The story of Live Nation Labs: how the event giant got its very own startup to prep for music’s future

What do you do when your startup gets acquired, and you find yourself without new challenges? Eric Garland, co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based media intelligence startup BigChampagne, figured out an answer when his company got swooped up by concert promotion and ticketing giant LiveNation in late 2011.
LiveNation (S LYV) bought BigChampange for its media consumption data smarts, which allowed the company to get new insights into where people like what kind of music, and which concerts they’d be wanting to go to. But Garland didn’t just want to integrate the data into LiveNation’s platform, and then wait for his lock-up to come up — which is why he was more than happy when his new boss, LiveNation CEO Michael Rapino, encouraged him to look for new challenges within the company. Garland thought about it, and figured out a mission: make things suck less.
That’s the informal mantra of Live Nation Labs, a startup within a big company that has itself grown from less than 30 to around 100 employees, thanks to some acquisitions as well as smart hires. I got a chance to visit the Labs office last week in Los Angeles, and got a first-hand look at what it means to balance big-company needs with startup-ways of doing things — and how all of this helps to prepare LiveNation for the future of the live entertainment space.

A new audience with access to millions of tracks

The first project of Garland’s Live Nation Labs was to rearchitect LiveNation’s metadata to make searches on its website and within its apps more relevant to users. Then, the team took on those mobile apps, which had been a casualty of the LiveNation-Ticketmaster merger.
“The iOS app was cobwebby, the Android app was virtually unusable,” Garland told me. LiveNation Labs completely revamped both apps, and managed to go from one-star ratings to a solid 4.5 star rating in the App Store.
livenation labsSo what’s next for Live Nation Labs? Garland didn’t want to go into any details about other projects, but it’s clear that the music world is changing, and that companies like Live Nation have to adapt as well to benefit from these changes. One of the most fundamental changes is obviously the move from music ownership to access.
Just years ago, teenagers and music fans in their early twenties would have dozens of CDs, maybe hundreds if they were really dedicated. Today, millions of tracks are at their fingertips on Spotify and YouTube. (S GOOG) “Increasingly, people can be omnivores, and they’re exposed to so much,” said Garland.
The key for a company like LiveNation is to figure out what to offer these omnivores — and Garland argued that it shouldn’t be about discovery. “Kids don’t have a discovery problem,” he said, adding that most youngsters do just fine exploring new music as well as classics. For a lot of these kids, concerts and live experiences have replaced collecting and owning music, and they’re willing to spend more to go to festivals and clubs. “They are in a lot of ways like travelers,” said Garland, and the challenge is to help them to organize the whole experience, and not just the ticket to a festival hundreds of miles away.

What if you don’t go to concerts at all?

People over 30, on the other hand, just aren’t in their discovery phase anymore, Garland added. “We have an awareness problem, not a discovery problem,” he said. Folks with jobs, families and limited time on their hands don’t want to constantly check out new bands — but they’re still bummed if they are missing out on a concert of that one band they’ve been a fan of for a decade.
Of course, there are also those in the 30-and-over crowd that just don’t go to concerts at all anymore, but still pay more attention to music than generations before them thanks to the internet. A number of startups are trying to solve that issue by offering virtual concerts — live streams that are more immersive, and intimate, than a plain old webcast. I quizzed Garland about this, and he said that LiveNation is definitely interested, which was one reason the company launched its live music cooperation with Yahoo, streaming one concert a day for a whole year. “We wanted to learn a lot,” he said.
Of course, those concerts are free. So how do you get people to pay? “Interactivity is key,” mused Garland. He added that no one has really cracked this proposition yet — but admitted that his team is paying close attention to startups that are trying. Garland didn’t elaborate any further — but I wouldn’t be too surprised if LiveNation would one day promote and sell virtual events as well.
And if it does, Live Nation Labs will be the folks that make those virtual events suck less.
Image courtesy of Flickr user humbert15.