Fabrice Sergent is the Founder and CEO of Cellfish, a leading digital publisher of innovative mobile content and applications. Especially music and live concert apps are an important part to Cellfish’s profile, not least because Fabrice is a music lover himself. Find out more about the man behind the business in this exclusive interview for DLD.
Cellfish was founded ten years ago in 2014 just like DLD. What are some of your milestones of that decade?
It’s great to be a teenager! (laughs) We’ve gone through a lot of transformation in the past 10 years but the fundamentals of why we created this company have come true. Since our early beginnings, we have been investing in mobile and social entertainment for music fans with initiatives such as BlingTones or more recently Bandsintown, which rapidly became the largest concert discovery app in America. Even though record sales have declined over the last few years, we believe interest for music has never been stronger than it is today – where music fans can watch, listen and explore music on more devices than ever before. As for our company milestones, there have been many. From our successful acquisitions of Airborne Studios in 2010, Bandsintown in 2011 and ToneMedia this past year, to the expansion of our team to 240 staffers around the world to our diversified business model that enables us to reach 150 million music, sports and entertainment fans. The past 10 years have been very exciting and I look forward to the next 10 years.
Bandsintown is looking to reach a global audience. Which countries are the most interesting markets for you and why?
Bandsintown reaches a global audience in 210 countries – we’re the leading concert discovery app on iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle and Facebook. The majority of our users are in America, followed closely by the UK, Germany and then France. In terms of cities, London is our largest city outside of the U.S., which makes sense given the city’s musical roots. We hope to be even more relevant not only in these countries but also in Asia and Latin America, where we see the concert activities booming.
Bandsintown also works with a lot of Big Data. Can you see the trends in how music is being consumed?
We see trends in music consumption at Bandsintown but also through ToneMedia, our music ad platform. ToneMedia reaches 120 million music fans per month and with that combined data, we see trends quite clearly. For example, you no longer need to purchase an album when you can stream pretty much anything you want on Spotify for $10/month. Fans don’t need to carry their music collection around with them, they can stream it via Wi-Fi directly from the cloud. In the last five years in the U.S., the live music industry grey by 50 percent, which shows that even in times of economic downturn, the live concert experience is irreplaceable for most people. And that’s a global phenomenon because the balance between digital and physical is merging. The fact that the rise of digital and social networks came at the same time as a boom in live music is very good news – especially for Bandsintown. We may operate in the digital space but our purpose is for you to get out and meet others in real life, through music.
What is your interest in music? Is it purely professional or are you a musician at heart?
Cellfish has always been very involved in music. Me and my cofounder, Julien Mitelberg, are large electronic music fans, always have been. I also like jazz. That’s one of the reasons why our company is focusing on music fans today. I believe you have to be passionate as an entrepreneur about what you do. It increases your energy levels.
Can you share your thoughts on how music is becoming more important in the advertising and branding industry?
It’s our belief that artists are becoming more and more the media, or a medium, themselves. Artists use social media and multiplatform publishing to promote themselves and reach their fans – it’s a direct one-to-one communication. Many managed to build a real fan following through social media and that’s where brands have a great opportunity. There has never been as much content creation around music as today. I think because artists touch people on a deeply personal level they can allow brands to attach themselves to that connection. So brands can really go much further – beyond the traditional endorsement of, for example being visible in the concert venue, they can really be part of the artist and their output and the dialogue with the fans.
Do you think that the branding industry will have an increasing influence on how the artists create their image? Or do you think the artist will be the trendsetters and brands will follow?
Just as artists discovered that selling records will not sustain their lifestyle, they also discovered that touring is the best way to make money in this industry. Now artists are learning that brands are just another source of revenue for them, as we see in sports between athletes and brands. However, you have to be more creative in the music business. It really is about letting the artist be who they are and let them create their image and make the authentic connection with the fans. The big three labels (Sony, Universal and Warner) have had to narrow their strategy and eliminate risks when it comes to investing in artists – investing only in marketing clones with mass appeal and large sales potential. This opens the playing field for new and emerging talent who take risks, brand themselves and create a niche (like Lady Gaga), which any brand can tap into. It comes down to investment and risk; how much is your brand willing to put in and how much risk are you willing to take, when marrying your brand to a rising star?
So you think that social and mobile can save the music industry?
Definitely! If artists continue to use the social networks as they are now, I can see a renaissance coming out of this. We add about 2,000 new artists every week to our Bandsintown platform and 60% of all artists in America are using Bandsintown to market their tour dates online. Since touring is the main way for artists to make a living, and it’s their passion, they need these new channels of communication and platforms to make that work.
What was the last gig you went to?
The last concert was by a small band that we discovered through Bandsintown, who played our holiday party in NYC. They are called City Of The Sun and their sound is very eclectic – indie, folk and rock. They’re a really energizing band live!
What do you hope the next ten years will bring to the music and branding industry?
Our vision at Bandsintown is that there needs to be a place where fans can tell their concert stories. They want to share photos, video, tweets, etc… with their friends and to the world. We are evolving the platform to work before the show (concert alerts), during the show (tweets, photos, video), and after the show (concert ratings, memorabilia). We have about 700K RSVP’s to shows per month, so we can start displaying content amongst fans with others who were NOT able to attend. We are also testing tech that will activate mobile devices all at the same time during live events. I believe technology should improve society. I hope that we will create many more moments of passion and joy through music by providing fans with memorable experiences.
Fabrice Sergent will speak at the upcoming DLD14 conference, taking place in Munich January 19 - 21, 2014. Apply for a ticket to this exclusive conference, tune in on the beat of our community on the DLDpulse and find regular updates on the DLD14 programme and speakers here.