Side Door co-founder Dan Mangan plays a small room generated from a match on the Side Door platform. (Courtesy Side Door)

Platform matches artists on their way to Austin with nontraditional spaces to play

Editor’s Note: The city of Austin on March 6 canceled all March dates for SXSW because of concern over COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it.

Venue and artist connecting platform Side Door is partnering with South by Southwest to bring its “any space can be a venue” concept to this year’s SXSW, to be held March 13-22.

Dan Mangan, Side Door co-founder and a performer himself, has appeared at SXSW five times and understands the significance of playing at the famed music, film and art festival held each year in Austin, Texas, since 1987.

“It’s a pivotal moment in your career when you first get booked at SXSW,” Mangan said. “It’s a clear affirmation from the industry that you are starting to gather some steam. We wanted to help emerging artists live that dream. We thought, ‘What if we could get artists to the festival, put money in their pockets and have them play really good quality shows on the way?’”

Called “Side Door to SXSW,” the concept will route eight acts from their hometowns across the U.S. and Canada to Austin and will culminate with an official Side Door to SXSW showcase on Friday, March 20, at Volcom Garden, a surf, skate and snowboard-inspired retail store.

The eight artists chosen to participate are GRLwood, Hayfitz, Kaina, Madison McFerrin, Mir Fontane and Sen Morimoto, who are coming from such disparate places as Kentucky, Brooklyn and Chicago, and Partner and Whoop-Szo, who will make their way to Austin from Canada.

“We’re thrilled with the lineup,” Mangan said. “The artists are all working in different genres and are from all walks of life, and we are as pleased as punch.”

Each act will play a minimum of three shows on their way to the festival; some of the artists will play up to six.

“SXSW is an obvious partner for us and it’s a great opportunity,” Mangan said. “It’s a perfect alignment of ethos and philosophy. We’re thrilled and amazed at how responsive they have been and how great they are to work with. To have a seat the table down there really serves our mission which is to help artist self-determine their careers.”

Mangan and Side Door’s other co-founder, Laura Simpson, incorporated the idea to match artists and venues in 2017.

“We realized there was a massive gap between the big acts and everyone else,” Mangan said. “Around 97% of artists are not represented and I look at it like a funnel, with the big artists on top, who get exposure and sell tickets at the big established venues. Everyone else is sort of on their own. Venues who can’t afford the ‘known talent’ suffer, as do fans in small cities and the suburbs. We decided we needed to look at places off the beaten path and create a new system for matching an artist to a building to play in.”

“Anywhere can be a venue,” said Simpson. “Our venues range from record stores to book shops to cafes to barns, backyards and living rooms. When you are starting out, it’s hard to find gigs that pay even $50, which doesn’t even cover gas. We wanted to open up the hunger for live entertainment.”

Mangan said the Side Door platform creates a way for artists to get an entrance into a city.

“The power of the intimacy of a small venue can be life changing,” he said. “Here we have a system that is a win for all three sides — the artists, the hosts and the fans.”

The average payout for an artist on the Side Door platform is $400-$500.

“Many of our hosts are doing it out of a labor of love and not to make money,” Simpson said. “Five hundred dollars is a incredible paycheck for an artist just starting out.”

Mangan said the company philosophy is, “If your footprint can’t be wide, make it deep. Let those 30 to 50 people who you are playing for be your entrance to that marketplace.”

Acts and venues create a profile on the website and get matched. Searches can be done by genre, including talk-style events and comedy shows, and either side can initiate a chat.

“The program is designed to match artists looking for a gig on a certain day and venues who want a gig on that day and then it connects them together and they start a chat,” Simpson said. “The host and artists have complete control. They decide on the revenue split. The money goes into escrow and is paid out immediately after the show based on the prenegotiated splits.”

Side Door caps the venue cut at 40%. Side Door’s commission is 10%, which only comes into play after a show has been booked and goes on sale.

“It’s friendly and transparent and artist-centric,” Simpson said. “The artist takes at least 50%. In a lot of the cases, the hosts take nothing and often sell other things like beer in a brewery or retail items in a clothing store.”

There are 850 venues on the books and 2,200 artists. Over 700 shows have booked on the platform since it launched in February 2019. Tickets average between $18 and $21. Venue capacities range from 15 to 300 seats.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was originally posted.