds to the vitality what downtown Calgary needs to be. People that live downtown, the people that work downtown, people that come downtown to play, and obviously, the student population, it’s key to have those types of activations that create the vitality,” Garner said.
“It actually is supporting the sector by giving emerging musicians opportunities to get out and hone their craft.”
He said that coming out of the pandemic, there has been a need to return a certain vibe to the downtown core that has been lost. The CDA is working on returning that feel through things like art installations, digital signage, infographics, and conversations with the community, music also plays a big part, Garner said.
The concerts in particular on the Plus 15 network, he said, activate the food courts for more than just the lunch hour.
“The biggest complaints a lot of people say about downtown is you can’t get a coffee after five in the downtown core. So that’s why we’re doing these types of things that leads into the evening economy, and then feeds into the nighttime economy after that,” Garner said.
Although the smaller venues might not have the cache of an Arts Commons stage, Garner said that they play a very important role in positioning Calgary against other cities.
“We’re competing globally. If you think of just the BMO Center and the expansion of the new convention centre, we’re competing globally now,” he said.
“These types of activations speed and support the entire tourism to make Calgary one of the best destinations globally. We’re opening up to a different market now that Calgary has not been exposed to.
He said that the CDA partnered with Stagehand to showcase Calgary to the global community.
“We all play a role in making sure that tourism is the number one focus, because the economics of tourism is huge—very profound to the overall success of Calgary,” Garner said.
For more information on Stagehand, or to see upcoming shows booked through Stagehand, see www.stagehand.app.