High Country: Nugs.net’s Brad Serling is saving the music one couch tour at a time
With the 2020 concert calendar cancelled, business for the leading livestream company is anything but usual.
When Belly Up Aspen announced the postponement of Bob Weir and Wolf Bros’ three-night run on March 12, ticketholders held out hope that coming together in October would be a reality. But in the weeks that followed, more Colorado concert cancellations were made official — from Dead & Company at Folsom Field in Boulder to Phish at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver to Widespread Panic at Red Rocks in Morrison — making the only thing I had left to look forward to in 2020 a long shot.
On April 30, the Belly Up box office shared a message from Weir and his bandmates directly: “Out of an abundance of caution we are cancelling the remaining Bob Weir and Wolf Bros tour dates for the remainder of 2020.” The statement concluded, “In the meantime, be good to yourselves — and to each other. Help a neighbor. Find a way to pay it forward. We are all in this together. Let there be songs to fill the air. See y’all soon.”
For live music lovers, filling the air (and our time) with songs during quarantine has been made all the better thanks to Nugs.net — the leading livestream company for jam bands, and provider of pay-per-view concerts and professional live recordings for classic rockers including Metallica, Pearl Jam, Wilco and Bruce Springsteen.
Founded by Brad Serling in 1993, the subscription-based multi- media platform is experiencing its busiest two months of business ever with a 670% spike in traffic and a conversion rate of 54% from free 30- day trial users to paid subscribers.
Eight weeks ago, Serling, who’s also the host of SirusXM’s “Weekly Live Stash” on the Jam On channel, got a call from Phish’s manager asking, “What do you think we should do?”
“I said, ‘Well, we should do a weekly video series.’ That’s how this all started. And then the next day, I got a call from Metallica saying, ‘What do you think we should do?’ Then the Dead called, so it became clear that we should just make it a nightly thing and give each band their own night,” Serling shared with me during a recent phone interview. “Now we’re at the point where we’re doubling up on most nights.”
And the majority of the coronavirus content is completely free, stream-able on band Facebook pages via the Nugs.net and Nugs.tv websites, YouTube channel and mobile app. Serling admitted that from a business perspective, he’s surprised by the sizes of the audiences Nugs.net has commanded.
“I’ve been doing livestreams for 25 years, even before Nugs.net was a company,” said Serling. “I’m amazed as a fan of how good the feeling is when you know that there’s thousands of other fans at that very same moment watching a concert — especially when it’s not live or I’m playing a show from 10 years ago. It’s amazing. It feels good.”
Serling gets input from band managers and archivists to curate which shows to program each week — often presented with a nonprofit partner attached, depending on band affiliations (i.e. MusiCares Foundation, Rex Foundation and The WaterWheel Foundation). So far, Nugs.net has raised more than $500,000 through its coronavirus concert livestreams alone.
“I think there’s been this shift now to reality setting in — first it was an initial state of shock and really just uncertainty,” added Serling. “Nobody knowing what was going on … I think what surprised me is how in the last week or two … at least nationally, if not globally, there’s now this acceptance (in the music industry) of, ‘Okay, this is the world we’re in.’”
While Serling doesn’t have an end date set for Nugs.net’s free weekly series, he is in active discussions with artists to start producing virtual tours — filmed in-studio with no audience or at a partner venue — that would mimic a traditional travel schedule with geo-fencing enabled to sell tickets within each city.
According to Variety “Nugs. net has cameras and equipment installed at eight major venues in the U.S., including New York’s Sony Music Hall and the Fillmore in San Francisco, that can be activated with the flip of a switch, and the company can ship equipment virtually anywhere a gig could be played. Once the venues are determined to be safe for artists to perform with a small crew, the company plans to broadcast concerts from them, albeit without an audience.”
“There’s no rule book to go by here,” explained Serling. “Everybody’s making it up as they go along and trying to make lemonade out of lemons as best we can. I’m now on Zoom calls from the minute I wake up until the [nightly] livestream starts, so honestly, watching what we’re broadcasting has been a huge stress relief for me personally. Sharing these shows has definitely been a beacon of light in a world that needs light.”
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It was inevitable, right? Wine in space.