Concerts Galore From Nugs.net
Recent gigs by Yonder Mountain String Band, Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & Friends, and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band are just a few of the downloads offered by nugs.net.
Streaming is also an important part of the agenda. Nugs.net introduced its first subscription streaming app in November 2015, launching with 10,000 professionally recorded concerts. As of this week the app includes hundreds of live recordings by Pearl Jam, The Disco Biscuits, and others.
As downloads and streams of recent concerts become more essential to the total concert experience, nugs.net continues to serve as the platform bringing fans and artists together. It’s where you can purchase a recording of one of Springsteen’s latest shows or snag one of his famed performances from years past. For the concert fan, a browse through nugs.net’s inventory is like being the proverbial kid in the candy shop.
What’s nugs.net’s origin story?
The Reader’s Digest version is that I was on tour taping The Grateful Dead. You could buy a taper ticket and officially record the band with their permission. It got to the point where … it took so much time out of the day just to make copies of my tapes for friends who wanted them. I thought, “Hey, there must be a better idea.”
So I called The Grateful Dead at the time, this was around 1994, and said, “Can I put my Dead tapes on a website?” They said, “What’s a website?” and “Do whatever you want. Just don’t rip us off.”
That’s how nugs.net started, as a site where I was posting MP3s of my Dead tapes, ostensibly with their permission. It was a non-commercial site, just free downloads. Then I started adding Phish tapes, some other bands.
Fast forward to 2000 I get a call from The Grateful Dead’s lawyers saying, “We need to shut you down or go into business with you.” We were doing 3 million downloads a month at that point of free Grateful Dead MP3s, Phish MP3s, all from my tape collection.
So, I said, “How about we go into business?” I sent them a business plan and the next thing I know I’m in San Francisco having a meeting with members of The Dead. Interestingly enough, members of Pearl Jam were at that meeting, all their lawyers and archivists. There was a whole plan to do this, a one-stop shop to service bands … offering downloads from their live catalog as well as handling mechanicals, their album catalogs, their merch. A lot of pie-in-the-sky talk about how to pull these bands’ resources together. It was called “Project Bandwagon” back in 2000. So The Grateful Dead hired me as a consultant for that.
That’s how nugs.net actually became a business. It went from nugs.net just being a fan site with [my] tape collection to me being a consultant for Grateful Dead Productions on this Bandwagon project.
As you can imagine, it didn’t really pan out. It was hard for the bands to agree on how to value each other’s I.P. It was a great idea, just a little bit ahead of its time.
Meanwhile, through that meeting I met Phish’s manager, John Paluska, at the time. Phish wanted to do this. Phish broke up in 2000 but said, “When we get back together, let’s talk about this.” By the time Phish got back together, New Year’s 2002, that’s when nugs.net went legit, so to speak. We actually became a paid commercial service to download live music.
What was interesting, it was very important for the band that the nugs.net site stayed free so that fans wouldn’t think nugs.net sold out. … So we launched LivePhish.com as a way to download every Phish show right after it happened. … Then it grew from there. We signed Metallica, we signed all these other jambands and here we are now.
Although we’re talking about live recordings, nugs.net also offers studio albums.
Nugs.net is all about live music. … The most important deals we have in place, that are personally important to me, are things like our relationship with Warner Bros. An example is the Led Zeppelin catalog, recently remastered and released as hi-definition downloads. Hi-definition audio has been really important to us. … It’s a balance of last night’s Springsteen show and last night’s Pearl Jam show, to me … it’s like a full-balance of, “Here’s last night’s show from your favorite band but also the crown jewels of rock presented in the most pristine form, and you can get it all in the same place directly from nugs.net.” There was a while where we actually the only place selling the hi-def and lossless Zeppelin.
We certainly put out the studio releases from artists we’re working with. But the idea for us is that the studio, especially back-catalog studio, is the candy of the check-out aisle. If somebody is coming to our site to buy last night’s Widespread Panic Show – the Panic covers a lot of Neil Young – we also have the entire Neil Young catalog. So you might want to pick up the original version of “Cortez The Killer.”
Is nugs.net involved with the recording of the show or does it serve solely as a platform for sales and distribution?
It depends on the band. Frankly, we’d be out of business if we were sending [recording] crews out to all these [shows].
