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“We want to be Spotify for gigging musicians”: How GigPig is transforming the live music scene

GigPig founders

As venues across the hospitality industry were forced to pull down the shutters and musical instruments were left gathering dust in cupboards, Covid restrictions left many across the industry reeling. But Manchester-based GigPig, a new live music management and booking platform, is on a mission to revive the industry. 

Aiming to connect venues with musicians, GigPig supports venues to boost footfall by booking artists and empowers musicians with a platform to earn a living gigging. It’s now more important than ever as another threat to the industry is on the horizon: the cost-of-living crisis. 

“Prior to the pandemic, there were around 70,000 gigging musicians in the UK. Post-pandemic there are just under 47,000. That is 23,000 musicians lost to the industry,” Michael Forster, CEO and co-founder of GigPig, told Prolific North.

“We are trying to build this platform for them to come back. Because this is what they do. This is what they love.”

Following a successful pilot since launching just three months ago, hundreds of restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs have already signed up in Manchester from large multi-chain venues to smaller, independent venues such as Mission Mars, Arc Inspirations, NQ64 and Jimmy’s Manchester.

Overall, he said there are now nearly 2,000 artists and over 200 venues signed up to the platform, with the wheels already in motion for GigPig to launch in 10 more cities across the UK, including Leeds and Liverpool.

The rapid growth has been driven by a mission to support the industry with rising operational costs and to ensure other emerging competitors do not fracture an already fragile market where artists have already been “hurt and abused” by agents and venues over the years.

“We found that there were other competitors doing a version of what we wanted to do. So we decided to launch it and quietly pick up key accounts in the North West,” he explained. 

Alongside his co-founders Andrew Garner, Kit Muir-Rogers and Ed Francis, he’s keen to point out they have a shared passion for nurturing those in the industry through their own experiences. 

“These new players in town are not necessarily from the same space as we are, which is the hospitality and music industry, they are from tech. My concern was they were going to break the marketplace before we even got going.

“Without the artist, none of this exists. There’s no Spotify, there are no venues, no clubs, no music, no dancing, no books, no TV. There’s nothing without the artists and they have to be front and centre of every single conversation that we have.”

Removing barriers and how the platform works

With a mission to “democratise the hospitality industry” by creating better opportunities for both venues and artists, how does it all work?

For venues, the platform plugs into its operations, finance and marketing departments and enables them to book musicians directly without dealing with third-party booking agents and the high fees that come with them. The vision is to tackle the “last wild west of the hospitality business”, by removing barriers to the marketplace and automating the invoice process too.

Marcela Laskoski / Unsplash
Marcela Laskoski / Unsplash

“You get into a repeat of artists through the door and it doesn’t exactly inspire clients to come to the venue because it’s the same thing time and time again. So for venues, we open up that marketplace for a vastly reduced figure.

“The venues love it, we’re doing exactly what they do now with greater access to artists for a cheaper price and we make the process way more streamlined for them.”

By using the platform, venues can tap into a wider artist market and make use of data and insights to boost footfall on certain nights – whether it might be a new jazz band on a Friday night or a DJ set on a Saturday. 

Unshackling both artists and venues from costly third-party agent booking fees, he hopes, will transform the hospitality industry for the better. 

“We can save the venue between 60% and 90% of what they’re paying now. We’re not changing what they do but we save them thousands because we’re getting rid of that.”

“We want to enable more and more musicians to gig as much as they can”

For musicians, it’s free to sign up to the platform. With automated accountancy tools to handle invoicing and payments as well as being able to control when and where they want to play, the platform is designed to empower musicians.

“We want to enable more and more musicians to gig as much as they possibly can and make money solely from gigging,” he emphasised. “I want us to be the Spotify for a gigging musician. I want to be a global brand, where artists can continue gigging around the world.”

Once an artist signs up, they create a music profile by uploading a profile picture, any video or audio content, listings of previous gigs and song lists to increase visibility on the platform.

“It’s really up to the artist to make sure that the profile is complete,” he explained. “Most venues want to see a fully completed profile so it’s in the artist’s benefit to do so. But it’s amazing how many artists are behind the curve with that!” 

How GigPig works

Following the pandemic and the spiralling cost of living crisis, he hopes GigPig can attract more musicians back to doing what they love most.

“They found other jobs where they have more security following the pandemic. You don’t become a musician because you think you’re going to make an absolute fortune from it. That’s that’s the dream… but you’re born into it. 

“To be driving for Amazon, there’s nothing wrong with that, but doing other jobs outside of the music industry is such a waste of their talent and they will be frustrated. So we want to bring them back, show them that there is another way and there are more gigs available.”

Last Friday marked the launch of GigPig’s new weekly event with Reform Radio held at Neon Tiger on Bridge Street in Manchester, signalling another move by the platform to showcase homegrown artists and up-and-coming venues across the city.

Musical roots and the future

Although GigPig launched earlier this year, the idea has been in the works for a while. 

Inspired by his father’s musical past and his own passion for singing, Forster kick-started his career in the music industry more than 30 years ago and launched his own music agency AMV Live in 2010 with Andrew Garner, who he describes as the “most talented musician” he’s ever met.

“The music agency was doing really well, then the pandemic came. Business stopped a week before the lockdown for us, because all the venues started cancelling all their bookings straightaway.”

Chris Ainsworth / Unsplash
Chris Ainsworth / Unsplash

Fortunately, around 2012 he had already started developing a bespoke booking system, fusing his industry knowledge from dabbling across working in management and the agent world. 

Spending hours rearranging gigs, weddings and corporate events during the pandemic, it was only made possible through the booking system. When one of the company’s biggest clients wanted to take bookings in-house using the system and license it from them, it sparked the creation of GigPig.

“After the second lockdown I just thought: ‘Everybody hates agents, venues hate agents, artists hate agents, they are so mistrusted. Why don’t we just give them what they want?’ So we decided to take our system, completely rebuild it, rebrand it and call it GigPig.”

Fellow co-founder Ed Francis helped to create the platform and the addition of Kit Muir-Rogers added another musical string to the founding team. Muir-Rogers, who Forster initially met when he used to run his local pub in the North East aged just 21, was also previously a gigging musician and DJ before running his own booking business.

With musical roots flowing through the foundations of the company, it’s clear how passionate Forster is about transforming the industry for the better with musicians in mind.

“We’re not an agency, we are a portal. We are trying to achieve something that hasn’t been done. We’re effectively trying to change the artists’ market and create a whole brand new artist economy.”

With a growing team of around 13 staff, alongside the recent hire of The Manc’s former Managing Director Anna Gledson as Chief Marketing Officer, there’s no sign of GigPig slowing down.

As well as building out a marketing strategy to attract even more artists and venues in future, the company’s new field sales team will head city to city and introduce themselves to every music venue, pub or club that might offer live music. 

Alongside boosting its presence across the UK, the platform is also in the process of extending its footprint in Europe across Berlin, Barcelona, Lisbon, Dublin and Ibiza which will drive GigPig forwards “very quickly to the next stage”.

“In my previous life as a manager, I did 200 gigs a year playing to nearly a million people through two feature films and world tours all over the place. This has been the most exciting three months of my life, without a doubt.”

Already securing a seven-figure pre-seed investment earlier this year, GigPig is currently raising for another seed round and was recently named one of Prolific North’s Tech 25 Companies to Watch in the North.

“We’re constantly messaging artists saying be patient, the future is coming,” he said. “We’re making a lot of noise.”

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