Jukely: Can the ‘Netflix of Concerts’ Really Disrupt the Live Music Industry?

Picture this scenario: It’s a Tuesday night, and you’re home from work, sitting on the couch, bored out of your mind. Sure, you could pull up your Netflix queue and pick a new cancelled sitcom to binge, but what if you had an on-demand option that actually involved going out? What if you could check out a hot new band as easily as raved-about TV show? Would that be enough to get you off the couch?

Bora Celik, the founder of Jukely, sure hopes so. Jukely is a new live-music-subscription app, the so-called “Netflix of Concerts.” For $25/month, you can go to as many shows as you like (with some strings attached, of course, more on that later), reducing the friction and longterm planning normally associated with going to concerts. Its current incarnation is less than a year old, yet Jukely has a small but passionate membership, and the word of mouth is spreading. Members-only shows, like Courtney Barnett’s recent set at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right, have generated buzz you couldn’t buy if you tried. It almost seems like too good of a deal, which raises the question: is it too good to be true? Can it last? And how does it work?

The Idea

Before coming to New York, Bora Celik used to live in Hartford, Connecticut. He worked as a software engineer by day and a dance music promoter at night. By 2007, he was booking acts like Tiësto and Kaskade at outdoor festivals, promoting his events with a podcast. But it’s tough to promote shows in Connecticut — EDM or otherwise — and Celik encountered a dilemma common among promoters: loads of unsold tickets. “The popular [shows] at the top sell out, but 90 percent don’t sell out,” Celik says. “You have a lot of emerging artists, and a lot of bands trying to introduce themselves. It’s very hard [for bands] to find new fans and build up their fan base.”

It was a solution to that dilemma that Celik took to the startup accelerator program TechStars in 2013. Jukely’s first product was recommendations app, which took data from your music-based accounts such as Soundcloud, Facebook, and Hype Machine, and sent you suggestions for new music. The app would match fans with new shows, but also with each other, encouraging people to discover together (and have a buddy to go to a show with). Promoters loved it because someone was promoting their shows for free, so they started sending Jukely tickets to give away to its users. As a former promoter himself, this seemed a logical progression to Celik.

“You want the place to look full,” he explains. “The party needs to be poppin’. And [the venues] need to make alcohol money.”

Not unlike a restaurant, Celik explains, most promoters don’t make much money on music, the actual product. They make it selling booze: generally, promoters get a percentage of the bar takings, which means that the more drinkers in the room, the better.

But beyond putting more bodies in the room to buy alcohol, promoters can’t risk embarrassing themselves in front of the artist or booking agency, who they need to bring marquee clients back to the club. The recommendations model wasn’t driving ticket sales, though, so Celik pivoted — if he turned the app into a membership and shared the revenue with the promoters, he figured, the result could be a more frictionless business with massive growth potential. As the logic goes, If you’ve already paid for your subscription, you’re more likely to use it.

jukely-claimThe current form of Jukely was tested in New York with 10 venues for a few months at the end of 2014, then expanded to Los Angeles, and then to events in Miami (World Music Conference) and Austin (SXSW). When you sign into the Jukely app, you’re presented with upcoming Jukely shows in your town; swipe down to see more options, and swipe left for a short blurb on the band. Swipe left again for a map of the venue, with nearby food and drink options. The interface is intuitive, but popular shows fill up quickly; fervent Jukely users religiously check the app each morning at 11am, when new shows are added, and at 5pm, when last-minute spots are released.

Born in a tech incubator, the app has sought funding for growth rather than immediate profit, and has so far raised $11.57m. (Some of this has come from “Spotify’s original investors,” says Celik.) Jukely now counts 27 employees, and outside of product/engineering staff, they all have venue or promoter experience. Sarah Weiss, the former head of marketing at Bowery Presents for 12 years, recently signed on as head of marketing. Tom Dunkley, the New York promoter who runs GBH, has also joined.

How It Works

Jukely’s city managers use data and experience to understand the member base in each city, looking at shows that aren’t on Jukely and deciding whether those shows work work for the app. Shows aren’t picked based on any sort of aesthetic choice from the staff. The only question is: Can we fill the room? They use attendance data to identify ascendant artists, or those on a popularity downswing. They’ve built a database with their own data and existing APIs to best connect their members with shows they think they’ll like.

“We just kind of combine the personalities with the data and make those decisions that way,” Celik says. Jukely works with whomever is paying the artist to appear, whether that’s a venue or outside promoter. Now that Jukely is in 17 cities, Celik says he’s getting approached by booking agencies to work as marketing partners as they map out national tours for their artists. Revenue sharing is based on how many people go to a promoter’s show and what the original ticket price was. But even if no one from Jukely goes to a promoter’s show, they’re still entitled to a cut of the shared revenue for that city.

Poster by Damian Correl http://damiencorrell.com
Poster by Damian Correl http://damiencorrell.com

The ultimate goal is to fill empty rooms at more under-the-radar shows, but membership is driven by the exclusive events that they’re able to secure. Hot Chip at Baby’s All Right. Deerhunter/Atlas Sound at Rough Trade… these are the shows that get people talking. Often, getting access to that one hot show can make it feel like the user got their monthly money’s worth in one night. But what about all those shows they’ve still got access to for the rest of the month? Might as well, right?

