How do you turn a hotel bar into the newest hipster hangout?
When the Renaissance Hotels chain wanted to find a way to draw under-30 travelers, it turned to Sonicbids Inc., a Boston tech company with a connection to hundreds of thousands of live music acts across the country. Specialty hotel chains such as Renaissance market themselves as destination hotels by offering events like art exhibits, poolside parties, and live music from emerging bands.
“If the hotel becomes known for finding new talent, that creates buzz,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco. “That makes the hotel more of a sought-after destination, and can help the hotel raise its rates and rent more rooms.”
Enter Sonicbids. With a membership base that includes about 350,000 bands in just about every musical genre, the company has become the hotel chain’s booking agent. So far, Renaissance has used Sonicbids to book about 150 bands at 22 of its properties, including its hotel on the Boston waterfront, relying on its massive database to find bands that will draw a creative, youthful crowd.
“We don’t want to be cookie-cutter,” said Diana Pavlov, who manages special events and marketing for Renaissance. “No wedding band singers, no horrible covers.”
Sonicbids was founded 11 years ago by Panos Panay, its current chief executive and a Berklee College of Music graduate. Panay set out to build an online platform for emerging musicians to promote their music and find places to perform.
For a subscription fee that begins at $7 a month, bands can place an electronic “press kit” on Sonicbids.com, where it can be viewed by club bookers and show promoters. The company has 40 employees and annual revenue of about $10 million, mostly in user fees, Panay said. Last year, Sonicbids was used to book about 100,000 concerts around the world, including the giant annual South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
“The traditional means of music discovery has changed,” Panay said. “The way that bands are connecting with audiences has shifted online.”
Although Sonicbids began as matchmaker between bands and promoters, corporate events represent a growing part of its business.
For example, VF Corp., the maker of Jansport backpacks, used the Sonicbids platform to organize a battle of the bands last year, and the giant beer brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. used it to find acts to perform at a Bud Light music festival.
Sonicbids competes with other online music marketers, including Topspin Media.com, ReverbNation, and OurStage Inc., said Stephanie Kellar, an assistant professor of music business and management at Berklee College of Music. Online services are increasingly being used to “propel unknown artists to stardom,” she said.
The Arlington band McAlister Drive joined Sonicbids three years ago, using its platform to create a digital press kit and market itself to promoters. An alternative rock band, playing a mix of American roots and pop numbers, McAlister Drive performed before about 125 fans in the Capiz Lounge at the Renaissance Hotel in Boston on a Friday night this month.
It was an unusual venue for McAlister Drive, which typically performs at small and mid-size rock venues in Boston and around the country. But a night at the Renaissance can bring in $500, including tips, and attract fans who might not otherwise see the band.
“The great thing about a hotel lounge is that you get hotel guests into your shows,” said Christoph Krey, lead singer and guitarist of the band. “Any venue can be an opportunity.”