NoCap, No Limits: Cisco Adler & Jimmy Buffett Lead A New Way Forward

Cover of Pollstar Aug. 31, 2020 issue
Brennan Pierson
– Cover of Pollstar’s Aug. 31, 2020 issue
Cisco Adler in front of The Roxy, which he co-owns.

It’s said that If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Or, to your beach, if you are Jimmy Buffett. In the case of venue-based streaming platform NoCap, maybe Buffett can even bring the beach to you.

Buffett is one of a group of industry thought and tech leaders who have signed on as advisors and in his case, performers, for NoCap, devised by and longtime Buffett friends Cisco Adler and Donavon Frankenreiter once the touring industry was shuttered by COVID-19.
“Cisco told me what they were doing when they got NoCap and I thought it was a great idea,” Buffett tells Pollstar. “It came along with [NoCap co-founder and musician] Donavon Frankenreiter; I knew Don real well as a surfer and was a big fan of his. I liked the fact that here were kids that have also played these [heavily impacted small] venues – kids that are 40, but I’m 73 – who had a real feeling to try to help other people out.”
Adler makes it clear that Buffett’s not on the team just because they’re old pals. They all had a common motive in addition to getting music played again – they also wanted to create a business that could assist crew members and venue staff that have had their livelihoods decimated by COVID and the industry shutdown. So they put their heads together.

“Jimmy’s an advisor, one of the first people I went to for this concept for a couple of reasons: because I’ve known him forever and for the culture he’s created. He’s forward thinking and has always been an early adopter, looking at the future of this industry. He’s one of the first to start livestreaming to this culture in the era of the superfan.”

NoCap at The Roxy
Nikoli Partiyeli
– NoCap at The Roxy
The marquee at The Roxy Theatre in W. Hollywood, Calif., advertises a run of NoCap shows by Wallows.

Adler explains part of the appeal of the so-called “superfan” for a model like NoCap, which takes social media algorithms out of the equation and can reach all of an artist’s hardcore fans, rather than a small percentage, without paying for posts to be promoted. 
“You don’t have to get everyone, just the superfans,” he explains. “If you have a large audience you probably aren’t getting through to them when the social media tourniquet is forced on you. You have to pay for your own audience. One of our M.O.s is to help artists find their own audience and let them remarket and own that. 

“Jimmy Buffett is the one who built a cult of culture and finds new ways for them to engage and be along for the ride consistently,” Adler continues. “It seemed right to reach out to him, first, as a person to pick his brain, to see if this is even a viable medium and then, when I saw his enthusiasm and excitement, asked, “Do you want to shepherd us in the right direction?”
Buffett is not only a congenial shepherd but made his team available to NoCap for guidance. “He’s built a digital media empire around himself that now takes that blueprint to other bands and artists. Being able to access that team and lean on the expertise of years and years is huge,” Adler says.

Buffett’s insight and team, as well those of its other advisors, enables NoCap to function as much more than a streaming platform. By giving artists and venues more control over revenue streams like ticketing and merchandising as well as creative control of performances, NoCap also enables them to activate crews and pay them as they would for a live, in-person show. Marketing and sponsorship is also available through the platform, including tracking of metrics and engagement.
Cisco Adler
Kaela Barowsky
– Cisco Adler
In fact, NoCap is envisioned as much as a digital concert promoter as it is a streaming platform, and this is part of what differentiates it from many of the services that have proliferated in recent months as live performances screeched to a halt.

Ticketing takes place by SMS text, which has the advantage of speed and a high level of engagement – NoCap estimates that not only are 98% of texts opened, 90% of those are opened within three minutes, as opposed to email. Fans can make in-app merchandise purchases, and advertising sponsors can more easily track user engagement. The company provides creative and production assistance when needed to enhance performances, and offers multi-show opportunities as well.
An advisory board made up of some of the brightest minds in music, technology and business is leading the effort to create a unique service that is intended to live on well into the future by supplementing live shows with an additional, global ticketing pipeline that enables people who can’t physically attend a show to experience it via streaming – a model expected to live well beyond the end of COVID.
– NoCap

Adler brought in an all-star team to bring the dream to fruition, including Buffett and Frankenreiter, as well as his father Lou Adler, the legendary music and film entrepreneur. Other board members include Colemon Sisson (Bubble Up), Ryan Graves (Uber), Matt Graham (BRND Management), Ross Gerber (Gerber Kawasaki), Jon Bradford (Colab) and artist manager Ian Montone, whose company, Monotone Inc., reps clients including Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, Cold War Kids, and an emerging band, Wallows, that is already booking several 
NoCap shows at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, Calif., (co-owned by Adler) and selling tickets in multiples of the venue’s 500-seat capacity. Adler estimates the company has generated almost a half-million dollars on behalf of artists in two months’ time.

“COVID-19 has forced everyone to reimagine many facets of the music industry and although the pay-per-view concept is not brand new, we are now finding new and better ways to utilize it to connect artists with their fans,” Wallows manager Andrew Friedman tells Pollstar. “Creating a new, cost-effective model to both pull these streams off with proper production and for fans is key because we all want to go to a full-blown rock show right now. 

“NoCap has found a way to do that, while also streamlining everything, making it easier for the artist and fan, as well as having a straightforward (and one of the best) financial models. They are artist- and fan-friendly which is the most important factor.”

