- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO (Agence France-Presse) - British Internet start-up Songkick bowed Wednesday with a vow to inspire digital-age music lovers to reclaim the joy of hearing bands play live in real-world venues.

The London-based Web site debuts with a free online service that matches people’s tastes in music with the schedules of bands performing in the United States or United Kingdom.

“It’s all about changing the way people think about Friday night,” Songkick co-founder Ian Hogarth told AFP during an interview in San Francisco.

“The music industry isn’t dying; it is just moving to live. People really value that real-world experience. We are focused on using the Web to make people get off the Web and in front of a band.”

Songkick’s goal is to make it as simple to find live music as it is to find out which movies are playing at local theaters.

“I was with a musician friend sharing frustration about how he tours so much and how hard it is making money; then [I] quit my job the next day,” Mr. Hogarth says of the inspiration for Songkick.

“I was about to turn 25 and frustrated I hadn’t started anything yet. I lived for a while in Silicon Valley, and everyone here seems to be doing things by the time they are 19.”

He went to work on Songkick in February 2007.

Mr. Hogarth, who has a graduate degree in machine language from Cambridge University, teamed with best friend and Cambridge law student Pete Smith and magazine editor Michelle You to fill what they saw as an empty niche.

“My co-founders and I lived abroad, and the Internet became our source of music, but there was nothing on live music,” Mr. Hogarth says.

“It was very frustrating. We are the kind of people who like to go to concerts at least once a week.”

Songkick struck alliances with all major concert ticket vendors in the United States and United Kingdom, compiling a database of scheduled performances and getting fees for each customer sent the vendors’ way.

Songkick uses “semantic Web” software to scan the Internet for references to bands in blogs, social-networking pages and other online commentary.

The program uses artificial intelligence to learn of gigs and whether bands appeal to similar audiences.

For example, if a blogger likens the band Linkin Park to Limp Bizkit, the software notes that for future recommendations to Songkick users who enjoy either of the groups.

“It turns anyone writing about the music they love into a human recommendation service, automatically,” Mr. Hogarth says.

“It makes the process of discovering live music ubiquitous and simple.”

Songkick can scan digital music libraries in users’ computers to search for bands performing locally and suggest other shows.

Songkick also lets people search by band names and provides feedback about other performances they might like.

The Web site co-opts music bloggers directly with Bandsense, an algorithm that automatically turns concert references in postings into links for online ticket purchases, with bloggers getting commissions for ticket sales.

Industry statistics indicate that as music CD sales are dropping, digital song sales are thriving and artists are earning most of their money from live tours.

“The music industry is booming in a space people aren’t addressing online,” Mr. Hogarth says. “You are seeing the industry return to what existed before — live music is where you make your money.”

Industry figures estimate the U.S. concert market in 2007 was just shy of $4 billion.

Meanwhile, there are millions of bands with profiles on the social-networking Web site MySpace, but no contracts with recording studios.

“We are coming at an unusual time in the industry,” Mr. Hogarth says. “Songkick is very much an automated version of that friend of yours [who] always tells you about concerts.”

Songkick announced Wednesday it is getting new backing from U.S. and U.K. “angels,” including Ticketweb co-founder Dan Porter and Index Ventures, which funded Last.FM, a hot music radio firm.

“Live music is the fastest-growing segment of an industry facing massive shifts in consumer behavior,” says Index partner Saul Klein.

“Concerts are loved by fans, critical for artists to build a loyal base and increasingly interesting as a revenue stream for labels.”

Songkick hopes to expand internationally as quickly as possible.

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