Sonicbids, Run by Former Music Talent Agent, Brings Band Gig-Booking Into the Digital Age, Adds San Francisco Presence

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exhibits this sense of activism in his personal life: he started a local support group known as Boston Young Entrepreneurs, chairs Berklee’s Presidential Advisory Council, and sits on the board of Boston World Partnerships, a committee out to attract top global talent to the city.

Sonicbids raised its first institutional funding in 2007, a $4.5 million round led by Edison Venture Fund. And it already had some traction in the marketplace Five years ago, the company received a call out of the blue from Jeep, which was looking to harness music to attract attendees to its annual off-roading event Camp Jeep, Panay says. The automaker used Sonicbids as a platform where customers voted on the band they wanted to play at the event. Two years ago, the company launched a division called Sonicbids Brands, and has run similar contests and promotions with consumer brands out to build better relationships with customers through music, including Zippo (manufacturer of lighters), Virgin Megastore, car maintenance company Midas, and retail giant Gap. The company also powers an indie-band radio station on Delta Air Lines.

“We really see consumer brands as being the new record labels,” Panay says of companies’ roles in sponsoring music tours or serving as a platform for promoting smaller bands. He says the corporations benefit from interacting with bands on Sonicbids, which form a more tightly knit community with their fans than bigger headliners do. “They’re the younger, more passionate, early adopters,” he says. The website now has 245,000 bands and 21,0000 promoters signed up, and booked 71,000 gigs last year. It’s on target to bring in about $10 million in revenue in fiscal year 2011, Panay says.

In the old-world music industry (read: pre-Internet), a talent agency wouldn’t bother booking a band unless it earned upwards of $3,000 at a gig, Panay says. But he views the technological advances over the past decade as making the music business more egalitarian, and creating what he calls “an artistic middle class,” populated by numerous smaller bands. “We see it as a viable growth stream for the business,” he says.

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