The idea of Mandolin came from one of its founders, Robert Meitus, who is an entertainment attorney and the startup's VP Artist Development, noticing a lack of high-quality audio and video on live streaming platforms. "There was [also] a real gap for venues [and the question of] how do you keep them alive," Larry Murray, Mandolin's Director of Marketing Services, tells me. "At the time, the platforms were [centered] around [people] building their own audience and their own brand. The perspective was different."
Partnering together with High Alpha's venture studio, which assembled a team of professionals including CEO Mary Kay Huse, Mandolin was launched within a few weeks and had its first concert in June 2020. Everything since then, as Larry puts it, was "a mad dash."
"High Alpha specializes in launching companies in the SaaS and tech space, [and knows a lot about] how to build a team and scale the technical experience around an idea."
Unlike many other services, Mandolin partners with not only artists but venues too. The reason behind this decision was inspired by the fact that "venues are the lifeblood of the music business," which have been around as part of the ecosystem of helping emerging musicians grow and develop and give them a place to start.
"It wasn't just the idea that we wanted to [assist] venues [to] continue to thrive, but also this aha moment [that] there is an ability to provide future growth in business," the director says. "This could be a way that extends their reach even when things go back to normal — now you're able to reach people you've never been able to reach before and share some of that communal magic with the rest of the world… and do that at scale."
Mandolin also equips its artists with tools beyond live streaming to guide them in understanding their fans better. What Murray highlights specifically is the customer service, which is there to explain everything from setting up your account to marketing your show. "There are so many platforms where you go in and you're on your own," he adds. Typically, you are assigned a team of four people — an account executive, a marketing team lead, an operations manager that takes care of the technical aspects, and an artists service representative with whom you plan production and creative bundling strategies — that are there for you to reach out to at any given time.
Frankly, half of the questions I asked Larry during our interview could be answered with a simple phrase: quality of the experience. Why would an artist choose Mandolin? Quality of the experience. Why would an average person watch a show on this platform over others? Quality of the experience. What is the company's unique value proposition? You guessed it — quality of the experience. Everything that the High Alpha-backed startup does focuses on how to offer a premium high-end visual and audio event that varies from what you would get have you gone to a live show.
"We're not trying to duplicate a physical show. We're trying to constantly bring a different experience to the table."
That means that the platform isn't competing with in-person concerts or other live streaming services like Twitch. "Twitch brings its own culture, built around free with an option to subscribe or add tips," the director thinks. "It is a lot less [of a] controlled environment: a bunch of people come in and come out that aren't necessarily fans." For the Mandolin team, it's about providing a custom experience while engaging with true fans and building tools that can further enhance these abilities.
As for offline concerts, Larry sees both them and live streaming existing at the same time. "We've always had the mentality that we want venues to get back to work, but even as [they are doing that], no one's got a crystal ball," he elucidates, describing how drastically the culture changed due to Covid. Services like Mandolin have opened up an array of opportunities for both fans, who now have access to more shows than ever (regardless of their geolocation), and artists that can continue to interact with their audience without being burdened by the expenses of a tour.
"I see livestreaming make sense for that family that would love to go to a show but can't get a babysitter, or that immune-compromised person that hasn't ever been able to go to a show, or it just gets really expensive to pay for parking. There's a market there for that."
To say that the High Alpha startup is growing fast would be an understatement: while having 10 shows in the month of August, the number jumped to 150 for December alone. Mandolin is feeling ambitious, and plans to continue diversifying the events and inviting fresh talent. At the same time, the platform is partnering with universities — which are, with thousands of concerts behind their backs, venues too and play a major role in shaping young musicians — including Berklee College of Music and University of Indiana in hopes of cultivating even more collaborations.
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