Bar Top Interviews: Amy Theberge

This is the first installment in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of profiles on PrentiousPDX, focusing on influential members on the Portland scene.

I first became aware of Tixie about a year ago, when one of my friends casually mentioned that she had won tickets to an upcoming show on a new website called Tixie. Since I’m always on the prowl for free stuff, I was intrigued (this was also before my concert-reviewing days, mind you, so I had more free time on my hands).

For the uninitiated, Tixie is a concert and event promotion website, based in Portland and active in six cities (Athens, Georgia; Austin; Houston; Portland; San Francisco; Seattle). Participants can log-in daily – either on Tixie.com or on the mobile app – where they receive 10 contest tokens each day that you can use to win free concert tickets and restaurant gift cards. I was intrigued by Tixie’s novel design, which eschewed the typical comment/share-to-win mechanics in favor of a more dynamic approach. In the months that have followed, I’ve had decent luck with Tixie – scoring tickets to a couple of fairly big-name concerts (Banks, por ejemplo) and a pretty broad assortment of lesser-known acts.

I’ve been pretty happy with my own Tixie experience, but I’ve always wondered – who exactly is behind Tixie? How do they make money, anyways? To answer some of these questions, I sat down at Interurban Publican’s Table with Tixie’s Director of Contest Advertising and slightly larger-than-life spokesperson, Amy Theberge, to discuss music, business, gentrification… and get her to do as much trash-talking as possible.

 

amyhat - CopyAMY THEBERGE
Director of Contest Advertising, Tixie.com
Age: 30
Drink: Whiskey & Soda

Disclaimer: Both Questions and Answers have been edited for content and clarity. If any of you were really hoping to read a ninety-minute interview transcript, well… sucks for you, I guess. Do your own interview.

Tell us about yourself, Amy. How did you end up working for Tixie?

Well, maybe if I just tell you my life story, it’ll be easier – I’m a story-teller. I grew up around music; my first memory is of performing a dance to the Ghostbusters theme song on my parents’ pool table. My parents are really big music fanatics, especially classic country and classic rock – anything from The Beatles to John Prine to Bon Jovi in my house, growing up. I was never a musician, but I went performing arts middle school and high school in Vancouver, Washington. I studied musical theater and moving image arts and got really into music and performing music there, but never played an instrument. I just sang – choir performance stuff.

When I left school to go Portland State University, I needed a part-time job, so I applied at Music Millennium in northwest Portland. I started as a clerk and went on to work with the in-store performances that they used to have there. I got to help with artist management stuff… I got to take Patti Smith for a margarita and burrito, which was pretty awesome – probably the highlight of my time there. After that, I moved to Seattle for a couple of years and worked at Easy Street Records. Around the same time, I did a little bit of tour management and worked as a merch girl, touring with a couple of local bands.

When I came back to Portland after that, a couple of punk rock guys and I had a little tiny club for about six months called Davy Jones’ Locker out in southeast. It was mainly punk, metal, riot grrl stuff. It was all ages – I was very passionate about all ages music, because that was the height of my music-going – when I was 16 to 20. It was always so fun to go see music, but so many of the bands that I admired at the time were playing at venues I couldn’t get into. The club didn’t work out, but that’s was when I solidified that I wanted to be in the music business.

I was like, well, I could leave my job with a 401k and a dental plan and all of the things that, like, your mom really wants you to have.

After that, I worked for American Cancer Society for about five years before I got the call from a friend of mine saying they were working for a music tech start-up and asking if I would be interested in consulting for them for a while. At the time, it was still just an idea in a basement, but as it developed, I was like, well, I could leave my job with a 401k and a dental plan and all of the things that, like, your mom really wants you to have, and I could go and do this crazy thing with these guys, or I could just stay here and always wonder what that would be like.

The first time I met Jeff Foster, the CEO, he said, “I don’t want to tell you we’re going to the moon, but don’t leave home without your spacesuit.” And I just remember thinking that was really awesome and that I should make the leap. That was almost three years ago. For the first year we just worked on the concept and recruited people and clients in Portland, and then in 2012 we launched at SXSW… and then it was real – people were coming to the website and emailing us and wanting to get their shows up on Tixie and winning tickets. Since then, we’ve done over 12,000 live events, we’ve sent 50,000 people to shows across the country and had millions of tokens played on those contests.

So I’m going to start with a question that I’ve always wondered – 

(Amy cut me off here) How does Tixie make money? (Laughter) That’s everyone’s question.

People don’t view the contests as ads, but that’s all they are – a series of ads. They’re interactive, engaging, compelling ads – versus, you know, “Hey you, come and check out this thing you don’t care about.” I think the thing that makes Tixie special to a venue is that people are electing to receive information about a certain thing – they’re looking at Tixie as a menu or cool pictures, but what they don’t really realise is that’s it’s all ad impressions, essentially. We charge the venues a small fee for the ability to put a contest up on Tixie – or the artists/label/management company, etc. We’ve also branched out into gift certificates for restaurants and bars following the same model.

