In addition to their music, what makes this gathering so special is the humanity, connection, joy, and presence The Watkins Family exudes.
The spirit in the room feels festive and light. It’s a gathering of good friends, who’ve come together to celebrate and share stories, songs and laughter. The dynamic interaction between those on stage is shared with all in attendance. The musicians have a long history with each other, but they make sure to let the audience in on their inside jokes. With their presence and openness, The Watkins Family unites us all.
Their music carries a similar inclusive, dynamic, and evolving energy. Thanks to the tone The Watkins Family sets and Largo‘s no-cell-phone policy, it is a completely immersive experience. You can get lost in the sound, hear how each note plays off the other, and the way the instruments and voices work together, each elevating the other. Rather than simply play their part, the musicians listen to and accompany each other. It is a live music experience in the purest sense. Created in front of you, the songs feel different each time they’re played. The Watkins Family Hour is a monthly residency that has spanned more than a decade, yet the show is still refreshing, unique, and anticipation for the next one never wanes.
The dynamic atmosphere is balanced with a sense of history and tradition. Whether you’re attending your first Watkins Family Hour show or your thirty-first, it feels as though you’ve been there since the beginning. The Watkins Family transports you to another time and place, where all there is to do is enjoy music and our time together.
There are no computers, fog machines, nor fancy lighting rigs. You may feel like you’ve been invited to a family gathering at one of their homes, especially when Sean and Sara sing while standing beneath a homemade snow machine, getting doused by white flakes. Last night, The Watkins Family reminded us not to take things too seriously and to embrace and express our childlike spirit. With the snow machine and humorous elves, they also gave us the gift of another inside joke and ”you had to be there” moment.
There’s music, comedy, and last night, there was snow. You can’t Auto-Tune this and it won’t translate in virtual reality. The Watkins take you on a journey which, like life, is ever-changing and more fun to navigate with music, a sense of humor, and surrounded by family and good friends.
I’ve been listening exclusively to Nine Inch Nails since seeing them perform at Staples Center Friday night. It’s been a long time since a concert inspired me to do that. I’ve been listening to this band for more than 20 years and, even today, as I listen to Nine Inch Nails, I can hear new perspectives in the music. It’s dynamic and evolving. It’s the varying degrees of tension between the instruments and the space between the noise. If you step out of the literal and just listen to the music, you can hear something new every time.
There are back up singers in this line-up and when they sing, that’s one thing. When they scream, that’s another thing. These women – and everyone on that stage and associated with this production – are essential to the show. Everyone’s role is additive and complementary to the experience.
Rob Sheridan, Nine Inch Nails’ creative director, is brilliant. Trent Reznor has an amazing ability to recognize and embrace exceptionally talented people. The creative collaboration with Sheridan is signature to the Nine Inch Nails brand. You know what this music feels like as a result of the entire production; not just the sound.
And the sound is great, no matter where they play. Staples Center can be tricky with sound because it tends to bounce around the room. A Nine Inch Nails show – loud as it may be – will not send you home with ringing ears. There’s precision in the production.
If I could use one word to describe Nine Inch Nails, it would be “integrity”. Integrity of music, integrity of art, integrity of the relationship with their fans. This band keeps their promise every time. Even if you’re not a fan of the music, I recommend seeing Nine Inch Nails for the inspiration of the vision and the aspiration of being that committed to their art.
So yeah, the show was outstanding. Where the fuck were you??
Without knowing what shape, nor time, nor place it would happen, I’d been anticipating this night for four years. ”I won’t let you down,” Trent Reznor assured everyone during Nine Inch Nails’ final show of the Wave Goodbye Tour, on September 10, 2009.
True to his word, Reznor has not disappointed. During the Nine Inch Nails “hiatus”, Reznor brilliantly scored 2 soundtracks, one of which landed him an Oscar. He also co-created How To Destroy Angels with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, which included one of the most visually impressive productions I’ve witnessed. Rather than continuously churning out albums and tours as Nine Inch Nails, Reznor recognized he needed a break, focusing on other creative and personal endeavors. The creative freedom and perspective gained from his Nine Inch Nails “break” (arguably one of the most productive “breaks” on record), was evident during Tuesday night’s show.