In most cases, it’s the artist’s front of house engineer that’s making a recording of each night’s show. I’d say that 99 percent of the times we’re working with a new artist, the front of house engineer is doing that anyway. He’s already been making those recordings. Ideally he’s blending in front-of-house mics, time aligning it, and uploading it to us on a nightly basis. That’s typically how it works.
So we’re taking the front-of-house mix. These are shows getting up to the theatre and shed level. Once we get to arenas and stadiums, it’s a different experience.
When you get to the arena level, Phish and Metallica are good examples, they have engineers of their choice on the road making separate live multi-track mix exclusively for a nugs.net release. So there’s a front of house engineer mixing the show for the room and there’s another engineer, in the dressing room or wherever, taking all the feeds from the stage and doing a 118 channel mixdown live … uploading that to us each night. That’s the ideal scenario.
Then we get to kind of the middle ground with Springsteen. In the interim from his last tour until now we had put out eight or nine archive shows, 24-track mixes done in a studio going back to New Year’s 1975. These are iconic shows, New Year’s ’75 at the Tower [Theatre], the Agora ’78, which is our biggest seller of all time, of anything we’ve ever done. We’ve done New Year’s 1980 at Nassau Coliseum, all these gorgeous sounding releases that were mixed from multitracks. So we had set the bar pretty high when we started working with Bruce.
The Springsteen tour is kind of a hybrid where it’s being recorded multitrack every night. Then the hard drives are being sent to Chiller Sound in Manhattan. Jon Altschiller is doing a mix each night, then sending it to the team for approval. There’s a whole feedback loop in place. At this point we’re putting out about three shows a week but it’s actually atypical of what nugs.net usually does. Usually a band uploads the show and we put it out the next day. It’s an immediate thing.
Pearl Jam is the extreme other end of the spectrum where they record everything and then take it back to their studio in Seattle, do all the mixes after the tour, then send it to be mastered and we put out the shows maybe six weeks after the tour ends. It’s a tug of war with the fans. They want it right away but they also want the best sounding thing.
While talking with long-lived acts like Springsteen or Metallica, have the band members or their representatives expressed any desire that the authorized live downloads might cut down on the unauthorized bootlegs in circulation?
For bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead, and all the subsequent incarnations of The Dead, it’s always been part of the culture, allowing fans to tape … fans are shocked if you’re not doing that, if you’re in that world. But when you get into … I’d even say Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam was a pioneer. They started this in 2000, doing it with Sony, which was unheard of at the time, putting out every night of the tour. So it does depend on the band.
Metallica, interestingly, always allowed taping. They were kind of The Grateful Dead of metal, in that regard, where they really took care of their fans. The initial idea Metallica came to me with was, “Let’s just release everything for free.” Then, of course, you look at all the costs that go into it. “OK. I guess we gotta charge something for it.” But when we got to the Live Metallica app, which was one of the first band-specific apps, it was only 99 cents and you got to stream all of these shows. So there was kind of a balance … it wasn’t so much to beat the bootleggers, it was just to give the fans a better quality version of what they were already doing.
For most artists, it is a new [significant] revenue stream. I’d say, of a good chunk of our artists, the live download revenue is their highest revenue stream aside from ticket sales. Higher than any merch item, higher than their album royalties. When you get to the Springsteen level, I have to imagine we’re a drop in the bucket. Same with Metallica. It’s not like, “Wow! This is our new business.” It’s, “Let’s do something better for the fans.” Of course, we’re going to make money because we have to cover all of the costs that go into it. We have to pay for studio time, the gear, pay the engineers, running the site … all of that stuff. It is a business. While it’s significant revenue for nugs.net, I don’t know how significant it is for an artist of that stature.
Not that it’s not important. We had similar conversation when we were working with Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant when they had solo tours. When The Who came out, we said we wanted to do it with [the band], it wasn’t exactly enough money for them to make it worthwhile. I’ll never forget the quote from their manager – “What is a significant amount of money to Pete Townshend is much larger than a significant amount of money to you and me.” It’s a different metric. It was the same with Zeppelin. We said, “Why don’t we go and put out all the old Zeppelin archives?” And it was like, “They don’t need the money. They don’t want to be bothered. Robert would rather go and do his thing and John Paul Jones is touring.”
I’d put Paul McCartney in the same boat. We spoke to his camp about doing some pay-per-view webcasts. [And they said] “Well. … Why?”
What is nugs.net doing with apps?
