“This is just about as loud as it gets around here,” Steve Tetrault, co-founder of GigSalad, says with a grin. “Everyone’s focused on writing code.”
We are sitting in GigSalad’s Wilmington office in Chandler’s Wharf and could hear a pin drop. It’s sort of surprising because I imagined visiting a company that books gigs for musicians, clowns, stage magicians, face painters, and acrobats would be like going to the Rolling Stones’ Rock n’ Roll Circus. Tetrault explains the Springfield, MO, office is a lot busier and louder. Mark Steiner, Tetrault’s co-founder, heads it up. “They’re six times bigger,” Tetrault explains.
GigSalad sort of reflects the skill sets the two men have brought to the equation: Steiner was a talent booking agent, and Tetrault came out of an advertising and design background. The room Tetrault and I are sitting in is decorated with vintage Life magazine covers and ads, including one of the VW ads from the Heinz Nordhoff era when Doyle Dane Bernbach changed automotive print advertising as we know it. Tetrault kindly indulges my (not-so) mild freak out about the ad, and I get the sense he kind of goes through life as such: curious about what makes other people passionately excited—which fits pretty well with what GigSalad does.
In a nut shell, GigSalad acts as an online marketplace for people to book live entertainment at events. It can range from hiring a face painter or balloon artist for a kid’s birthday party to live comedians for corporate events to bands for parties and literally everything in between.
Tetrault confirms, “We have 467 Elvis impersonators on GigSalad, and over 80,000 performers overall in 590 different categories.”
He also points out how appearances by Santa dominate December bookings. Weddings are big business, as local musician and writer Justin Lacy will attest. “I found out about GigSalad on WHQR,” Lacy recounts. It was fall of 2014 and he signed up to list Justin Lacy Music, his acoustic work, on the site for bookings.
Though many people are familiar with Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine, an eclectic indie band with a substantial following, Lacy also plays acoustic music, primarily for weddings and private parties. But it was a long road to get here. Lacy says he always felt like he wasn’t a good enough musician to play weddings.
“I didn’t feel like a ‘pro,’” he tells. “Like only people who went to grad school for classical guitar could do that.”
Having heard Lacy play, I was stunned he could question his worthiness. But GigSalad manages to help alleviate it by continuing to get artists and contractors work.
So, say someone wants to hire an Elvis impersonator (frankly, who doesn’t?) for a birthday party. They search GigSalad for “Elvis impersonator” and put in their location. Several possibilities will show up, and once they choose a performer who seems to fit their needs, they can book through GigSalad. Aside from getting lost reading profiles that describe variations on the Vegas-style floor shows (one of the guys gives out scarves to ladies in the audience), the whole thing can be completed in about 10 minutes.
Performers can sign up to be listed on their marketplace for free. For different tiers of membership they receive additional benefits and better placement in search results. When someone is looking to book, they contact performers via GigSalad. Once arrangements are made, a paper trail that handles the business side of the gig is in place. Lacy comments how this aspect of GigSalad has been great for him: Having contracts, deposits and paperwork in place frees him to do the part he loves. “I work out the melodies, harmonies, counterpoint,” he explains, “all with a solo guitar.”
It’s pretty darn impressive. Lacy’s videos are on his GigSalad profile and showcase a very thoughtful, creative approach to his craft. With his featured tier membership, he gets to post videos for prospective clients to preview.
Looking at both sides of the software, makes it pretty user-friendly and intuitive. As a self-professed Luddite who will happily rail against 12 different online calendar services necessary to post an event in this town, for me to say software is intuitive is a compliment. Tetrault points to Steiner’s background in talent booking, which brought “a deep understanding of what performers need to make it work, and what event planners need.”
He smiles and adds how GigSalad employs some super smart people who spend a lot of time trying to design to answer the question: “What is the easiest way to get the result both sides are looking for?”
“It’s a lot harder to create something simple,” he says. “We’re creating, then ripping away down to 10 percent of what we started with.”
Again, I get the sense Tetrault has a bigger hand in this than he takes credit for. His willingness to recognize he hired smart people and lets them do good work is really refreshing. So what does he want for GigSalad? Well, everyone in business wants to see more growth, more success, more projects, but when he boils it down, Tetrault wants to see performers make a living.
“I see so many people in bands with a day job they hate,” he asserts. “I believe performers can make their entire living doing gigs.”
For Lacy that seems to be the case—not that he hasn’t worked for it. Oddly it started with Randy McQuay. McQuay was playing music at UNCW’s orientation one year and sent Lacy over to the music department to see about minoring in music. Something must have clicked; Lacy graduated with a double major in English and music. After some experience gigging at downtown’s Duck n’ Dive, he got perspective. “Competing with Monday night football will teach you to check your ego,” he admits.
Lacy started to see a difference between what he wanted to do artistically with Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine—which was about creating a cohesive artistic experience—and how a working musician approaches a gig. Gigs can be a source of fulfillment, as well as an opportunity to hone a performer’s craft and pay rent. In addition Lacy teaches, plays music for live bands in theatre shows and is a freelance writer for the Star News (though he got his start as an intern at encore). In other words, he has found a way to build a life as a working musician, and GigSalad is another tool to make it possible.
Just like Lacy has nurtured and grown his career, GigSalad has moved confidently in the direction of their dreams. Tetrault is very proud they have “bootstrapped”—meaning they haven’t gone after investment. So the growth is internally directed.
Actually, lead engineer Locke Bircher was their first employee and now he is the third partner in the company. The development of the online marketplace from a referral site was when things really started to change at GigSalad. “I think we always knew it was coming,” Tetrault explains. “We have enough people now, we developed it.”
Nevertheless, as with all businesses, there are surprises. For Tetrault one of his favorite (and unexpected) consequences are the stories behind the services: learning about moms who discover their own talents in face painting for a child’s party and then offering those services on GigSalad to build an additional revenue source for the family. And while children’s party entertainers remain top-tier sellers, mariachi bands are the second most booked category. (Who would have guessed? I was sure it was Elvis.)
In a time when human connection is becoming a more scarce commodity, GigSalad is positioned to make those connections easier. “If you are planning any kind of live event, please, consider live entertainment: face-painting, magician, band, impersonator,” Tetrault notes. “It will add so much dimension to the experience.”
Of course, if anyone wants Santa in December, they should book now! Visit www.gigsalad.com.