Without an advertising budget to speak of, Jukely relies entirely on word-of-mouth. At the heart of this are the members-only shows. Of the handful of Jukely users we spoke with, all had been convinced to join the service — either directly or indirectly — by the exclusive members-only shows. These are shows from marquee artists playing spaces more intimate than they’re accustomed to, with tickets only available to Jukely members. But these shows make little financial sense, at least not in isolation. For example, Courtney Barnett sold out Manhattan’s Terminal 5 earlier this year (max capacity: 3,000); just a few months later, she played to a crowd of 280 Jukely members at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right. Rest assured, Barnett wasn’t taking a discount on her guarantee, and no matter how excited they have have been about the show, 280 people can’t drink as much as 3,000.

Even Celik himself told the New York Times earlier this year that the service has made “deals that make no financial sense for us whatsoever.” These shows, though, do have a purpose: Jukely has a sizable marketing budget, but instead of spending money on ads, they take a loss on the exclusive shows. The idea is that this ultimately drives more memberships, which generates more potential revenue. The bulk of the money ends up going to the artists to play killer shows, which ends up pleasing the members. And when the members are happy, they’re going to tell their friends. “When people really care about it, they talk. So it’s not about putting share buttons in your app or anything like that,” Celik explains. “If people really care about it, they’ll take a screenshot and text it to their friends. That’s how it spreads.”

The first question people have, of course, is how much it costs. There are multiple tiers of Jukely membership: Jukely Pass ($25/month), the base membership, lets you claim spots up to two days before shows. (It’s worth noting here that you can only reserve one show at at time, and if you claim a spot but don’t go, Jukely locks you out of reserving another show for 48 hours afterwards.) For an additional $20/month, you can have a +1 for every show you claim. For an additional $10/month, you get Extended View, which allows you to claim shows up to 5 days in advance. And if you buy an annual membership, you save 17% on the monthly price of the Extended View package, plus you get a bonus day, letting you claim shows up to six days in advance.

Whether this is good value or not will of course depend on how many shows you normally go to. If you use the service at least twice a month — just below the 2.5 average that Celik claims from Jukely users — it’s certainly a good deal. Will Oliver, a blogger at weallwantsomeone.org, fits that average, saying he uses it 2-3 times per month. But Oliver says that on the basic Jukely Pass, he found most of the shows he was interested in had sold out (or, more accurately, their Jukely allocation had gone) by the time he found them. “To go to the bigger shows you almost have to upgrade, otherwise you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage,” Oliver says. “Sure, it’s $10 more a month, but at least you have the security of knowing you’re probably going to get into every show you want. If you go to 2-3 shows a month, that can [be] a value of about $60-100.”

Fueling Discovery

Celik is all about the comparison of Jukely and Netflix; unsuprising, as “the Uber of X,” and “the Netflix of X” has become the elevator pitch du-jour. “You’d go see Guardians of the Galaxy at the movie theater,” Celik explains, “But then on a Friday night, [there’s] all these indie flicks on Netflix with all these actors you’ve never heard of. You’d never pay to buy a ticket to go see them, but on Netflix you see it [and think], ‘Why not?’ You’ve paid for it already. It’s a very similar psychology with Jukely.” Celik says they’ve gotten great feedback from left-of-center bookings like the Back To The Future symphony.

The difference, of course, is that you don’t have to travel to use Netflix, and if you’re not feeling that indie flick you’d never heard of after a few minutes, you can easily switch to something else. With Jukely, you can only do one show per night, and while you can release your spot as late as 5pm on the day of the show, you can only hold one spot at a time. Still, the people that use Jukely seem to love it.

J.T. Hill, a blogger who covers music at newmusicmonkey.com, says he uses Jukely even though he’s often guest listed for shows, but finds himself less willing to commit an entire night to an unknown act. “[As] someone who goes to a lot of shows, [I’m] less likely to invest a free night in an unproven (to myself) act,” he says. “I like discovering music live, but typically use the traditional vehicle of showing up early and checking out the openers.”

Nathan Dullnig is a Jukely member living in Dallas who joined after a recommendation from Hill. He already attended concerts regularly; Jukely proved to be a great tool to sate his curiosity about new bands. “Now I can see bands that I have been curious about without having to worry about paying extra money to check them out,” Dullnig explains. “It is a good way to find new artists to see live without have to factor in price.”

Sustainability

Like most VC-funded startups, there’s an emphasis on growth over profit at this stage for Jukely. “We’re not profitable yet, but we can become profitable,” Celik says. “It depends on how fast we want to grow into other cities.” Jukely is currently in 17 cities, and while Celik told Billboard in September that they would slow down expansion, when we spoke, he said he still hopes to expand; first in North America, then Europe, Asia and Australia.

Celik understands that getting the casual music fan out to random shows on a weeknight is a tall order. But he thinks his model of subsidizing hot exclusive shows to drive membership will ultimately encourage that exploration, once users see the world of live music at their fingertips. “What we’re trying to do is to get people to discover artists, but I can’t get you to discover artists now,” Celik admits. “It’s a process. Because the way you’re thinking about it, ‘I want to go see the hot show.’ I’m like, ‘You know what? We’re gonna hook you up, just be patient.’ Over time, we’re just going to inspire you and before you know it, you’re gonna be Indiana Jones.”