Frank Productions, the Madison-based concert promotion company behind much of the city’s live music programming and most of its music venues, announced a first this week: It has made a capital investment in a tech startup.
Frank — now a subsidiary of Live Nation, and a fixture of the city’s music landscape since its founding in 1964 — announced on Monday that it had forged a strategic partnership with the Madison-based startup LÜM on Monday. Frank also revealed that it has invested in the startup’s latest $750,000 financing round.
“It’s a brand new approach to the live music industry,” said Joel Plant, the CEO of Frank Productions, regarding LÜM. “And it’s a homegrown startup.”
LÜM — short for Live Undiscovered Music — makes an app that promises to connect music fans with emerging artists around the country. Its creators, a team of recent graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, say that their goal is to create software that’s part social media platform, part streaming service, that shines a light on underground artists in ways that major platforms like Spotify or Pandora do not.
Unlike those established streaming services, LÜM does not feature established artists. Instead of relying on algorithmically generated playlists to introduce listeners to artists, it strives to help artists grow organically.
“You’re using LÜM to grow your fanbase. You’re using that leverage,” explained Max Fergus, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “This generation of Gen Z, younger millennials, they’re lean-in music lovers.”
LÜM initially launched last summer on the Apple App Store, but the company took down the app in the fall. Fergus said that the company had approached that initial launch as a pilot phase to see what worked and what didn’t.
“It wasn’t really meant to be a scalable platform that we could grow nationally,” said Fergus.
The company ended up overhauling the software, removing some of the focus on connecting fans with artists in their immediate area and stripping away some of the more Facebook-like aspects of the app.
The company is now Beta-testing the new-and-improved version of the app, which is downloadable for iPhone users. Fergus said that the final version of the app will launch later this software, growing its userbase city by city.
“We wanted to launch nationally, but we wanted to keep a focus in specific regional areas,” said Fergus.
Plant said that Frank Productions decided to invest in LÜM not only because of the business model, but because of the promise he saw in the LÜM team. Noting that Fergus’ brother recently joined as the company’s chief marketing officer, Plant described the startup as “a family company, dedicated to making a difference to artists and fans.”
“They’re not trying to take the world by storm. They’re going to take things market by market,” he said. “They’re going to do things in a thoughtful, data-driven way.”
Plant said that now, it’s a question of whether the company has made a final product that fans will find “usable” and “attractive,” and whether their network will prove scalable.
“That is the $64,000 question,” he said. “From my experience with family-oriented, creative entrepreneurs, these guys have what it takes.”
The strategic partnership forged between Frank and LÜM is a data-driven one. Fergus said that Frank Productions will be able to use LÜM’s database to glean insights about trends among emerging artists, and the kinds of music fans engage with — insights that could help inform the promotion company’s marketing and booking decisions.
In turn, LÜM will receive mentorship from Frank Productions’ leadership team, and will also get help figuring out how it might be able to sell its data insights to other companies in the live music industry.
Meanwhile, LÜM is also opening a new office in Austin, Texas, in addition to its home offices at the startup center StartingBlock. Fergus said that the new offices are part of the company’s city-by-city approach to its growth. He added that while the company is leaving all its options open, he doesn’t anticipate the company leaving Madison anytime soon.
Correction: An earlier version of this story used incorrect information from the business information database Crunchbase indicating that Frank Productions invested $750,000 in LÜM. Rather, Frank Productions is an investor in the company's $750,000 fundraising round, but has not disclosed the amount of its investment.