Nikoli Partiyeli
– Wallows
Wallows perform an early NoCap show at The Roxy Theatre in W. Hollywood, Calif.
NoCap, in addition to presenting live shows from marquee venues, is capable of producing prerecorded shows and mashing them up with live performances for an almost music documentary vibe. 
Among the artists taking advantage of that capability is Iration, a pop/reggae band based in Santa Barbara, Calif., that has a dedicated fanbase and averages 1,069 tickets sold and $25,126 grossed during the “normal” times. 

Iration’s Micah Pueschel spoke to Pollstar after streaming a live show at the SOhO in Santa Barbara and recording another at a venue he refers to as “The Cocoon” in Malibu. 
“[Cisco] came to us with the opportunity to work with NoCap and I looked at it and it seemed really well thought-out with good strategy behind it,” Pueschel says. “With such an uncertain future for touring in the next year or two, we all looked at it and decided it made a lot of sense.
“The visual medium and digital space is a huge tool for any artist,” Pueschel adds. “We always try to be forward-thinking and on the front edge on this stuff rather than being left behind. We did one show at SOhO in Santa Barbara and we recorded an acoustic show with Cisco in Malibu. It’s going to be a little different type of presentation but I think it’s a really cool way to bring live music to people.”

Pueschel looks forward to using NoCap in the future to augment in-person shows, which he acknowledges come with added value for the ticket, and to presenting his hometown venues to global audiences that might never otherwise experience Santa Barbara, even if it’s not in the flesh.
“I don’t feel like you’re sacrificing the value of the live show for a stream, but it’s a very viable alternative. If you’re a person who loves ice cream and you’re lactose intolerant, it’s almost as good but not quite as good,” Pueschel says, laughing.
Brennan Pierspon
: Cisco Adler (4th from L) joins the fun as Iration films a show for NoCap in Malibu, Calif.

In addition to marquee venues like the Roxy and SOhO, venues that have signed on as presenters include the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, Calif., and Belly Up Aspen in Colorado;  Analog Nashville, and Westcott Theater in Syracuse, N.Y., with more to come. One “venue” recently added is “Jam in the Van,” literally a traveling van that has become a fixture at jam-adjacent festivals and other events. Vintage Trouble is booked in the van, as well as Willie Watson and Run River North.

Frankenreiter, who brainstormed the early idea of NoCap with Adler, explains why wresting control of his content from Facebook and Instagram is so important. “I have something like 560,000 followers on Instagram. If I do a post, maybe 1,500 see it unless I pay to promote that post. I feel like, it’s a bummer but I’d rather have 10,000 phone numbers of people who saw that NoCap show.” 
Adler says the “a-ha!” moment for NoCap came during a phone conversation with Frankenreiter in March, as they realized that concerts would likely be on ice for a very long time thanks to COVID.
“Donavon hit me originally with the idea to make an app that he could monetize a home livestream,” Adler says. “He, like I, was sick of these homestreams but more importantly was not into giving his art and content to Instagram and Facebook for free. I had been thinking a lot about the same stuff and couldn’t watch one more of these.”

Adler realized the current livestream efforts weren’t looking at the problem from “a holistic perspective, or seizing the moment to be something useful after the pandemic,” he says. 
“It seemed like a great moment to seize rather than to capitalize on,” Adler says. “Whereas I think some of the other people out there are trying to capitalize on either ‘While you’re waiting, let’s try to make some money’ or capitalize on artists who are in need. We saw it a different way: how does this moment become the next evolution of disrupting music?” 

Belly Up Tavern owner Steve Goldberg adds, “Not knowing when we’ll be able to provide concerts for a live audience at any capacity, we’re exploring other avenues for doing business at the Belly Up. Live streaming is the best alternative we’ve found, especially with a turnkey solution like NoCap. We are forging a relationship with Cisco and NoCap to do as many shows as we can together.”

Donavon Frankenreiter
Courtesy of NoCap, Belly Up Tavern
– Donavon Frankenreiter
Donavon Frankenreiter performs at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, Calif., and streaming via NoCap, a venue-based service.
While The Roxy Theatre has seen its artist bookings jump in just the last few weeks, another of NoCap’s early adopters – the Belly Up in Solana Beach – hosted Frankenreiter on a few test drives and has most recently booked East L.A. legends Los Lobos for an August 30 show. The team is working to finalizing a radio partner which could take the enterprise to another level.
Other artists expected to announce NoCap concerts include Sevendust, Cold War Kids, Toots & The Maytals, The Score, Midland, Common Sense, Pepper, Cypress Hill and more to be announced. Sublime With Rome and G. Love & Friends have already used the platform to stream drive-in style shows in early August.  
All of these components takes a mighty tech team to pull off, and NoCap has brought one together under the guidance of Chief Technology Officer Jon Bradford. 
“It does requires a tech-savvy person to do something like this and make it a seamless experience,” Adler says. “We partnered with Jon, our CTO, and he brought in and built a team of developers, and we’ve got Jimmy [Buffett]’s team. We’ve assembled a real dream team on the back end.”
Buffett is all in (See Q&A with Jimmy Buffett here). Though a date hasn’t been set, he plans to bring Margaritaville to a NoCap venue for a rare club show, and his global Parrothead empire is invited. 

“We have a structure in place where we can communicate with a substantial number of fans who know we’re not coming back out and still want to be entertained,” Buffett says. “What Cisco was doing as far as putting tickets up but not having people in the venue, I thought was safe. I didn’t want to go back to work until people were safe and could have the entire experience they expect from us. None of that Band-Aid touring appealed to me. 
“I’d rather put my time and effort, now that I’ve got more time than I had, into other things, like learning to play jazz guitar chords, keeping my French up, and also helping Cisco with this adventure,” Buffett says. “That’s how I got in.”