Tehee: Time for RABBL-rousing in live music

April 9, 2014 

In case you haven't noticed, this is a grand time to be a consumer of entertainment. Thanks to social media, streaming and on-demand services, we have more access, more choices and more say in the types of entertainment that gets produced.

It's a big change from the old top-down system.

"That's changed in books. That's changed in radio. That's changed in television. But guess where it hasn't changed?" says Wade Lagrone, CEO and co-founder of the Bay Area crowd-funding service RABBL.

It hasn't changed for the live music industry, whose business model is weighed down by monetary risk.

RABBL looks to mitigate that risk, by allowing artists to create a potential show (called a Rabbl) and have fans reserve tickets with a credit card in advance. If enough tickets are reserved to meet the artist's goal, the show gets booked. If not, the whole thing resets. No harm, no foul.

RABBL takes cues from sites like Kickstarter, which allow users to create campaigns and raise money to fund projects via crowdsourcing — the buzz word for the collective pooling of resources, usually money and usually done online.

This crowdsourcing phenomenon creates a direct link between consumers and producers. Remember indie-film actor and director Zach Braff, who successfully funded a $2 million film in two days with no help from the major movie studios? Or Rob Thomas' just-released "Veronica Mars" movie, which was funded and produced in much the same way?

So, RABBL is not just for bands, though more than 700 artists have used the site since it went up last year. It creates a complete "social booking platform" that is designed to serve bands, venues, managers, promoters and fans — anyone with a stake in the live-music scene.

"We want to make the whole live music business better off," Lagrone says.

Venues could partner with the company to host bands that have met their RABBL requirements. Thirteen venues across the country already have, but none in Fresno. The company just raised $775,000 in investments to expand RABBL's platform to allow fans the ability to request bands play in their area.

Now, that would be revolutionary.

Lagrone grew up in a small town where his entertainment options, especially when it came to touring bands, were limited.

"There was no human way any of the bands I liked would come anywhere close to where I lived," he says.

If he was lucky, a band might come to Atlanta, which was an hour away. With RABBL, he could lobby those bands to come to his town and have a system to prove it would be worthwhile.

Like most crowdsourcing services, RABBL seems best suited to the underground — a high-tech version of the resource guides that were popular with touring bands through the '90s.

The tools to make something like this happen — the ability to take and hold credit card information without making a charge and the ability to connect to social media platforms like Facebook — are fairly new, Lagrone says.

Suddenly, the fans become the center of the business, he says: "As a side effect, more music will happen."

This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Instagram and Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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