COVID-19 has laid waste to the live music industry, having made concerts dangerous and effectively illegal in most jurisdictions. The virus crisis has suddenly forced artists into online streaming experiments that they are often unprepared for and/or have no way to monetize.
Meanwhile, serial founder Arjun Mehta has quietly put together a team that could offer new experiences for fans and an economic answer for artists who can no longer go on tour.
Arjun Mehta’s backstory
Depicted: Arjun Mehta. Photo Credit: Arjun Mehta.
Arjun Mehta grew up in the Bay Area, with exposure to Silicon Valley entrepreneurship at a young age. At age twelve, he came up with the idea for a marketplace for virtual goods—items commonly found in video games and the like. Mehta’s father executed on the idea—calling it PlaySpan. Visa purchased PlaySpan for $240 million (including earnouts) in 2011.
As a fifteen-year-old student at The Harker School, a private school in Silicon Valley, he cofounded Stoodle—an online collaboration tool for classrooms. Students could spin up sessions with virtual whiteboards to work out problems together over the Internet. After a chance encounter with billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla speaking at Harker, Mehta merged Stoodle with Neeru and Vinod Khosla’s nonprofit The CK-12 Foundation.
Mehta and his cofounders graduated high school in 2014. The others left for Stanford, but Mehta joined the inaugural class of the University of Southern California’s Iovine & Young Academy—a program founded by music industry pioneers Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre (Andre Young). From the Iovine & Young Program, Mehta cofounded Trakfire—a Product Hunt-esque community for new music—with fellow USC student Grant Collins.
Music business legend Troy Carter and subsequently Jimmy Iovine himself invested in Trakfire. The website grew into a small community of high-quality new music curators. They received some acquisition interest from one of the major music tech giants, but the long negotiation process ultimately led to the Trakfire community decaying from neglect.
Mehta landed a job at the Sequoia-backed augmented reality startup Mira Labs. Collins joined the music tech startup Stem Disintermedia. After some time, the pair was ready to take another shot at entrepreneurship. In 2018, they started a company called Lifespan—building a product to manage DTC and digital subscriptions—which they closed down a year later.
In mid-2019, Mehta and Collins returned to their music tech roots and started thinking about the problem of running high-quality livestreams and monetizing them, leading to them cofounding Moment House.
Moment House allows artists to run high-quality livestreams—called Moments—for which a small, fixed number of tickets are sold ahead of time.
Depicted: A screenshot of a Moment House ticket page featuring the rapper Felly. Photo Credit: James Mishra
The Moment strategy
Mehta describes Moment House’s offering as being a mix of three parts:
Quality. Mehta and his team are building a technical platform for high-quality streaming, and they are setting a culture for artists and their management teams to put on shows that are worthy of the ticket prices they charge.
Exclusivity. Typically, anybody can tune into the livestreams of today on YouTube, Twitch, or Instagram Live. In contrast, a Moment is by definition an event with a small number of tickets sold—being present for a Moment is supposed to be special.
Interactivity. Mehta was tight-lipped about Moment House’s full roadmap for interactivity—you’ll have to join a Moment to see the full feature list—but he hinted at a partnership with the online merchandise store Everpress, allowing artists to design custom apparel on Everpress to sell only during the Moment.
The Moment team
Moment House already boasts a headcount of at least ten, including Mehta, Collins, and:
Ben Bloomberg as Chief Production Officer. Bloomberg earned his undergraduate, master’s, and PhD from MIT. He brings more than a decade of audio and control systems experience to Moment House.
Jacob Collier as Artist-in-Residence. The twenty-five-year-old North London musician has won four Grammys.
Depicted: Jacob Collier performing at the 2016 Moers Festival. Photo Credit: Harald Krichel
Moment House has a swath of others that help out or advise on an ad-hoc basis. Jimmy Iovine continues to be a mentor to Mehta.
Livestreaming in the era of COVID-19
Mehta and Collins started Moment House in 2019, long before the world knew the consequences of eating a bat or a pangolin. Back then, not many in the music industry were thinking about online events. But the pair believed they had a unique vision for what artists could do digitally, and went ahead with the idea.
After COVID-19, the whole industry wanted in on livestreaming, and the Moment House team could barely build fast enough. That’s what distinguishes Moment House from some of the other recent moves to livestreaming: they are not a coronavirus-themed pivot, and as such have had more time to build and test high-quality streaming infrastructure.
The future for Moment House
Mehta and the team have put on some small Moments already with a few hundred concurrent users at peak occupancy. Some larger Moments are about to be put on the calendar for May and June, including one where Jacob Collier will perform.
Toward the end of our interview, Mehta reminisced about his teenage years building Stoodle, and how he had gone from building a platform to stream homework help to streaming virtual concerts. In today’s climate, the pressure is on for him and the team. He says, “It is important that we aren’t just another tech industry app. What we build should feel like an extension of the art.”