Noise Pop expands COVID-19 fundraising with merch, digital membership, streaming series

Cafe Du Nord, Noise Pop

Cafe Du Nord on Feb. 20, 2018. Jane Hu/STAFF.

Facing an uncertain summer, concert producer Noise Pop has expanded the number of ways in which Bay Area music fans can keep the organization afloat—with a multitiered Patreon, gift cards and a more varied online merchandise store in addition to its GoFundMe account, which has raised more than $20,000 as of last weekend.

The Patreon program, known as Noise Pop Culture Club, is a monthly contribution fundraiser with five levels. Members can contribute anywhere from $7 to $449 per month and receive perks such as exclusive digital content and offers, such as a private Discord communication server and merch discounts, all the way up to entry to every Noise Pop show for two people, including the producer’s annual music festival.

Noise Pop founder and CEO Kevin Arnold said the organization has considered expanding its merchandising and providing digital content in the past but never got around to it. Now, he’s got the opportunity to experiment.

Culture Club

Noise Pop’s music membership program has five tiers.

  • Digital Member, $7/month
  • Discovery Live Member (includes one handpicked show each month, $15/month
  • Adventurer Live Member (access to every show $15 or less), $49/month
  • SuperFan Live (1 ticket to every Noise Pop-produced show and a festival badge, VIP upgrades at all events, free merch), $249/month
  • SuperFan +1 (2 tickets to every Noise Pop-produced show, same as above), $449/month

“The whole purpose of Culture Club is to exist in show times, not quarantine time,” Arnold said, adding that others have attempted to pilot a similar offering in the past, but their digital and live concert concert offerings weren’t interesting enough to succeed. “You’d never know what you’ll get until the last minute, and you only get a few things a month.”

The digital content will come from Noise Pop’s archives, as well as the local artist community. It will allow fans to get to know the people behind the organization better. Patreon, meanwhile, has come a long way since its inception, and is now more popular in various music communities.

Arnold compared Discord, which is integrated with Patreon, to early internet chatrooms where communities formed over shared interests. It’s got various integrations that allow people to share information—such as listening stats via LastFM—and the Noise Pop staff will pop in from time to time to use the community as a sounding board. They’ll see what content fans want to see digitally, or in person.

Still, it’ll take some time before the full benefits to users kick in.

“This thing is only going to make real sense when we can get people to go out and go to shows again,” Arnold said. “I wish we would have done it a year ago.”

Noise Pop is now selling concert gift cards—a way to earn revenue before the eventual return of live shows—and is updating its online merch store to include more clothing and collectibles from its two-decades-long history. Arnold initially started the festival as a “side hustle” until, through a lot of elbow grease, it grew into a business. But he said the last few years have been financially difficult. He said he hopes that in merchandising and digital content, he finds future revenue streams for the organization. But for the time being, it’s all he’s got to keep Noise Pop afloat.

“I really don’t know; I don’t want to be only a digital media and merchandise company, but we probably will be that until we can do live shows again,” he said.

Cafe Du Nord, Noise Pop

Cafe Du Nord on Feb. 20, 2018. Jane Hu/STAFF.

The next step in the fundraising process that Arnold and Noise Pop are focusing on is a virtual concert series with local artists that will be launching soon. The organization is still working on finding ways to partner with various independent venues to make the performances more interesting than the endless stream of similar-looking home streams, while keeping everyone involved safe.

It will be organized similar to Noise Pop’s namesake festival, and the goal is to help venues just as much than the artists. While they have core audiences they can turn to for financial assistance, it’s a different story for small venues like Bottom of the Hill, Rickshaw Stop or Café Du Nord.

“There’s been a lot of great performances, but at the same time, there’s been a lot of sameness and not a lot of differentiation right now,” Arnold said.

Noise Pop began accepting donations in March, with 100 percent of the money raised via GoFundMe going directly to employees. Still, the vast majority of Noise Pop’s show and production staff has been furloughed without pay. The organization has also partnered with several other local venues—including Rickshaw Stop, Make Out Room, Bottom of the Hill—to form an alliance lobbying San Francisco government for more financial support. The city created a $2.5-million relief fund for the artists, but local venues fall outside of the fund’s  eligibility by employing more people and earning more money than stipulated to receive help.

“We have way more  people, but that’s way less revenue per person,” Arnold said.

The alliance has discussed running a fundraiser telethon, and many have also applied for financial aid through the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the $2-trillion federal CARES Act relief bill, but none had heard back yet.

In the meantime, Noise Pop has postponed all concerts through June, and Arnold is continuing to reschedule as many as possible, while booking new ones.

He’s aware of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s comments about the possibility of large gatherings being “negligible” through the end of August but can only take everything one day at a time because it’s not even clear what will be considered a “large gathering.” Local governments will need to provide guidance about how to best have events once the lockdown is lifted, he said. But fans should expect jarring changes to what they’re used to.

“The most darkest view probably takes out all of next year and goes into the spring of ’22, but there’s no point of dwelling or thinking about that, either,” he said.

The Noise Pop brand will survive one way or another, he said, but Arnold is not under the illusion that he can match the revenue it pulled in from concerts just by selling merchandise and providing digital content. How it would come out the other end following a prolonged quarantine is unclear.

“When we can come back, there will probably be a lot of people ready to come back really quick,” he said. “Hopefully the community and the fans will, too. I know everyone is itching for that experience again.”

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