No Venues, No Roadies — Encore Wants To Enable Concerts From Your Phone

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

No Venues, No Roadies — Encore Wants To Enable Concerts From Your Phone
Photo courtesy of Encore

Live performance app Encore, co-founded by rapper Kid Cudi, wants to put concerts in people’s pockets.

The Culver City-based company is among a bunch of virtual concert startups to emerge as the pandemic forced musicians to cancel or postpone in-person shows. But unlike competitors that are producing shows for virtual reality headsets or putting pay-per-view concerts on computers, Encore is betting fans will watch their favorite artists on smartphones. Think of it as a higher quality Instagram Live, with artists performing before augmented reality (AR) backgrounds and video chatting with fans.

A screenshot of Encore's Studio app for iPhone.

Photo courtesy of Encore

“What's disruptive about what we're doing is it is mobile live performance,” Encore co-founder and CEO Jonathan Gray told dot.LA. “It's free [for the artist] in your pocket, everywhere you go. And I think that's ultimately the vision of the company.”

Founded in 2020, the startup previously required artists to use both an iPad and iPhone to set up a show, with the more powerful tablets ensuring better production quality. But the iPad requirement proved to be a barrier for artists who couldn’t afford one, Gray said. Encore brings artists to its physical studio to perform on a greenscreen stage, too, but the company wants Encore shows to feel less like formal productions. They’ll ideally be something an artist does casually—and frequently—to engage with fans and make money in a lower stakes environment.

“The vision of the company, and the way we will get scale, is with artists doing stuff on their own,” Gray said. “I think as soon as it's on your phone, as soon as you can be going live in a minute, you're totally changing what it means to go live.”

Admission is cheap, but Gray said fans collectively spend a lot of money during a show. Middle-tier artists who have relatively smaller but engaged fan bases have racked up several thousand dollars during an Encore show—without booking a venue or hiring a production team.

“There's this completely untapped part of the music industry that has tons of engagement, but the engagement is on social [media],” Gray said. “Ultimately, your superfans can only stream on Spotify so many times. And even though you have super fans, how many of them are going to show up to a single city on a single night? Not that many.”

The new Encore Studio App lets artists design AR stages, add custom artwork and incorporate visual effects to turn basic spaces into more visually compelling backdrops. Other features include live polls, “backstage pass” video chats, and “clap goals,” in which artists can, for example, entice fans to spend more to hear new music.

Encore has raised $9 million in seed funding so far from investors like Battery Ventures, 468 Capital and Parade Ventures. The company has 14 employees and has facilitated 200 live shows since its first app went live in February. Roughly 2,000 artists have registered with Encore, which shows performers are interested but haven’t tried it, Gray said. That’s a big reason why the company is removing the iPad obstacle.

“You can actually get from downloading the app to having your own AR world and going live in like two minutes,” Gray said. “Before—it was not two minutes.”

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