For all in attendance, the Nine Inch Nails show at The Troubadour was a story of miracles.
Listening to the crowd prior to the show, provided hours of “how I got in” stories. One woman was determined to win tickets for her boyfriend, so he could see his favorite band on his birthday. Another woman described her meticulous strategy for winning tickets from radio stations, including the theory that land lines provide a better chance of winning than mobile phones. People described how they enlisted co-workers, friends, and relatives to help them pound the phones each time a KROQ DJ announced “one lucky caller” would win a pair of tickets.
Prior to the show, a man worked the line, offering people $800 a ticket. Perhaps he did eventually make his way in, but from what I saw, observing the first 100 people in line, he was met with one consistent response: silence and a definitive shake of the head, “no.” Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t replace a once-in-a-lifetime Nine Inch Nails experience.
Everybody in attendance recognized and deeply appreciated the fact that they were seeing Nine Inch Nails at The Troubadour, an intimate venue, with rich history. The atmosphere prior to the show was gracious, celebratory, and invigorating. People didn’t wait until the show began to enjoy the experience. They’d been enjoying this night since the moment they knew they would be among a mere couple hundred people who would see Nine Inch Nails play The Troubadour.
A few minutes prior to 8:30pm, the energy inside the venue shifted. There was a collective understanding that this was the time to take care of any last minute needs or desires. People worked together, taking turns buying t-shirts, drinks, and making their final bathroom run of the evening.
When Nine Inch Nails hit the stage, it was explosive. Kicking the set off with “Somewhat Damaged”, the band and the crowd took the energy to otherworldly levels. The sound – despite its high volume – was crystal clear. There was no unintended distortion. The sound being as perfect as it was, I neglected to wear earplugs.
Yep, there were lights.
I wish I could describe what it felt like to be at The Troubadour when Nine Inch Nails played. We may have been inside a small venue, but from a production standpoint, this was no little show. One third of the balcony appeared to be taken over by the band’s equipment. When the show began, the neon “Troubadour” light behind the stage was dimmed. The audience was transported to a place they’d never been, even if they’d previously seen Nine Inch Nails a hundred times before.
That is among the reasons Nine Inch Nails is widely lauded as one of the best (if not the best) live bands in the world. No matter how many times you see them, every experience is unique, and the definition of “perfection” evolves.
For me, what stands out most is how much Trent Reznor cares and how apparent that is in everything he does. This is his life, his art, his passion. He cares about the experience as a whole, that people continually walk away, as I do, drenched in sweat and nearly speechless. Every show is unique, surprising, and absolutely mind, spirit, and energy altering.
Prior to the show, people speculated about the set list. The majority of fans suspected the band would play the new album, Hesitation Marks, straight through. Some elaborated that, following the new songs, Nine Inch Nails would certainly play some of their older material. This is what happens to music fans’ expectations when Nine Inch Nails leaves the scene. We become accustomed to, and expect that, every show is about pushing a new album or promoting something else entirely. That is how most bands would do it. That is how nearly every band I’ve seen this year has done it. That is the format we’ve grown accustomed to and accept.
This is how Nine Inch Nails did it at The Troubadour:
1. Somewhat Damaged
2. The Beginning of the End
3. Terrible Lie
4. March of the Pigs
6. The Line Begins to Blur
7. The Frail/ The Wretched
8. I’m Afraid of Americans (David Bowie cover)
9. Gave Up
12. The Warning
13. Find My Way
14. Came Back Haunted
18. The Hand That Feeds
19. Head Like a Hole
20. La Mer
For those who are less familiar with Nine Inch Nails’ discography, that’s a 21-song set list, including a mere three songs from the new album.
It almost seems as if Trent Reznor takes it as a personal responsibility to make people question – and raise – their expectations. Every time I see Nine Inch Nails I’m surprised, even though I shouldn’t be. They are my favorite band to see live. I know how good they are. I know what they’re capable of. Then, they remind me: no matter how much I think I know, no matter how high my expectations, Nine Inch Nails leaves me at a loss for words with their sheer brilliance and dedication.
Their energy never wanes. Likewise, there’s no ramp-up time. When the band first burst onto stage, I felt like I had been blown back twenty feet. There was a simultaneous sound and light explosion that removed the audience from whatever day it was, whatever they had been thinking about, wherever they were – physically and mentally – and transported them to another world.
