Phil Harrington 2 – Youbloom Begins and Youbloom Now
Phil Harrington: The original idea behind Youbloom which was launched in 2009 didn’t take off.
Tea Deviant: Why do you think that was?
PH: It was because it wasn’t focused enough yet. Secondly I didn’t really know enough about the music business at that stage. Also, I didn’t know enough about software. However, I managed to keep it going because of the fact people had ownership in it. People kept it going. They worked for sweat equity. Somebody said, “Could we have a song contest?” I was like, “Well I’m not into song contests myself, but sure let’s put one on the homepage.” It took off.
I was at the time talking to an investment bank in London. They were into it and they loved the fact that Bob Geldof was involved. The CEO, who I’m very good friends with now, an amazing man, he came to the Youbloom team get together in London and in Dublin. After that I was like, “Well, if there was any chance of us getting money off these guys it’s over now” (laughs) The guy called me the next day and he was like, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but there’s something going on and we’re going to give you the money.”
TD: You didn’t think you were going to get it?
PH: Yeah. After he said, “That was a very unusual meeting.”
TD: Clearly he didn’t think unusual was a bad thing.
PH: An amazing visionary man. So we turned on a dime and we turned the weekly song contest into an annual song contest. I went to Bob and I said, “Will you be the lead judge?” Then he brought in Rupert Hine, a big UK producer and Nigel Grainge who was the guy who signed Sinead O’Conner, The [Boomtown] Rats, Thin Lizzy and loads of other bands. He sadly passed away last summer. He was our first keynote speaker of Youbloom LA. He was very into alternative medicines and so on. We were very good friends. So we got lucky with the banker in London. Who would have believed?
TD: When was that?
PH: That was in 2010.
TD: So 2009 the initial seed idea and by 2010 you actually started to get some momentum.
PH: Yeah. Straight away when the annual song contest launched it took off.
TD: And the banker gave you the seed money to grow.
PH: Exactly, yes. Then a guy in London came on board, working for sweat equity, and he started to do gigs.
TD: Was he a promoter?
PH: Yeah, a promoter. Then as well, Nigel Grainge started to listen to all of the music being submitted not just the winning songs. Those years we got several thousand artists who submitted their songs and over 100,000 people voted.
TD: So it’s supportive of people who write their own music. It’s giving the songwriter a chance to be heard. It’s giving the performer a chance to be heard. If they are one and the same, boom they have an opportunity to be heard by people who are actually in the industry?
PH: That’s right. Connections happened out of that. Then a man in Dublin, who was an investor, came to the gigs in London. He loved the gigs so much. He said, “What about bringing these bits together in the form of a mini South by Southwest (SXSW) type of event?” I was like, “Yeah that sounds like that would be great to do.” He said, “I think maybe we could get some money from the city of Dublin to sponsor this, to get it started.” So I put a powerpoint together and I presented it and they said “Yeah, we’ll support it.” So in May 2012, after they had said yes, I went to Dublin. I based myself in Ireland, a year in Dublin a year in Belfast, working on the first two Youbloom Dublins which is a combination of the gigs, showcase and the conference or summit as we came to call it later. I was like, well I could do one in LA and then I could go home and see my kids. I had been living here [LA] since 1996. I had lots of connections and there were people involved here as well who were shareholders as well as in Ireland.
After the first Youbloom Dublin we did focus groups to talk to the artists and I told the story like I just told to you. A man whose band played at Youbloom Dublin who was a software developer as well, he sent me an email and we got talking. As a result of that the original concept was redeveloped as what is now called Youbloom Connect. Youbloom Connect is Airbnb comes to LiveNation. Inside there is fan crowd sourcing for artists to come and play for them; there’s artists partnering and co-marketing with eachother
TD: So it will be an artist in one town partnering with an artist in another area so that they can take their two areas and harness them for each other’s benefit?
