by Jennie Moser
Stagetime did not come to me all at once, as some entrepreneurial ventures come to their founders. Instead, it came to me in two waves over several years. The first wave came to me in college while I was, once again, online shopping. Even though I’d never purchased their makeup on my college budget, I was deep in the Glossier website because I loved the branding and packaging. Sitting next to my computer in stark contrast was the promotional poster for my most recent performance, Mahler’s Second Symphony at Northwestern University. I winced seeing the chic makeup branding juxtaposed against the bland poster. The featured world-class musicians-- my professors and mentors, impressive guest artists, and some of the brightest young musicians in the country -- were being marketed to look about as exciting as watching paint dry on set. It didn’t make sense. The effort put into the construction of the beautiful stage, the expensive headshots, the opulent gowns, and the sheer overwhelming emotion of hearing 200 musicians live that had astounded thousands of audience members in Millenium Park just days before was being presented as a static, boring, outdated offering.
To solve this (and to bring in some extra money, because I was too inexperienced to even fulfill the trope of being a musician by night and waitress by day), I started designing professional materials for my friends in the industry that I felt were just as vibrant as they were. It started with simple resumes and recital posters but quickly expanded to full websites. And so, my first company, Jennie Moser Design, was born. It started small -- I worked on a few projects here and there, but still focused most of my attention on my master’s degree in voice performance. Then, a friend whose website I designed and built won a major competition and a flood of attention turned toward her site. Nearly overnight, I had 100 requests for artist websites in my inbox. I put my head down to get to work with a fresh wave of urgency, but my imagination drifted, because it was in that moment that I realized how badly the industry craved true disruption.
The next several months brought on a flurry of new learnings. While launching website after website, I started to dig into the analytics, gleaning new insights about how my customers and the industry were using these websites. No matter how notable an artist's career, I observed that people skimmed websites quickly (26 seconds on average) and only visited 2 pages on average (the homepage and media page). I also saw that most, if not all, messages in the contact forms were about marketing materials, availability, or management info -- in other words, professional in nature. In essence, the industry was using websites as a sort of networking tool, albeit an extremely inefficient one. The inefficiency stemmed from two clear sources. For one, launching and maintaining websites entailed a massive investment of time, money, and effort for artists. Second, websites did not experience the natural effects of networking that social media supported -- once a website was built, artists had to put in the extra work (and cost) to maintain and promote their sites, channeling casting directors, agents, and other professionals to their website via a litany of social media posts and word of mouth. There were clear opportunities for improvement. And yet, there were no solutions available. Other commonly used networking tools were impractical for the performing arts industry -- they were organized for traditional, permanent roles, not the gig economy, which many artists participate in. They also emphasized written descriptions of roles, underemphasizing video and audio, which better capture professionals’ talents.
The lack of efficient and effective tools for the arts frustrated me endlessly. I realized the problem with the live and performing arts is not the product -- it’s the package. Once the audience is in their seats, La Bohème, Wicked, and The Nutcracker evoke the same otherworldly escape that they always have. But the time, money, work, and attention of the artists and those in the industry focus so singularly on what’s happening onstage that we lose sight of how to connect to contemporary businesses and audiences when we step offstage. More often than not, the industry neglects to update our products and processes to embrace the digital revolution of all industries because we’re lost in the art.
What’s even worse is that the gap between our production-level workforce -- the artists, the directors, the production staff, the designers, the prop masters, the supers -- and organizations and agencies gets wider and wider. When the pandemic hit, the brunt of the economic fallout hit this group of contractors and freelancers, who, like your favorite wait staff, must show up in person every day to make the art that entertains, impresses, inspires, and broadens your imagination. Still, many of these professionals continued to inspire people to explore the world via content creation, virtual performances, and other imaginative solutions even when quarantine prevented people from physically being in the theater. We must make tools that save our artists -- the heartbeat of the content filling our lives every day -- valuable time and money, and that allow them to do business as the accomplished creatives that they are instead of a workforce passed by simply because they may not work in Slack, Asana, and codebases all day, and may prefer to do their work in glitter eyeshadow. This does not make them less professional than you or me.
This realization was when the second wave crashed. If the tools for effective networking in the performing arts world didn’t exist, then why not make one myself? And why not center it on beautiful, eye-catching, and functional design that so many other consumer products seemed to benefit from, design that would reflect artists as valuable professionals? Stagetime was born.
Because Stagetime was founded based on my personal experiences and frustrations, there are a number of my core beliefs baked into the product.
First, I believe that our marketing tools should be as beautiful as our talents, and we strive to incorporate design into every component of Stagetime.
Second, I fundamentally believe that representing yourself online, staying connected to a network, and sharing news with your peers and colleagues is something that should be affordable and accessible to every member of the community. I knew Stagetime would have to be more affordable and more convenient than building a website and laboring over continuous self-promotion on a multitude of social media platforms.
Third, I believe in the power of community, something I witnessed in local senses while designing websites for rising stars in the industry. In many cases, I knew who would be working together months before they did because I was updating so many schedules in preparation for announcements. Therefore, I wanted one tool, one place for people in the performing arts to gather, promote their talents, and lift each other up via the power of community.
We may still be in our early days, but I could not be more excited about the advancements I’ve already witnessed amongst our industry since we started Stagetime. The performing arts industry is one of the most relationship-driven, creative ecosystems in the world, but to keep up with the digitized world, we need tools that are just as creative and high-quality as the work we do on stage. It’s vitally important for not only us as individuals, but as a collective.
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