Similarly, for Nine Inch Nails, the encore isn’t when they play their “biggest hits” or “fan favorites.” NIN takes the word “encore” literally – “another.” They return to the stage for more of what they’ve done – a mind-blowing level of making people lose their shit.
In addition to his integrity and dedication, Reznor exudes gratitude. With everything they do, Nine Inch Nails’ recognition of their fans is expressed. I walk away from each Nine Inch Nails show with an overwhelming feeling that the band truly appreciates each of us; not because Reznor says “thank you” numerous times, but because of the show itself.
Nine Inch Nails kicks off their U.S. tour later this month. See them if you’re able: http://tour.nin.com/
I was first introduced to Nico Vega when I was working with an online music video company several years ago. The band was coming to our offices for a video shoot and, as happens before a shoot, the production team had numerous conversations about what the set should look like.
When Aja Volkman, Dan Epand, and Rich Koehler (“Nico Vega”) arrived, the creative director asked them if they were ok with the set design or whether they wanted any changes. “No, we can go with this. . . Thank you,” they replied. Nico Vega has repeatedly shown that they can play in any location, without requiring anything special. Among some of the more unusual places they’ve played: in the kitchen while cooking, on rooftops, in bathrooms, and while trapped in an elevator during the middle of the night.
When Nico Vega played unplugged at our office that day, you hardly noticed they were playing in front of a warehouse garage door, surrounded by pink balloons. The band was mesmerizing, their power and presence undeniable. The production team’s deliberation about the set design was a professional thing to do, but it wasn’t necessary.
I’ve since seen and been equally blown away by Nico Vega a dozen times.
Flash forward four years. . .
Every summer I visit my family in Colorado and, naturally, the weekend trip is planned around at least one concert. When I checked the local listings and saw Nico Vega was playing at The Bluebird Theater on July 14th, the date of this summer’s trip was set.
If you haven’t traveled outside of your hometown to see a show, I highly recommend it. Getting away from the routine, experiencing new venues, and dropping into an unfamiliar crowd is a great way to expand your perspective.
Being outside of LA, away from the “business”, was liberating. It felt almost as if I were experiencing Nico Vega for the first time. I was able to appreciate everything I love about this band – their music, their empowering messages, and how they interact with the audience – in an expansive, new way.
What I experienced at The Bluebird Theater wasn’t just a show; it was a conversation. Nico Vega isn’t merely playing and singing songs, they’re engaging the audience in a constant dialog. The exchange is dynamic. Everyone – band and audience – participates.
The conversation is about integrity, life, love, compassion, equality, justice, power (individual and collective), empowerment, freedom, strength, gratitude, growth, and change.
It’s not only communicated in their lyrics, it’s part of every beat of Dan’s drum, the way Rich plays guitar and shuffles onstage, Jamila Weaver’s harmonies and bass, each note Aja sings and every piece of equipment she climbs. Nico Vega embodies everything they’re singing about – on and off stage, which makes their shows powerful and transcendant.
When people talk about stage presence, they’re often referencing showmanship. In the case of Nico Vega, it’s truly about presence. They are entirely present, immersed in the moment, feeling and communicating the songs with every cell in their bodies. They somehow manage to connect with each person in the audience, individually, and the crowd responds in turn. Not to be confused with theatrics, an “act”, a show, or even a performance — Nico Vega simply is everything they play and sing about.
The audience shows up and they know their part. The band doesn’t need to cue the claps nor sing-a-longs – it’s felt organically. This was my cousin’s first time seeing Nico Vega and she wasn’t familiar with their songs. However, she was singing along at every opportunity and throwing her hands in the air with each empowering drum beat of “Beast”.
This is true of all the Nico Vega shows I’ve been to. However, at the Bluebird Theater, outside of my usual environment, I was able to further absorb and articulate what was happening. I experienced what makes their shows so potent, beyond the outstanding musicianship, exceptional stage presence and Aja’s powerful voice.
When Aja sings, she is the song. She’s able to communicate the music and messages of Nico Vega on a truly soulful level. It’s expansive, invigorating, and inspiring. It appears as though all in attendance are not only listening, they’re feeling. They feel the empowerment, their feet leave the ground, their hands touch the sky, they lean in toward the stage as Aja’s presence reaches every inch of the venue.
