Live entertainers saw much of their industry come to a screeching halt in early 2020. For musicians, comedians, magicians, and other performers who relied mostly on live shows to pay the bills, COVID-19 could've been the nail in the coffin.
But the pandemic didn't just cripple the entertainers. It hit the wallets of the talent buyers, agents, staff, venues and thousands of others who rely on ticket sales and butts in seats.
Nashville-based startup EVA — which started as a savvy, user-friendly platform for people to book live entertainment for private events — suddenly found itself staring at an indefinite period of complete stagnation and no income. In other words, startup doom.
The Pandemic Pivot
"There were huge moments of doubt," EVA co-founder Makezie Stokel tells RootNote. She and co-founder Channing Moreland met while attending college in Nashville. A mutual love of live shows led them to ultimately create a business relationship. Buoyed by acceptance into the 2015 Project Music accelerator cohort, EVA began its long path of iteration and innovation.
"We didn’t even realize we were building a company together until we started making money," Stokel says. And in order to keep making money (and keep the lights on), during 2020, Stokel and Moreland made the decision to pivot the company.
They dove head first into virtual events, learning everything they could about the virtual event space, the technical requirements for putting on a good show, and the appetite for "non-traditional" entertainment in a very non-traditional time.
Since then, EVA has curated talent for virtual events across the country, amassing a roster of more than 500 entertainers ready to perform at virtual gigs like fundraisers, conferences, summits, team builders, happy hours, holiday parties, and more.
We talked with Stokel and Moreland about the pandemic pivot and how artists can use virtual events to add another diverse revenue stream to their business.
An Interview With EVA's Makenzie Stokel and Channing Moreland
RootNote: So we know y’all went to school together and met via a mutual love for live shows, but there’s a difference between finding a great friend and finding a business partner. How did you know you wanted to build a company together?
Makenzie Stokel: We didn’t really think of our relationship as business partners until long after we started working together. Honestly, we didn’t even realize we were building a company together until we started making money. We're quite lucky to both love what we were building so much that we didn’t see it as work. So we didn’t feel the need to divide up tasks or formalize our partnership until long after our company was growing.
RootNote: As a startup, we know how every week (or day, lol) is filled with victories and setbacks. What was one of the first moments in EVA’s existence that you felt like, “Yeah, this is happening,” and one of the first moments you had major doubts?
Stokel: Getting into [Nashville-based startup accelerator] Project Music in 2015 definitely made us realize the opportunity we had to grow a successful business full time. We felt that if other people in our industry were taking us seriously we had the duty to prove ourselves worthy.
A moment of huge doubt was definitely this year. 2020 was not the best year to be in the entertainment or events industry. We are so happy to have figured things out but there were some huge moments of doubt.
RootNote: What are some unique challenges you’ve faced as female founders in two worlds (music/entertainment and tech) that are in many ways still dominated by the male-heavy “good ol’ boy” network?
Channing Moreland: We're fortunate we never let the stigmas typically associated with the music and tech industries get to us. What we struggled with the most was being young and inexperienced with no credentials to launch this company. We got around that by — instead of trying to wedge ourselves into those already established industries — creating an island for EVA.
We kept our heads down and went through rapid iterations of our business. It taught us that if we wanted this company to make a difference we would have to be willing to try things on our own. That gave us the confidence to overcome many of the challenges we faced.
RootNote: It's not dramatic to say the Coronavirus pandemic could’ve completely undone everything y’all built. How did you turn a potentially fatal business blow into an opportunity?
Stokel: We had to pivot as quickly as possible. I think that has been the theme of EVA’s entire existence - PIVOT! We quickly became experts in virtual events and determined if our model would still work with virtual events rather than in person. Fortunately we realized there was an even bigger opportunity with this new model than the old.
RootNote: What is a big lesson you could pass on to people struggling with the switch to virtual gigs?
Stokel: Try to educate yourself as much as possible about virtual platforms, and see what other entertainers are doing online. Attend virtual events and talk to other people in the space, and the ideas will start flowing.
RootNote: What types of events do your artists get booked for?
Moreland: Our clients have come to us with all kinds of virtual events: fundraisers, conferences, summits, team builders, happy hours, holiday parties, marketing events, etc. What has been most encouraging for entertainers is that there are even more ways that they can be incorporated into virtual events because people need added breaks and excitement throughout the event. It is not unusual for us to book a single performer for 3+ events throughout the week (with the advantage of no travel costs, too).
Stokel: The majority of our bookings are entertainment for corporate events and conferences. Event planners will log onto EVA and fill out a form with details about their event. Our algorithm then matches those details to acts that meet their criteria. Some of that criteria being budget, genre, location, and ability to play covers for example. The talent that matches that event is notified about it and they can provide a quote if they are interested and available. The planner then can view their profile, listen to music, watch videos, and read reviews to pick the right acts for their event.
RootNote: How should entertainers price their virtual gigs?
Moreland: We recommend that the price for a digital performance is still based on in person event pricing, but it’s just for a smaller portion of time so the fee will be less. Divide your hour long set fee into fourths and then you will have your 15 minute virtual event fee. An attendee’s attention span is far less with virtual events so we have to be mindful of each segment’s length. If an artist can incorporate an interactive experience as well that’s even better, and can help increase the fee.
RootNote: What is your best advice for somebody looking to get started in virtual gigs?
Moreland: Invest in quality gear for your virtual set up. It makes all the difference and will pay for itself almost immediately. While public online performances are great for growing your fanbase, we highly recommend focusing on corporate and private virtual events for income. Think about your competitive advantage as an entertainer and what unique experience you can provide a client. Then please hit us up! We would love to work with you.
RootNote: Any particularly memorable virtual gig for you personally?
Moreland: Before the Covid era, we rarely booked magicians. It was amazing to see how so many magicians, illusionists, and mind hackers switched up their performance to work well for virtual. Without a doubt, Alan Chamo, a world renowned mind hacker, is one of our most booked virtual acts. We remember when he keynoted our client’s cyber security conference and it was such a hit. He blew them a way with all of the curated tricks he had prepared for their attendees. It goes to show that if an entertainer can build content around the company and engage attendees online, it will be a huge hit every time.
If you're an artist or entertainer or manager with a client interested in booking virtual gigs through EVA, start the process here.