One of the key things we’re doing in the App Store now is the LivePhish App, a subscription service just for Phish. It’s $9.99 a month and you get 500 shows in the Live Phish archives and then every night the band plays. The real compelling thing for fans is they were buying downloads every night of the tour, anyway. Now they can pay just a subscription fee and stream it on every device. It’s been very popular among fans.
We took the same idea and created the nugs.net app. The idea being we can only split up the fan base so many times. We work with Phish and just about every other jamband. So when you have Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits and all these bands … we can’t expect [fans] to pay $9.99 for Phish, $9.99 for Panic. Not only that, but the listening experience for a fan, you don’t want to have to open up a different app every time you want to listen to a different band’s show. With the nugs.net app you pay one flat fee and you can listen to last night’s show from 15 of your favorite bands. These are bands that have been touring for years.
Bands like moe., we have 500-800 shows in the archives. We have 1,200 Umphrey’s McGee shows in the archive, and every new show they play. That’s a higher-price point because it has more bands. It’s $12.99 per month. That also has Pearl Jam in there, so you have 360 shows or something from the Pearl Jam archive going back to 2000, including a couple of archive shows from the ’90s. Then you have the current tours. We’re hoping to add more bands. There’s one Bruce show in there now from The River 1980 tour. I don’t think we’re going to put the current tour in there but we’re hoping to add the 2014 shows.
The app is strictly for streaming?
Yeah. In terms of the way it works, it’s like Spotify or Apple Music. It’s on-demand, all-access to everything. You can listen on your iPhone [and] other devices. We’re going to roll out a Sonos integration in the next couple of months. There is a desktop version for Phish that is browser-based and we’re going to have a desktop app for nugs.net for both Mac and PC. But the primary usage is mobile. It’s on-demand, on your phone, all access all the time.
[With] Springsteen, we built into Springsteen’s own site. Normally, we build a standalone thing, like a LiveMetallica.com or a LivePhish.com. But with Bruce we wanted to make it a part of his site. Sony was very gracious with this. They run BruceSpringsteen.net and they allowed us to build the live store bolted on to that. It looks and feels like you’re still in Springsteen’s world and you’re transacting with him as opposed to buying it from Live Nation or from Sony. We also added his whole catalog. I think it was the first time a major artist had his whole catalog on sale on his own site and had it in lossless format as well, and in hi-def format. That was significant for us, to have the entire catalog from his career and have all these live shows, all in one spot, all on his own website.
Is sorting out copyright and publishing information a mini-nightmare for nugs.net?
Yes and no. For mechanicals, it’s pretty straightforward. For every download and every CD that we’re selling, we have a thriving CD business, kind of an anomaly.
So the mechanicals are straightforward because there’s a … set rate for publishing. There’s no negotiating necessary unless you want to work out a better deal. … We’re handling that for most artists. Some artists do it themselves. In some cases their label does it. It’s done jointly with us and Sony for Bruce. But take Metallica, for example. We’re clearing all those rights and we’re putting out every show Metallica has played since 2004.
With streaming of the audio, it’s a little more complicated because of how performance royalties work, and percentages. The calculations are more complicated but it’s still kind of a straightforward process.
What’s difficult is live video. The sync rights required for live video, there is no set rate and you have to negotiate every time. That’s why we have 15-20,000 audio recordings in nugs.net’s archives from 1,000 bands but we’ve got, I’d say, 100 or so videos. The reason is because of the licensing. Our bands play a lot of covers. Even Bruce plays a lot of covers. And cover songs are an issue for video. Not for audio because it’s pretty straightforward. An example, Widespread Panic played a two-night stand for Halloween and we webcasted it live as pay-per-views on nugs.tv. Then we wanted to release it on DVD, Blu-ray and video on-demand [with] 22 covers over the course of two nights, it took from Halloween until about three weeks ago to clear all of those covers. … It’s a lot of work for, frankly, not a lot of return. We’ll do OK selling video after the fact, but we don’t do it a lot.
Phish is another good example. We’ve done pay-per-views of over 100 Phish shows at this point. At this stage in their touring career where they’re only doing 25 or maybe 40, 50 shows per year, max, at this point we’re pay-per-viewing almost every other show, or maybe one out of every three shows. But we don’t make those available after the fact. They’re only available live because of that licensing issue. It is so much effort to get those sync rights, we just focus on live. Not to say the band won’t release stuff in the future. I’m sure they will. They’ve been capturing every show, hi-def multi-camera shoots, since 2010.
