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Spend a few minutes talking to Vito Rinaldo and his passion for music comes through loud and clear. An avid concert-goer, Rinaldo started following the Dave Matthews Band around on tour in 2003, and later did the same for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and its offshoot Circles Around the Sun. Affable and enthusiastic, the 73-year-old retired teacher is the kind of guy who would stick around after shows to talk to the band, always eager to get to know the people behind the music.

So when venues across the country started stuttering in March due to the pandemic, Rinaldo wanted to do something to help out-of-work musicians — and keep the music going. Watching free livestreams from musicians’ homes on Facebook and YouTube, the New Yorker felt a crucial element was missing: the interaction between the audience and the performers. “It’s totally one-directional,” he says. “There’s no feedback from the audience.” 

He Picked a Streaming Platform That Encourages Engagement

In May, Rinaldo used Zoom and Eventbrite to launch TOF Productions and its entirely virtual music venue, the Tree. (The venue’s name was loosely inspired by a lyric from the legendary folk singer/songwriter John Prine, who died in April from COVID-19 complications). 

Rinaldo sold tickets through Eventbrite, using a password-protected Zoom meeting to host the concerts. This allowed fans to mingle as they would at a normal show before the music (albeit, virtually) and applaud after songs. Better yet, the musician could actually see (and hear) who they’re performing for — and make money from ticket sales and tips. Since launching, the venue’s weekly Thursday night streams have raised more than $18,000 for its artists and various charities through ticket sales and donations, Rinaldo says.

Related: How to Choose the Right Video Hosting Platform for Your Virtual Events

“We’re trying to simulate every aspect of what the real music world is like,” Rinaldo says. “It’s as close as we can get to that symbiotic relationship that artists and their audiences have — how they feed off of each. That takes shows to a higher and higher level, and right from the first show, we knew that was happening.” 

Related: How to Host a Livestream: The Basics for Virtual Events

The (ticket) price had to be right

And since that first show — with London Souls singer/guitarist Tash Neal — TOF has grown into a full-fledged (and well-oiled) music-making machine. Every week, TOF hosts a new show for its devoted fans (there’s an 800-plus member Facebook group of regulars that’s constantly growing through word of mouth). Tickets, which come with a free, printable show poster, are reasonable: $10 to attend (or $20 for a VIP ticket that includes an intimate pre-show meet and greet and exclusive performance of a few songs) and fans can choose to watch and interact with the band on Zoom, like Rinaldo might have in a real club, or on a private YouTube stream. (Sets are also archived on TOF’s YouTube channel post-performance). 

Related: Ticketing Strategies for Online Events: A Guide to Free, Donation, and Tiered Ticketing

He leveraged Eventbrite’s partnerships and marketing tools

Working with artists performing out of their homes on Zoom has had its challenges — the platform wasn’t exactly made with music in mind, every show requires a soundcheck, and every artist has different streaming capabilities. But as restrictions have lifted, bands have started safely gathering in studios and empty venues and Zoom now has a new hi-fidelity music feature and an improved integration and partnership with Eventbrite.

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Rinaldo, who hosts the streams from his home, now has a team of nine volunteers who help him with the technical side of things, promotion and marketing, and moderating/muting attendees during the performance. And the word is getting out.

“Booking agents are now reaching out to us,” Rinaldo says. “Artists [are] recommending their friends who are fellow musicians.” Some bands, like Los Angeles rockers Pacific Range, enjoyed playing the Tree so much that they’ve returned for encore performances.

Related: How to Work With Celebrities and Big-Name Talent for Virtual Events

Rinaldo had no intention of becoming a virtual music mogul, he just wanted to keep his passion alive while helping out those who make it all possible. He’s blown away by TOF’s success and the Tree is now booked throughout 2020, with performances scheduled from New Orleans funk and jazz act Naughty Professor, Jackson Browne collaborator Leslie Mendelson, and Boston blues rockers GA-20

“What started as a couple of friends getting together to see some live music has blossomed into a full-blown production company for our virtual nightclub,” Rinaldo says. “We are presenting every genre of music to audience members all over the world, played by musicians all over the USA.” 

Virtual doesn’t mean temporary

Even as musicians and fans slowly start gathering again for socially distanced concerts and drive-in events, Rinaldo doesn’t see TOF slowing down anytime soon.

“We see a place for us throughout 2021 and beyond, regardless of the increase in [in-person] shows,” Rinaldo says. TOF shows are “an economical way for musicians to reach their audience all over the globe without incurring all the expenses inherent in touring.”

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