For decades, if an artist needed a backing band in the studio or on the road, their main option was scouring through their contacts to find musicians to play with. Elmo Lovano wants to change that.
Lovano, a longtime touring and session drummer himself who’s worked with artists such as Miley Cyrus and Skrillex, launched Jammcard in 2017, creating one of the most comprehensive databases of professional musicians for hire in the music industry. His goal: modernize how artists find musicians to play with.
“I essentially set out to make what I wish we had when I was gigging most often,” Lovano says. “The only other option is to send out a mass text to 20 people and hope you find someone. Whether you’re an up-and-comer or someone working with Beyoncé, the whole creative side of our industry is word of mouth. There’s a better way to do this, and I want to make the global database of the whole live music industry that’s searchable and bookable to help musicians get more work.”
For the most part, artists and their teams don’t have many options beyond word of mouth to find potential musicians to play with. Artists’ managers often send out texts to musicians they know, ask their friends or look for other recommendations to find band members to back their clients. Jammcard doesn’t stop the search, but ideally, it at least formalizes it and allows an app to curate choices for a client rather than look around aimlessly.
Lovano’s startup has grown increasingly ambitious, securing $5 million to date from investors such as legendary producer Quincy Jones and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin. Today, Jammcard has 10,000 professional musicians on the platform in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and Atlanta, the country’s four main music hubs. Lovano also teases that the platform will open in international markets soon. Jammcard is very selective, with musicians needing to pass a vetting process to prove they are full-time, professional musicians active in the industry.
Tom Windish, a high-profile agent at Wasserman Music who represents marquee artists including Lorde, Billie Eilish and the XX, is a regular Jammcard user, often using the platform to find musicians for more emerging-level artists. Recently, he used Jammcard to find a guitarist for singer-songwriter Danielle Ponder, whom he manages. The biggest potential utility for the service, Windish says, is for smaller artists who lack the capital of more established artists.
“Messaging people, asking friends of friends, that works if you’re well-networked, but not everyone is. You think about the financial aspect here; for international acts, getting visas and bringing a whole band from overseas becomes a huge financial hurdle,” Windish says. “When you’re a solo act, It doesn’t make much sense to fly a band in, but what other option would you have when you’re coming up? This is a real option. You find good musicians and you can save tens of thousands of dollars bringing a band over with you. Most artists don’t have thousands to spend on that [and] they can’t afford a musical director, this is a better alternative.”
Lovano says he’d eventually like to broaden the app out more to include less established or amateur musicians, and to start, earlier this year the company launched Jammcard Mentors, but to woo higher profile talent to start, Jammcard had to ensure the most in-demand touring musicians. The strategy seems to have paid off; musicians from Jammcard have been hired to work with Harry Styles, Gwen Stefani, the Chainsmokers, Zedd and Christina Perri, among others. In Perri’s case, according to the company, Jammcard supplied all the musicians she hired for a recent slate of talk show performances, including the Today Show, Ellen and the Late Late Show with James Corden.
Jammcard could also be appealing in the post-Covid touring environment in which many musicians and road crew members stopped touring altogether or found a new line of work, leaving artists needing to find new people to tour with. Lovano says Jammcard recently reached similar usage numbers to prior to live music shutdown two years ago.
Perhaps its most distinctive (and clout-riddled) offering comes through its exclusive parties called JammJams. Started several years ago as informal jam sessions at Lovano’s house, the events have evolved into more bespoke private concerts, the most recent of which took a sponsorship from Sony showcased gospel choir the Samples, best known as the collective that works with Kanye West for his Sunday Service sessions.
The Samples played in late May for an invite-only show for a few hundred Jammcard members and other friends from the music industry at a low-key studio in Los Angeles’s Frogtown neighborhood. Lovano, who looks and sounds vaguely like Jeremy Strong and seems more immediately reminiscent of an investment banker than an accomplished musician, ended the night hammering away on the drums, playing with a rotating hodgepodge of musicians.
Jammcard makes its money through various avenues such as sponsorships and corporate partnerships. The JammJam featuring the Samples, for example, was a partnership with Sony. Jammcard also charges a 10% fee to those who book Jammcard musicians.
Right now, membership is free, but Lovano says the company may eventually add a subscription fee. Only a few years old, Jammcard isn’t profitable yet, but Lovano says this is the company’s first year focusing on revenue and that artists have spent $500,000 through the first half of this year booking musicians on the app.
Matt McGuire, the Chainsmokers’ drummer and musical director, is also active on the platform, using it frequently to hire musicians for many of the duo’s television appearances, album release parties and other one-off events for the group. McGuire estimates he’s hired over 20 musicians through Jammcard and notes that while his own network of musicians comes first, having a service like Jammcard is convenient and helps give a chance to someone new.
“We’re selective with who we pick, so going through the app makes sense since we have some assurance we know the people we see are pros,” McGuire says. “It also lets us give opportunities to musicians likely wouldn’t have considered before since it broadens who we can find. Elmo’s making a platform that’s filling a hole that’s still in this industry now.”