Brad Serling, Founder and CEO, nugs.net
– Brad Serling
– Brad Serling
Like many Deadheads, Brad Serling earned his stripes in the taper’s section.
“I taped them myself so that I wouldn’t have to wait and get tapes from somebody down the road months later,” says Serling, who went to 135 Grateful Dead gigs from his first (Philadelphia’s Spectrum, Sept. 8, 1988) to his last (Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium, June 25, 1995).
Unlike many Deadheads, Serling parlayed his passion for the band and taping into a profession, and eventually one of the pre-eminent hubs for concert streaming.
In 1993, Serling launched nugs.net to digitally distribute free downloads of his Dead and Phish tapes, with the bands’ permission. But as the service blossomed in popularity, both artists’ teams saw financial potential. In 2000, the Dead hired Serling as a consultant, and through that job he met Phish’s then-manager John Paluska; Serling recalls sitting backstage with Paluska at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif., during Phish’s final show before its first hiatus – “We call it the ‘first last show,’” he jokes – on Oct. 7, 2000, and conceiving what became LivePhish, the band’s nugs-affiliated archive.
nugs.net soon offered subscription and a la carte access to the digital archives of A-listers such as Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Metallica, as well as jam staples like Widespread Panic and The String Cheese Incident. The service also pioneered “couch tour” video streaming, starting with Phish’s 2010 New Year’s shows at Madison Square Garden; many acts now stream tours through nugs.tv.
During the pandemic, nugs has broadcast weekly archival streaming series by tentpole acts – one June installment on Metallica Mondays attracted 30 million viewers – and recently started hosting livestreams from empty venues, like Sturgill Simpson’s June 5 gig at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Next up? Getting paid.
“Artists big and small are now coming to us saying, ‘We’re ready to do pay-per-views in a venue without an audience or in a studio or some combination thereof,’” Serling says.
Fans, meanwhile “are ready for a high-quality stream, a full production concert, not just a dude on his couch in the living room doing Instagram or Facebook Live.”
While details are still in the works, Serling teases upcoming collaborations with “artists all across the map, from major pop acts to electronic to urban to country,” as well as concert series at venues across the country, including Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
The Show That Changed Your Life?
My first Grateful Dead show: 9/8/88 at the Spectrum.
Artists To Watch Breaking Next Year?
Best Advice You’ve Ever Received?
The Cornell University career center told me I should be a farmer. I took a career aptitude test, and they basically said I could never work for somebody else – I’m too independent minded. I don’t know if that was the best advice or the worst advice. It might’ve been both!
Best Live Show You Saw This Year?
The Dead in Mexico is definitely the most fun. When I feel like I’m missing a concert, what I’m missing is that experience of what it feels like to be on a beach with your favorite band and all of your friends in the tropics. That weekend in January with the Dead.
Your Favorite Venue To See A Show At And Why?
Madison Square Garden. I’ve professionally gone live there 62 times as pay-per-views. But personally and professionally, I must have seen hundreds of shows there at this point. There’s nothing like that energy inside MSG, the way the room bounces because you’re basically five stories up in a skyscraper. When a band hits the right groove, the whole building starts to bounce.
Technology Most Impacting Your Daily Work Or Personal Life?
I’ve noticed it more and more lately, but the iPhone. I just watch my 11-year-old daughter – her whole world is consumed through the iPhone. It’s the most game-changing thing.
The Role Of Livestreaming Moving Forward?
The role of livestreaming in general, it used to be that it was an add-on to the business; now it is the business, because you can’t have a ticketed event and have a crowd in the venue and you’re only able to ticket it as a pay-per-view or paid livestream. That is the future of the live business, at least in the near-term. And I think it will continue on once mass gatherings are happening again, there will still be a livestreaming component on a paid basis. Because why wouldn’t you? The pushback I used to get from promoters was that it was impacting ticket sales – which I don’t believe for a second, and we have plenty of data to prove otherwise – and now that is the ticket sales.