Laura Simpson

Laura Simpson

Halifax-based Side Door, an online platform that matches musical artists to small, intimate physical venues, is getting around the pandemic by offering online concerts and raising money for charity.

Last Saturday, Side Door Co-Founder and award-winning musician Dan Mangan performed a virtual show from his basement in Vancouver. Attendees bought a $6 ticket for a Zoom Video Communications link and raised $1,200 for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

Mangan will perform weekly for charity on Saturdays at 12 noon PT until the crisis ends.  The concerts are a morale-lifter and learning experience for Side Door, which has been whacked by the timing of the pandemic. A partnership deal with U.S music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) sank when the festival was cancelled, and many Side Door clients lost their chance to perform at the festival and in smaller venues.

The SXSW deal represented the start of Side Door’s push into the U.S market, which is home to only about 15 percent of the platform’s approximately 750 registered hosts.

“I felt truly hopeless for a long time after the cancellation,” said company Co-Founder and CEO Laura Simpson from her home in Halifax, where she is home-schooling her children.

The company had garnered record bookings for March and April, with around 35 to 45 shows planned for across the continent for each month. They were all cancelled and Mangan cancelled a spring tour. Difficult times, not only for the young company formed in 2017, but for the musicians who increasingly rely on live events to survive.

Last Saturday’s online event lifted spirits, as are the other online concerts being offered under the hashtag #Quarantunes.

“I cried three times during Dan’s concert,” Simpson said. “People are so starved for connection right now. I watched people listening to one of their favourite artists while doing things like folding laundry.…It felt incredibly special to connect in this way.”

Now, the Side Door team has shifted focus to help musicians set up online shows.

“We see a big opportunity here,” Simpson said. “Art and culture are at the forefront of this crisis as a way to cope.” She added that the company is waiving its 10 percent commission on bookings for March and may do the same for April.

Simpson said Side Door has been luckier than many startups in that itrecently raised US$1 million and is closing another round of $500,000. The financial cushion has meant the company has not had to lose any of its staff—the team consists of seven working full-time out of Halifax startup house Volta, as well as Mangan in Vancouver and four international representatives.

Simpson described the new online shows as an add-on that won’t change the long-term fundamentals of what the company does.

She said the crisis has illustrated that founders have to be “nimble and see things before they happen and act quickly. The question everyone is asking is, 'How long is this going to last?'”

Mangan’s next show will see all the proceeds going to Shelter Movers, who help victims of domestic abuse relocate.

 Details can be found here.