We also do secondary offers for some of these contests, such as a buy-one, get-one-free offer if you buy a ticket, or a signed poster if you buy a ticket, or $5 off brunch. We can use this to target low-volume time-frames for restaurants.

Do you ever plan to turn Tixie into a subscription service?

Um, maybe? We’ve made a ton of traction, but we’re still at a point of proof of concept, so we’re testing and experimenting with different opportunities. I don’t see that happening anytime in the foreseeable future, though, but you never know.

Who do you guys see as Tixie’s competition? Is it local websites like PDX Pipeline in Portland or Do206 in Seattle?

That’s a great question. I haven’t seen anyone yet who’s doing what we’re doing. We have a very dynamic interface – I don’t want to slam anyone in particular, but some websites are very hard to navigate and the entry process isn’t very fun; it can seem archaic, at times – and often times, people aren’t going to be visiting that site very often; they’re probably just waiting to get a weekly email. With Tixie, your chances of winning tickets are going to improve every time you visit the site.

I suppose you could also consider local newspapers as competitors too because they act as a concert calendar… but no one’s going to those papers just to read the concert ads; people tend to flip past that and go straight to the content. At Tixie, people are arriving simply to interact with a brand’s message, which is different.

There are also some companies out there, such as WooBox or Rafflecopter, that do consumer-engagement contest platforms, but I think our software – which I should probably mention we own a patent for – is a little more flexible in terms of tailoring the experience to the customer’s expectations.

The Internet is the competition.

(Later in the interview, Amy circled back and gave me a more succinct answer to my question) I’m not calling it competition, I’m calling it noise… as far as competition goes, there’s just so many apps, there are so many ways to find out about music, and everyone has their kind of format that they like. That’s what I consider the competition – the internet is the competition. There are so many different resources out there and we’re just one of them.

What are your plans for expansion?

I think the opportunity with our restaurant and bar markets is really promising. We’re finding that interest in some of those contests is actually stronger than music, in terms of entries and tokens played. I think it’s kind of obvious why, too – it’s easier to find a fan of Thai food in November than it is to find a fan of, like, Father John Misty on Thursday at the Crystal Ballroom. That said, the excitement level of winning concert tickets can be a lot greater than winning a gift certificate to Thai food.

We’re also encouraging our customers to make a night of it – like for myself, maybe I’ll go to Secret Society for dinner, and then to Bunk Bar for a drink, and then into the Wonder for another drink and the show. Pairing those things is really natural, and I think it’s good that we’re focusing in on nightlife and not trying to encourage people to, you know, get a massage or go go-kart racing.

We’re not in the business of publicly devaluing anyone’s product.

So you’re not Living Social, in other words.

No. We’re not Living Social, we’re not Groupon, and we’re not in the business of publicly devaluing anyone’s product. We are there to support and enrich exactly what the nightlife industry needs, which is more people showing up more often and becoming loyal customers.

Any cities you want to expand to?

Well, we already have the capacity to do individual campaigns in other cities – say, for a band that’s on tour and wants to do giveaways in each city.

In terms of new markets, I would love to expand to Nashville, next, but that’s uncorroborated. I’d love to see us in LA, New York, Chicago, Miami, Vancouver BC… I mean, I’d like to see us go, you know, worldwide in the next 30 days, but you have to prioritize.

amyandmichael

Let’s get political for a second. Just today, Chopsticks Too announced that they were closing their doors…

It’s very upsetting. I’m a mega-karaoker – Baby Ketten Karaoke is my favorite and my family just threw my 30th birthday party at Chopsticks III, but Chopsticks Too was the first place I ever sang karaoke.

So what which businesses that have closed down recently are you saddest about? The Matador, Wildwood, Produce Row…

You know, I feel like I mourned Produce Row for how it was before it was the new Produce Row. I loved, like, the raunchiness. Produce Row was such a Portland place to me when it had picnic tables and greasy burgers and peanuts and beer. Then when it was the new Produce Row – which I patroned, often – I still liked it, but the vibe of the old Produce Row was sooo Portland, especially because you could go see a show at the Meow Meow or go to that bar, Acme, which is now White Owl Social Club – that place was my jam. Plus, you know, Montage and My Father’s Place, which is where all of my friends would end up after shows.

But Chopsticks Too is probably the one I mourn the most, especially because the neighborhood has changed so much – it’s almost unrecognizable.

I will forever miss the sand-between-the-teeth feeling that Portland used to have.

I love the optimism that people are coming to Portland with, moving because it’s a better place than where they came from, investing money here because they believe in it, and I think that all of it is probably good for the state, good for the city, but I will forever miss the sand-between-the-teeth feeling that Portland used to have. Portland was like having a really delicious sandwich at the beach and having just like a little bit of sand mixed in with your turkey sandwich, but not enough to throw it away.

One of the things I’ll miss about Chopsticks is that you never knew who you were going to run into there; the gamut would gutterpunk to bridge-and-tunnel. Terrible food, bad singers, total blast. I’ll definitely miss that place.

