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Bkstg, Backed by $20 Million in Funding, Promises to Connect Musicians and Their Fans

That's a pitch we've heard before. It's different this time, says CEO Ran Harnevo.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Justin Bieber blew up on YouTube and dominates Twitter. He also visits Instagram and recently started appearing on Snapchat. And, of course, he has his own site.

Now Ran Harnevo wants the Biebs to hang out at a new spot. Harnevo, a former AOL executive who ran that company’s video efforts, is building Bkstg, a portal he hopes will become a new home for musicians and their fans — and, eventually, for other celebrities as well.

Harnevo wants to launch the app later this year and has lined up $20 million in funding, much of it from the media world, to get it up and running. Among the backers: Global Group, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Mark Cuban Companies, Deep Fork Capital, Gordy Crawford, Scooter Braun Project and Live Nation.

Creating a digital fan hub that promises direct access to musicians and other celebrities isn’t a new idea. People with long memories will recall something called Artist Direct, which went public in the first Web boom. A decade later MySpace became a thing in large part because musicians used it as a way to connect with fans. And people are still trying variants on the idea: See Apple Music’s “Connect” tab, which is supposed to let bands talk to fans by throwing up new videos and other goodies.

So what’s different this time? Harnevo argues that none of the platforms musicians use to reach fans today are built specifically to help them engage fans. Instead, he says, Twitter, Facebook and everyone else use artists’ celebrity to attract users, but they don’t offer them much in return.

His pitch: Artists who use Bkstg will be able to keep any data they generate on the platform and can take it with them if they leave. And he’ll let them use the platform for free, but expects to take a cut from any revenue-generating transaction they perform on Bkstg, like selling tickets, or livestreams, or T-shirts.

You can get a sense of what Harnevo is up to by checking out Fahlo, Bkstg’s predecessor company, which says it lets “fans #getcloser to the people & things they love most.” Fahlo started up last year and raised $3 million, but didn’t get much traction; Harnevo joined as CEO this year, renamed the company, built a new app from the ground up and raised another $17 million.

Fahlo might also give you a sense of Harnevo’s marketing plan, since Bieber’s Twitter bio tells his 65.3 million followers to join him on Fahlo. Harnevo won’t say whether he’s signed any artists up for Bkstg, but I would assume that the reason he’s brought in backers like Scooter Braun, who manages Bieber, is that he hopes they’ll get the musicians they work with to embrace the platform.

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