In the ever-changing world of music and digital media, nugs.net has been a mainstay specializing in the highest quality concert recordings direct from artists to fans for over 10 years. In case you aren’t familiar with nugs.net, the company has been selling authorized music downloads for longer than iTunes, and continues to forge ahead with cutting-edge new services like streaming apps tailored for bands, and nugs.tv -- live concert video streaming and “Netflix-style” on-demand video.
I can proudly say that my first job out of college was working for nugs.net in 2006. Last week I caught up with the company’s Founder and CEO, Brad Serling, to talk about a variety of things including the new download service with Bruce Springsteen, new services nugs.net has been developing, Phish 3.0, and his favorite music of 2014.
Zumic: Doing all the Springsteen stuff, has anything really caught your ear, stuff that you really like listening to?
Brad Serling: I gotta be honest, the thing I’ve listened to most is “Royals,” the Lorde song. I think his phrasing and delivery, it’s awesome. It’s Bruce solo acoustic playing in front of like 90,000 people in New Zealand, and it’s just awesome. It’s really, really good!
Zumic: We posted the video of that from Springsteen’s official YouTube channel on Zumic. That was special.
Brad Serling: Right. He put out a couple. He did one, “Stayin’ Alive,” one of “Highway To Hell.” And he was playing covers by local songwriters… He was also playing Born To Run start to finish, he’d play Born In The USA start to finish. So that was pretty cool. But yeah, it was the covers, because, you know, the repertoire I’ve heard my whole life. I was just listening to a “10th Avenue Freeze-Out” — that’s a song that is always good.
Zumic: What is the process like? Do you work with the record label? Do you work with Springsteen’s management?
Brad Serling: Both. So, the last year we spent having a series of meetings with [Springsteen’s manager] Jon Landau and his team. Awesome team of people who run Bruce’s business day-to-day. For me, the exciting part has not just having the opportunity to work with Bruce, but to learn from Landau. I mean, the stories the guy tells. Every band I work with is a new learning experience, but I can’t say that we’ve worked with someone who has deeper history in the course of rock and roll than he does.
Zumic: He’s a legendary manager.
Brad Serling: So that’s been the greatest thing for me in terms of my personal experience, because while I’m a fan of Bruce’s music, you know, it’s not like me and my relationship with the Grateful Dead or Phish where it’s been such a huge part of my life since I was a kid. So the satisfaction for me has been the learning experience, learning from Jon and his team…
Zumic: So let me shift gears a little bit here. You won the Billboard award in 2010 for your LivePhish app. I have the app, and it’s really cool.
Brad Serling: Do you have the new one or the old one?
Zumic: I’m so out of the loop, I didn’t even know you had a new one.
Brad Serling: The new one came out about a month ago. That was the launch of our streaming service for Phish, Live Phish Plus. It was big news in the Phish world… because it was the first artist to launch their own private label subscription streaming service. We had actually done it for Umphrey’s McGee a year ago, but on a little bit smaller scale than Phish. Then there’s a new version of the app coming out in a couple weeks that’ll have offline playback, which has probably been the most requested feature... The plan is to do that for other artists. We started with the download business, added CDs, then launched a webcast business five years ago. Now, subscription streaming is the next level of the business… which will not just lead to audio streaming, but Netflix-style on-demand concert footage.
Zumic: Tell me about that.
Brad Serling: There’s two different things – there’s subscription streaming of an archive, whether it’s audio or video or both, then there’s concert pay-per-views, which is what nugs.tv has been. Ideally, we want to have something live at least every weekend on nugs.tv, and then when we’re not live have stuff in the can that’s playing on-demand, as well as just a straight-up channel which we are launching, first on Roku, and it will also be on the website. A 24-7 video channel.
Zumic: Is there a timeline to launch?
Brad Serling: It’s up already, it’s just not open to the public yet. We were hoping to launch in time for Lockn, but there were a couple things that got jammed up on the technology side. Now we’re waiting for another event to launch it with, because we want to launch with a bang. We might roll it out sometime in the spring.
Zumic: What are your thoughts about Phish 3.0?
Brad Serling: I think Sunday at Randall’s Island was arguably some of the best Phish I’ve seen in the 25 years I’ve been seeing the band. Easily up there with anything from ‘97, ‘95, going back to ‘90, the first year I saw them. What’s funny is that they’re such a better band now than they were in the early ’90s, but the early ’90s were so special because everything was new. Now, they’re so much more refined. You might not have the energy, and the craziness, and the off-the-wall wackiness that they had back then. It comes with age. They don’t need to be goofy for the sake of being goofy, they can just play well. I think they’re playing the best of their career, frankly. I mean, look at Halloween, they wrote a fuckin’ rock opera and just played it based on sound effects from an album that contained no music, and they wrote all of those songs to have an hour and a half worth of insanity happening on stage just for the sake of doing it.
Zumic: I've discovered so much cool music from you. Are there any younger, emerging bands that you’ve been digging?
Brad Serling: The band that comes to mind that’s kind of out of left field is The Band Of Heathens out of Austin… I didn’t see them at a festival, I didn’t hear about them through somebody else, it was just through some business colleague that said, “Oh, you should work together,” and I think they were already putting shows out on their own, but they wanted to have their stuff out on nugs.net. And I started listening to it and I was like “These guys are great!” I’ve still never seen them, but I think they’re awesome. Classic rock-sounding, country twang.
Zumic: How about other bands? Are there any bands on tour that are just killing it right now? I saw you highlighting String Cheese Incident on your Sirius XM satellite radio program this week.
Brad Serling: Yeah, String Cheese are playing great. Widespread Panic are also playing really well. What’s interesting is Panic having a different drummer on this tour. It’s like it lit a fire under everyone’s ass. It’s a lot more intensity to the playing… Umphreys, you can close your eyes and pick any show in the last ten years and not really go wrong. Which is great about an UMLive streaming service, you get to listen to all of that.
Zumic: Do you have a favorite show from 2014?
Brad Serling: Sunday Randall’s, I would say. There were a lot of great shows – Dick’s was great, Halloween was great.
Zumic: What about any bands, not just Phish?
Brad Serling: The jury’s still out on that. I was actually just talking about that with my producer at Sirius. I need to go back and do some more listening.
Zumic: Sounds good, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.
Brad Serling: Congratulations on starting Zumic. Good luck and happy holidays!
For Brad Serling’s top 2014 picks from the nugs.net catalog, check out his Live Stash show on SiriusXM JamOn radio on Friday, December 26th.