PH: Yes. Bands do that all the time. The software is doing that the same way people have always done that in the context of dating, but a dating site turns it into something more expansive. You can meet more people. So it’s the same idea.
TD: Dating for bands! (laughs)
PH: It is. It’s dating for bands. Then they’re the hosts who see what’s going on and they can jump in and say “I want to host these bands with these fans.”
TD: It can be any kind of venue as long as the host is up for it, right?
TD: So the host is basically opening up their space to bring in these two bands…
PH: …or five or whatever it is
TD: ...and the fans of those bands who are also being connected with the software…
PH: …they’ve committed to buy the tickets in advance and the host sees that.
TD: So the fans request first.
PH: Yes. The fans request, the partnering with the artists takes place and then the host sees the mix of that to where they say “I’ll do it.”
TD: And the funds get split
PH: According to the settings they picked.
TD: So they can create the split amongst themselves, the host and the bands. There is freedom for them to decide based on what they think the draw will be?
PH: Yes, but even more important than that is the fan experience. If you take Airbnb for example, people have always done Bed & Breakfasts, but what is it about Airbnb? It’s the experience, how easy it is to see the places and when you do book a place it’s talking to you all the way to where you get to the place. It’s managing your experience. There are millions of people who come to LA every year. If they want to go and check out below the top level music in price and notoriety it’s actually very difficult to figure it out and get to those gigs. If you’re just an ordinary person coming say from London and you’re into live music you don’t have that controlled experience. You don’t even know where you’re going.
TD: It’s a crap shoot.
PH: It’s kind of a crap shoot. Whereas if it was very easy our belief is that many more people would do that. At the level below the top level it’s very hit and miss.
TD: Discovering new music?
PH: Yes. It’s very hit and miss.
TD: How is it different from something like Bands In Town?
PH: Bands in Town is more oriented to the bigger artists, secondly it’s more telling you who the bands are. It doesn’t get you from your seat to the gig. So this man Neil Buckley in Dublin, the software developer, has been working with me and with other members of the Youbloom team for the past few years. We started accepting sign ups. The original promoter we worked with in London, his name is Mickey P., he started his own festival. It’s in Notting Hill. He calls it Portobello Live.
TD: Are you interconnected with that?
PH: We made a partnership with him where the bands that apply to his event go into Youbloom Connect and he gets to give those bands an opportunity of more gigs as well as playing in his festival. Our goal is to make partnerships with many more festivals. Youbloom Dublin and Youbloom LA we hope will end up being the annual regional community events: Dublin for Europe and LA for North America.
TD: For the bands who are going for example from America to Dublin, Ireland/British Isles to America or from any other country do they have any visa issues doing this kind of festival?
PH: Not going to Europe it’s not a problem. Certainly showcasing it’s not a problem. In the US if you’re coming to showcase and you’re not getting paid we don’t give advice on it because it’s not 100% clear. We know that bands do it and they even tell the immigration guys “I’m just coming in to do a showcase gig,” and they’re like, “No problem.”
If you’re going to go on a tour that comes out of Youbloom Connect it’s a different thing. Now you definitely have to have a visa. It’s the same way as if you’re a business and you come to America to do a trade show you don’t have to get a visa to do a trade show. You’re not setting up in business you’re coming to promote your business. So from what we can tell that’s ok.
So all things going well and Connect growing around the world then Youbloom Dublin will be the annual European get together of artists, fans, promoters, music industry where they get together to network, do business and learn once a year. Our hope is that Youbloom Connect will grow to being gigs all over the world every night and then we would potentially have annual regional events in another three, four or five cities like Sydney or Singapore or Moscow or whatever it is that could cover regions.
TD: So that’s the goal for where [Youbloom] is headed?
PH: Yeah. So it’s come back around to the original idea. We have relationships with thousands of artists and we know all these other festivals like ourselves. You get to know them being in the business. It’s like a community.
TD: Like Reading?