As long as we’re talking karaoke, what do you think of the new trend of renting private booths, a la Voicebox and Punchbowl Social?

I’m a staunch Voicebox supporter and it’s great when you want to go out with your girlfriends and sing a bunch or go for a party, BUT it does not have the performance aspect, and that’s what I love about karaoke – I’m not in a band or an improv group, I don’t have a medium to express myself creatively – and karaoke, as cheesy as it sounds, is a total way to go and ham it up. And that’s so much fun. And when you’re in a room with just your friends… it’s a different experience, for sure.

So you’re old-school about it?

I’m totally old-school. I’m analog in every way possible. I’m a big record collector, and I’m a big fan of the mix-tape, like any child of the nineties.

Obviously, any mention of mix-tapes and the nineties has to be followed up with a High Fidelity reference. Who are your All-Time, Top Five, Desert Island Artists?

Oh God. I should’ve prepared for this! These aren’t in order, but…

  1. Sleater-Kinney, “All Hands on the Bad One”
  2. The Beatles, “Revolver” – the thought of no Beatles for the rest of my life is really upsetting
  3. Rilo Kiley, “Execution of All Things”
  4. John Prine, “John Prine”
  5. Some sort of Motown oldies, Sam Cooke/Otis Redding/The Supremes sort of compilation. Or any Elliot Smith album – probably XO.

What’s your worst concert experience?

My worst concert experience was seeing Everclear at The Big Stink. I was probably 13 or 14 and I had just seen Orgy, and I was running to the other side of the complex to see Everclear. I was in the front row and I got kicked in the back of the head and smashed my face into the barrier and knocked out my two front teeth. So that was probably my worst experience, but what was badass is that I had like three more hours in the day and I had saved for liked a month to buy these tickets, so I called my mom and told her that I had lost my teeth, but that I needed to stay at the concert.

Ok, so what about your best concert experience?

When I helped book The Black Keys for a Halloween in-store performance at Music Millenium when their second album came out. There were, like, 35 people there – that was pretty fuckin cool.

I’m also a big fan of the local band Dolorean. Al James is one of my local crushes – and you can print that! I saw their last show at Mississippi Studios, and that was amazing. The last time Sleater-Kinney played before they broke up. A couple of years ago I got to see M Ward play at Doug Fir on Valentine’s Day. And one of my all-time favorite shows was seeing Band of Horses at Les Schwab Amphitheater.

What’s on your bucket list?

I’ve never seen Tom Petty… and I kinda feel like I need to see Tom Petty. And I also need to see Dolly Parton.

I’ve seen a ton of shows, and I would say that I most want to see is a band that surprises me. I feel like there’s a lot of really awesome music and a ton of great shows, but it’s few and far between when you see a band with the je ne sais quoi where all those things align and they give you an unbelievable show.

So you’re on the selection committee for PDX Pop Now! On the subject of Portland festivals, how do you feel about MusicFestNW’s new two-day format?

Hate it! The thing that makes Portland music great, aside from the music itself, is the diversity and passion of the small clubs. When you take the small clubs out of a local music festival, it could be Anywhere Town, USA. That’s something I love about festivals like SXSW – you get to experience what the town’s like. Now, for MFNW, if you’re visiting, you go stay in a waterfront hotel and then you to the waterfront for two days? It’s not experiencing Portland.

What about Pabst Fest?

Fucking awesome concept. They focused it a lot more on Portland taste and flavor, and I thought that having it at kind of a punk-rock location like Zidell Yards was way cooler than the waterfront.

One more question before we head to The Lightning Round. What are your favorite bars in Portland – that haven’t shut down, yet?

Well, my boyfriend owns The Bye and Bye, so my favorite bar in Portland is The Bye and Bye, obviously. But I love Club 21 and Kelly’s Olympian and I think The Sandy Hut is a real quintessential Portland bar. Gotta have video lottery, gotta have TVs.

I decided to end the interview with a handful of wildcard questions, starting with one of Chuck Klosterman’s 23 Hypothetical Questions from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.

Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground… he is conscious and standing upright, but completely immobile. And let us assume – that for some reason – every political prisoner on earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots. Do you attempt to do this?

Yes. I absolutely would do that.

Ok, here’s an original one. Pick from one of the following dystopic scenarios: you wake up one morning and every spider on earth is now the size of a small dog and SUPER FAST, or you wake up one morning and discover that all cats have suddenly turned on their owners.

I’m an anti-cat person, so I’m going to go with spiders, because it’d be easier to keep them out.

Which 19th Century President is Your Favorite? And you can’t say Lincoln.

I can’t say Lincoln? Then no. (Laughter) Well, when was Adams? Let’s go with John Quincy Adams.

Who’s Your Favorite West Wing Character?

CJ Cregg. I actually took a political science class at PSU where the teacher only used examples from The West Wing.

Imagine you need to summon Captain Planet. You reach into your pocket. What ring do you pull out? (There was a brief pause while Amy sang the first few bars of the Captain Planet theme song.)

(Laughter) These are the best questions ever. Um, Fire.

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