Hopefully, one day will be sorted out but I feel that it’s the Wild West right now and the publishers … are using that to their advantage to secure the best deal they can.
What kind of space does nugs.net occupy in the brick-and-mortar world?
At this stage of the game it’s ever-revolving. There’s a cloud-based component … there’s a couple of different data centers. We have to be redundant and we have to be global. Especially with Pearl Jam, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Bruce Springsteen, we’re serving a global audience. When we were just doing Phish and other jambands, it was almost exclusively U.S. Maybe a little of Japan for Phish. But we have a huge presence in Brazil, in terms of fan demand. Even China and parts of Africa. We did a free webcast of Metallica the night before Super Bowl 50. They were playing AT&T Park here in San Francisco. We did a free webcast on LiveMetallica.com. We had over 1,000,000 views. When we looked at where the people were coming from, it was fascinating. It was the most global event we had ever done in the history of the company and it was definitely the biggest event we had ever done. In order to support that, we had all kinds of partners. Everyone from YouTube to our hosting providers, our data center, using Amazon Web Services for some components. … We use the best tools to get the job done.
When approaching a potentially new band for nugs.net, what are some of the selling points?
First of all, it’s found money. They’re probably already doing this. Their front of house engineer is probably already making recordings of every show.
The other argument is that it is super-serving the fans. The fan who is going to be interested in buying the show he attended is the fan who is buying tickets for himself and three friends. It’s the same guy. It’s the guy who is going to buy the prerelease of your album, who’s going to join your fan club, who is going to buy your merch, who is going to go to your special Playa vacation in Mexico, like Phish or My Morning Jacket does. … We’re super-serving that fan and that fan is going to bring more fans to your shows. It’s a nice little cycle that we can prove time and time again that it works.
It’s also a nice little mousetrap that we’ve built. Let’s take Phish, for example. For five years now every Phish ticket comes with a free MP3. What’s interesting about that is we’re using the barcode on the ticket. That means we’re capturing the secondary market. Pretty much in the history of ticketing, bands do not get direct contact with the ticket holder. They might occasionally get the information on the ticket buyer. … maybe from a Ticketfly or another company, they can get the guy who bought the ticket. But nobody is coming in and buying just one ticket. They’re buying three or four tickets. We’re getting all of those ticket holders to come back to Phish’s website, put in their personal information, get a free download and then they go on to buy $50 worth of other stuff. Maybe it’s the CD of that show, or maybe they bought the three-night package to Mexico or the four-night stand at the Garden. Or they’ll buy our next webcast. So that’s the funnel we’ve created. To get the ticket holder to come back to the band’s website. That’s like the holy grail of music marketing. Normally the lights come up after the show and you have no contact with those fans until the next time you come to town. Or, maybe the next album drop, which might not be for three years. We’re in constant contact with your fans. We’ve given them a reason to come back to the band’s website. That’s the marketing pitch on it. And it’s priceless.
Is there anything you’ve wanted to tell the world about nugs.net but no one has asked the right question?
I guess it would be what does [the name] nugs.net stand for? It’s not an acronym. It’s not N-U-G-S. … It’s kind of a play on words, a “nugget.’ The stuff we’ve done with Bruce Springsteen recently is a great example. We’ve gone into this treasure trove of the Bruce Springsteen archives, stuff that had never been released before, had never seen the light of day. We’re pulling out 18 reels of half-inch tape of a run of shows from ’78. Those tapes, literally, have to be baked in order to get the musical information off of them. It’s a nugget. What we are doing is digging up nuggets.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would see us doing exactly doing what we are doing now. Hopefully doing it better and doing it with bigger artists on a bigger scale … or on a global scale. Me, personally, I would like to spend more of my time hosting the show every week on SiriusXM. That’s what I personally enjoy, the curation. I can always tell somebody what they’re going to want to hear. … I love it when I get a chance to go on E Street radio and talk to the Springsteen fans. … In order to do that we need to grow the company more so I can spend less time in the trenches. But I also like fighting in the trenches. I’m thrilled to be able to do this because it’s a dream come true. I wake up every day and cannot believe that I get to do this. Because I’d be doing it anyway.
For more information, please visit nugs.net’s website, Facebook page and and Twitter feed.
And be sure to listen to Brad Serling’s weekly radio show, Jam On, on SiriusXM.