PH: No Reading is like Glastonbury, more a consumer one. Then you have ones like SXSW, The Great Escape, Eurosonic, Reeeperbahn, Canadian Music Week – they’re more for new emerging independent bands coming up and people who love new music. Like people who go to Austin for SXSW they love to discover new music that’s not yet been discovered.
TD: So that’s an opportunity for industry and the artists and the fans to come together so that these artists can move to becoming a part of the bigger festivals like Glanstonbury, Reading, Download.
PH: Exactly. We’ve had artists that have come through the song contest, through Dublin and LA who have now played Glastonbury and so on. They’ve gone up through the system. So the network is opening up now. We just agreed to showcase Irish bands in a huge show called Musikmesse Frankfurt in April. So the network is opening up now and Connect is the infrastructure underneath it.
TD: So how do bands become a part of Youbloom Connect to submit for the yearly festivals in Dublin and LA or to connect with hosts and fans to make their own tours and shows?
PH: So when they apply to play at Youbloom Dublin or Youbloom LA then they go into Connect automatically.
TD: So it’s www.youbloom.com for all of it?
PH: Yes. You can also just sign up to be in Youbloom Connect by itself. On top of that through the partnerships like the one just starting with Portobello Live you have artists coming in through other festivals. Our goal is to form partnerships with as many of those other festivals in Europe, the US and all over the world that will attract artists into Youbloom Connect.
TD: Those artists then because of Youbloom Connect become interconnected with those festivals?
TD: Is there any information for artists who are trying to navigate this whole new world of trying to promote themselves and staying financially viable while doing free shows to get seen by A&R/Industry? Does Youbloom offer anything like that?
PH: Where we have information like that is on the blog. The workshops in the [yearly] summits are primarily all about how to make a living. The music business has its own language so we try to have the artists learn that language. For example we have workshops on all the different rights of a song - there are potentially hundreds of different rights within one song; how to make money playing live; how to make money from placing your music in film & TV, and so on.
TD: Are any of the seminars you have already had through the summits that have already occurred available in video or audio format form online?
PH: No. For a number of years we did interview the speakers and we had a 60 seconds of wisdom. Of course we would love to be doing all these things. We did research doing learning courses but we focused in on the live side. As that grows we can do more and more things.
The vision is more and more music for more and more fans more and more artists more and more venues. The number of people that fly is colossal in Europe. We’re hoping that Youbloom will be part of that movement for music below the top level.
TD: It’s a little different now from what I understand. When I had interviewed Andy Gould (a speaker for Youbloom LA 2017) he had talked about sometimes back in the day a band could be signed before they had even played a gig. Then they’d have the seed money to begin giving them some kind of boost to get over the first few hurdles. Whereas now it seems more often expected that the new band is doing all that on their own before they would get signed.
Youbloom Dublin and Youbloom LA type of events are inherently charitable events not viable events. We’ve doing those on total bootstraps, totally passionate, committed people, lots of volunteers because there’s hardly any revenues in it. It’s a labor of love. Youbloom Connect has the model potentially to be a successful business and now you have the opportunity to do more creative things because you have the money.
Youbloom Dublin is the 30th May – 4th June (2018) where for 5 days we do gigs and showcase artists at an event, funnily enough called Bloom, Irelands’s biggest lifestyle festival that started as an arts and crafts horticultural festival. We program the main stage. On the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights we have the gigs in the city center in a bunch of venues. Then we have the summit on two days in the city center.
TD: So for bands, fans and potential hosts they can go to youbloom.com to explore the Connect model.
PH: The homepage explains the whole concept and there are three videos: how it works for fans, how it works for artists, and how it works for hosts.
TD: Very cool. Some information for new bands and new artist to launch their careers. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Youbloom Dublin is currently accepting band submissions until February 19th, 2018 http://www.youbloom.com/youbloomdublin-2018/
More Tea & Music posts are to come. For previous interviews and music entries click here
-by Cassandra Vincent