As concerts and live events return to the physical world stateside, many in the tech industry have wondered whether some of the pandemic-era opportunities around virtualizing these events are lost for the time being.
San Francisco-based FlyMachine is aiming to seek out the holy grail of the digital music industry, finding a way to capture some of the magic of live concerts and performances in a live-streamed setting. The startup hopes that pandemic era consumer habits around video chat socialization combined with an industry in need of digital diversification can push their flavor of virtual concerts into the lives of music fans.
The startup’s ambitions aren’t cheap, FlyMachine tells TechCrunch it has raised $21 million in investor funding to bankroll its plans. The funding has been led by Greycroft Partners and SignalFire, with additional participation from Primary Venture Partners, Contour Venture Partners, Red Sea Ventures, and Silicon Valley Bank.
The virtual concert industry didn’t have as big of a lockdown moment as some hoped for. Spotify experimented with virtual events. Meanwhile, startups like Wave raised huge bouts of VC funding to turn real performers into digital avatars in a bid to create more digital-native concerts. And while some smaller artists embraced shows over Zoom or worked with startups like Oda who created live concert subscriptions, there were few mainstream hits among bigger acts.
To make FlyMachine’s brand of virtual concerts a thing, the startup isn’t trying to convert potential in-person attendees of a show into virtual participants, instead hoping to create an attractive experience for the folks who would normally have to skip the show. Whether those virtual attendees were too far from a venue, couldn’t get a babysitter for the night, or just aren’t jazzed about a mosh pit scene anymore, FlyMachine is hoping there are enough potential attendees on the bubble to sustain the startup as they try to blur the lines between “a night in and a night out,” CEO Andrew Dreskin says.
The startup’s strategy centers on building up partnerships with name brand concert venues around the US — Bowery Ballroom in New York City, Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, The Crocodile in Seattle, Marathon Music Works in Nashville and Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles, among them — and live-streaming some of the shows at those venues to at-home audiences. FlyMachine’s team has deep roots in the music industry, Dreskin founded Ticketfly (acquired by Pandora) while co-founder Rick Farman is also the co-founder of Superfly which puts on the Bonnaroo and Outside Lands music festivals.
In terms of actual experience — and I had the chance to experience one of the shows before writing this — FlyMachine has done their best to recreate the experience of shouting over the tunes to talk with your buddies nearby. In FlyMachine’s world this is attending the show in a “private room” with your other friends live-streaming in video chat bubbles from their homes. It’s well-done and doesn’t distract too much from the actual concert, but you can adjust the sound levels of your friends and the music when the time calls for it.
FlyMachine’s platform launch earlier this year, arriving as many Americans have been vaccinated and many concert-goers are preparing to return to normal, might have been considered a bit late to the moment, but the founding team sees a long-term opportunity that COVID only further highlighted.
“We weren’t in a mad dash to get the product out the door while people were sequestered in their homes because we knew this would be part of the fabric of society going forward,” Dreskin tells TechCrunch.