Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Surreal aims to become entertainment’s go-to infrastructure

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After starting out as a marketplace for live music artists seeking gigs, Surreal is now setting its sights on becoming the go-to infrastructure for the world’s entertainment industry after making inroads with its new ‘agency productivity tool’.

The Melbourne-based Surreal, founded in 2019 by Jeremiah Siemianow, Brandon Crimmins and Alan Jin, changed its name from Muso last year in move that reflects the company’s evolution over the past five years.

While it has expanded beyond musicians and DJs to service performing artists including comedians, karaoke, trivia suppliers and drag queens, Surreal also has developed a solid business providing backroom support for talent agencies and venues.

Over the past year, the Surreal platform has supported about 68,000 gigs in Australia and the UK, where it has been established since 2022.

This is expected to grow further in 2024 after the company launched its new agency productivity tool for the global market in early January.

Surreal is specifically targeting the US where it has signed up Backline Partners, its first agency in the North American market.

Siemianow, the Surreal CEO, says while Backline Partners is not a major agency, it does cover three states (Colorado, Illinois and California) and represents a ‘big first move into the market for us’.

“It’s an exciting space to be in and we’re going for it,” Siemianow tells Business News Australia.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for us and for a platform like ours. We are head and shoulders above anything else on the market.”

Backline joins a number of Australia-based agencies using Surreal, including WAT Artists, Listen Up, Sounds Good Agency, Together Agency, Neumark Productions and UNDR ctrl.

Siemianow describes the Surreal platform as an ‘elegant answer to the complex workflows of the industry’. The platform has three separate products for artists, venues and talent agencies, including tools for artists to manage their schedule, bookings and payments.

While performing artists remain at the core of the Surreal community, the key revenue generator for the Software as a Service (SaaS) business is in providing back-end services talent agencies and for entertainment venues such as pubs and clubs.

“Right now, we are focusing on the agency productivity tool and that is where a lot of the complex interactions between parts of the industry exist,” says Siemianow.

“A lot of agencies are not necessarily using a bespoke, purpose-fit system. They are trying to retrofit other solutions to make some sort of process work for them.

“While these might work, the agencies are often losing a lot of time because there is a pretty significant administration burden that comes along with lots of human interactions and gig interactions.”

Siemianow says agencies work with multiple venues on one side and multiple artists on the other.

“There is obviously a lot of back and forth that goes on between traditional means, such as calls, texts and emails. And then you have a lot of stuff that sits on spreadsheets, on Google sheets and a whole bunch of other things.

“Surreal has unleashed capacity for agents because we have freed them up from these tasks by automating them.”

Surreal has raised $6 million since it was founded and after using external software developers to establish its original platform for musicians, it has amassed a highly skilled in-house team including former software engineers from MYOB and Facebook to drive its new platform.

“The new product is worlds apart from the original Muso product,” says Siemianow who concedes none of the Surreal founders had the technical expertise to create the software on their own.

Siemianow and Crimmins have experience in the club scene with Siemianow saying he became obsessed with the client ‘experience and atmosphere’ at venues. Crimmins’ only link to music is ‘he can sing opera pretty well’, while Jin is the only musician among the founders, describing himself nowadays as a ‘recovering musician’.

Prior to creating its agency productivity tool, Surreal had been building its entertainment operating system for venues and multi-site venue groups.

“Pubs, bars and nightclubs use the platform to manage all their internal operations around entertainment,” says Siemianow.

“It’s kind of a back-end system for them. It automates their payments while also helps with promotion for the entertainment they have at their venues. This includes trawling through search engines to help with the venue rankings online.”

“Bookings, payments and promotion are the three key pillars that sit within that. For multi-site venue companies with area managers, it provides support to ensure they are maximising their entertainment and getting the highest return possible.”

Surreal offers similar efficiencies for performing artists by managing their schedule, bookings and payments.

“If the gig for the artists is booked through the platform, they literally never have to raise an invoice,” says Siemianow.

“It is just done on their behalf. They also have a public profile they create which becomes like a universal EPK (electronic press kit) that can be shared with anyone that books them.”

Surreal also offers artists the ‘nitty gritty’ of where to park, who to talk to on arrival, the rider for the night and the brief from the agent or the venue.

Although Surreal is focusing on the US to expand its agency client base, it has been encouraged by inquiries from other global markets outside of Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

“We’ve had people sign up from different parts of the world, including Romania, since we announced our expansion,” says Siemianow.

“It speaks to the fact that the product we are putting out to the market is valuable to the people that need it.”

Siemianow sees the solutions that Surreal is providing the entertainment industry as ‘so important’.

“We want to become the infrastructure that the world’s entertainment runs on.

“But we have such a big job ahead of use because the people we have been trying to service – venues, agents and artists – have been so under-represented for such a long time. Now we have the tech to help those three groups thrive.”

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