Even 15 years ago, James Wasem and David Boone believed that musicians should be able to make a living on music alone. The two childhood friends grew up in Seeley Lake, started a band called Faucet when they were teenagers and, at 18, left the small town for Spokane, determined to make it work. But figuring out how to tour and market a band and end up with some money at the end continued to elude them.
“Our experience on the road was feeling like as independent artists you’re the last one to get paid,” Wasem says. “There are so many expenses. And that’s the way it is with a lot of independent business owners in the arts community. There seems to be this notion that it’s all about the art. But it ends up being all about who can make the money off of the artists’ work.” He pauses, catching himself. “I guess that’s the negative view.”
For Wasem and Boone, the positive view is that you can change the rules of the game. The friends recently started a new project with the goal of getting more money back into the hands of the artist. It’s an entirely different tack than what they’ve done before, an Internet startup called Gigee (as in “gig-y”) that allows musicians and other people to go into the website, set up an event and live stream their performances for online audiences. Members buy tickets to watch the show from the comfort of their home and the musician makes 80 percent of the ticket fees (the other 20 percent goes to Gigee to cover streaming bandwidth, site hosting, authentication and financial transactions). Because Boone and Wasem are adamant that what musicians do is worth something, they have a minimum ticket price of $3 (with few exceptions), and the number of tickets an artist wants to sell can range from 10 to 200.
Wasem knows what you’re thinking: Why would you ever pay money to watch a concert on your computer screen? This has been one of the biggest questions Gigee has encountered. The idea, though, is to connect with fans who wouldn’t go to the live show anyway. They might live too far away. They might be housebound with kids or they’re too young to get into a bar venue, too old to go to a 10 p.m. show or just too lazy to leave the couch.
“It’s never going to be a replacement for the live in-person, bass hitting you in the chest experience,” Wasem says. “There’s nothing that’s going to replace that and there should never be anything that replaces that, even if we get to the point of going totally virtual reality with it. You can have more kinetic interaction, great, but it’s still not going to be the same thing.”
Since September, the Gigee founders have been in beta and development to test the potential benefits of the service. Gigee began with a vision about how artists could reach wider audiences, but the service goes beyond that. If you’re a fitness instructor, for instance, you could produce a live streaming yoga class. A nonprofit could offer a live feed into a benefit concert (with the opportunity to contribute online) for those not able to make it in person. A food fanatic could teach a cooking class. So far, Gigee has streamed about 40 events, some from Missoula.
One of Wasem’s favorites was when a singer-songwriter produced a live stream from his backyard. He had a small group of in-person friends hanging out on lounge chairs, but the majority of viewers were online. Another musician did a show from his living room in front of a roaring fire, though Wasem had to get him to tone down his strobe lights and fog machine—the camera’s focus and lighting couldn’t handle it. Wasem is still ironing out those glitches. But conceivably, with even just a cellphone, an artist could put on a show from a front porch or at the top of Waterworks Hill or on a beach.
Still, there are ongoing barriers Wasem and Boone have to tackle. Besides trying to change perceptions about the online concert experience, Gigee also has the challenge of trying to bridge the technology gap. A basic amount of technology knowledge is required for artists or venues to set up their own streaming. And once they are streaming, Gigee users have to remember to engage their online viewers.
“You don’t want to feel like you’re in the nosebleeds, you don’t want to be a fly on the wall,” Wasem says. “It involves some simple things that are super critical, like lighting your space right or setting your backdrop properly or giving shout-outs to your online audience.”
This week Missoula Community Access Television is producing a concert at Stage 112, a four-camera event with interspersed band interviews, and Gigee will be live-streaming the show for online audiences. It’s a chance to change hearts and minds and introduce this new service to Wasem and Boone’s old stomping ground—for free.
“The goal is to set a benchmark for what’s possible in Missoula’s music scene specifically using the technology and venues that are already here with local resources,” Wasem says. “We want to provide a real life local case study of how this new media can be successful.”
MCAT presents a concert with The Hasslers, Hunter and the Gatherers, Comatose Smile and BOYS Sat., May 24, at Stage 112 at 10 PM. Free. Stream it online at gigee.me.