Exclusive: Betsy McHugh Launches Tech Venture To Connect Artists, Audiences

Betsy McHugh

Betsy McHugh

While artists including Taylor Swift and Coldplay have experimented in recent years with the use of light-up wristbands during concerts, Betsy McHugh’s new wearable technology venture, Hurdl, aims to help bridge the gap between artist and audience, while being both accessible and affordable.

Having worked for more than a decade marketing tours for CAA acts including John Mayer and Bon Jovi, as well as in management roles for artists including Keith Urban and Hunter Hayes, McHugh was discontent with an all too common touring experience: artists’ music connected with an audience brimming with listeners, but there was no way to further engage with every single person who had attended.

“I would get so frustrated that we couldn’t send a message to everyone in the audience to say thank you for coming,” says McHugh. “So many people don’t go to the merchandise stand immediately following a show, because maybe they need to get home or skip traffic. It really came around to my simple frustration that I couldn’t send a message to every single person in the audience.”

Two more traditional ways of connecting with or obtaining information for concert attendees have included targeted social media blasts, or securing ticket purchase information.

“With ticket information, that’s a small portion of the audience. The average ticket purchase is 2.7 tickets. Round that up to three, and you’re only getting 33 percent of the audience, so I really wanted to find that ‘trojan horse’ that drives the ability to communicate with every person in the audience.”

With Hurdl’s wearable technology, audience members receive a wristband upon entering the venue. The wristband is then activated via text message. Each audience member then receives a customizable set of questions.

“We can ‘light up’ people based on the answers to those questions,” McHugh says. “We can light up all the ladies or all guys or everyone with a birthday today or all the veterans in the audience.”

Though the wearable technology market has healthy competition—Hurdl’s competitors include PixMob, Xyloband, and fellow Nashville-based Glow Motion Technologies—McHugh saw an opportunity to improve on the concept.

McHugh, a graduate of Vanderbilt University’s Business Psychology program, teamed with Hurdl co-founder Zach Shunk. Hurdl’s Nashville team also includes UX designer Andy Hubright, VP Growth and Strategy Thomas Griffin, Executive/research services’ Delaney Brannigan, and Account Services provider Ali McCowan.

Zach Shunk

Zach Shunk

McHugh’s early research found that the price for wearable technology was too costly for some artists’ production budgets. “The cost was always so astronomical, that I really took it under my wing. It had to be scalable, something we could take to all live events and also see something that people wanted to activate.”

Traditional activation setup also proved to be a barrier. “Initially, we wanted people to download a mobile app, but that was difficult, or they would download it only for a little bit and then delete it. But everybody has a phone and texting, regardless of age group. Ninety percent of people are likely to activate across age groups. Some people do it after the opening act, some do it right away, and some do it in the middle of the show.”

The wristbands seem a win-win for artist and fans. They collect data from each audience member, which can then be used to directly market ticket upgrades, concession stands discounts, meet-and-greet opportunities and more.

“It’s a really holistic approach. We brought this as a marketing concept and not just a hardware company. We will continue to R&D around one singular concept–building a one-to-one communication network with every single person in the audience.”

So far, Hurdl has attracted a following not only in music entertainment, but in live sporting events that are eager to drive attendance. Hurdl now boasts clients including Disney, Major League Soccer, NBA, and NHL.

“People have an innate desire to be part of something bigger,” McHugh says. “What we saw in our beta test, no matter the age of the people in the audience, people want to be part of the experience.”


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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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