At times she sits down and sings so powerfully that you forget she’s sitting. When she leans over the edge of the stage, it feels as though she’s hovering above the entire crowd. She makes eye contact, smiles, shares the microphone, sings from atop the drum set or a Nico Vega trashcan. Aja is not constrained by the mic stand – she knows it’s not locked to the stage and she moves about accordingly. The way she covers the entire stage is a physical expression of the words she’s singing. Meaning is conveyed in everything this band does, collectively making an even greater impact.
One of the moments that moved me most was when Aja sang a song she wrote upon regaining her voice after an extended hiatus from singing, due to vocal strain. While it’s not possible to truly “know how it feels”, having not experienced it firsthand, Aja shared her experience in a way that allowed me to feel the range and arc of emotions she felt throughout that ordeal. The song came to life, transported us back to that time, and carried us – as it carried Aja – back to the stage, in the present moment.
After the show, the band made their way to the lobby to greet their fans. I watched as Aja, Dan, and Rich, graciously signed posters, arms, t-shirts, and tickets, but what struck me most is the way the band listened to everyone who approached them. They took their time with each person and absorbed everything they had to say. Their presence, attention, and energy was as consistent and strong off stage as it was on stage. Nico Vega is dynamic – musically and personally. At the same time, the integrity of who they are is unwavering. The conversation that took place on stage spilled out into the lobby and is continuing still today.
Nico Vega is on tour now and I highly recommend you see them, even if you need to travel out of town to do so.
If you’d like to experience the conversation for yourself immediately, the band is sharing their music, stories, insights, and friendship over at PledgeMusic. You can pre-order their new album Lead To The Light there, as well as receive personal updates from the band, and see what happens when they try to act.
While you’re busy trying to figure out how to save your business, doing things like launching apps and having rooftop concerts, you’re losing sight of the basics. You are often your (and your artists’) own worst enemy.
Many examples of this have been documented over the years. I’m not here to give you shit or tell you that you suck. I love music. I love musicians. I want to help you.
Within 5 minutes of trying to get more familiar with an artist – including purchasing tickets to an upcoming show – I ran into several obstacles. Here’s what happened:
I’ve been hearing about The Weeknd for a while, so:
1. I went to Facebook
It’s important for you to understand how music fans are looking for music and information about artists. They are not going to your artist’s website as a first stop, and they’re probably not going to Google first either. They are going to sites like Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and Soundtracking. That means you need to make sure your artist’s presence on those sites is easy to find and comprehensive.
Facebook recently launched Graph Search. For the record, I hate it, but unfortunately 1.1 billion people on Facebook are stuck with it, including your artists.
When looking at search, you need to think about how people will search. Account for user error. The conversation goes:
“Have you heard of The Weekend?” or “I love The Weekend!” or “Are you going to see The Weekend at The Greek Theatre?”
Or, a radio DJ or blogger on Sirius XM’s Blog Radio will say something like, “That was the latest from The Weekend.”
What are people going to search for? Will they know it’s spelled “The Weeknd”? This is about artist discovery and during the discovery phase, fans will be less likely to know the unusual spelling of your band’s name. If you have an artist with a name like The Weeknd or CHVRCHES, then you need to look at how people will actually search for them. Do search optimization for the incorrect spelling as well, so people can easily find your artist. Have a way to direct people from the incorrect spelling to the correct spelling.
Here’s what happens now when you search for “The Weekend” (as someone just discovering the artist would search) on Facebook:
This is a new development. Before Graph Search launched, a first-time search for “The Weekend” on Facebook went like this: the artist’s official page is the FIRST result, after typing in only the first few letters (before the potential spelling error would ever take place).
You may say this is a Facebook problem – a flaw with their search. I agree. There are numerous flaws with Facebook – here’s one more we can add to the list. Unfortunately, as evidenced above, this is your problem as well.
Solution: Facebook and numerous media outlets issue alerts about new product developments and features well in advance of their launch. When this happens, your “digital person” should get on the phone with Facebook or fly to one of their offices and explore how this will impact your business.
The product is Search. That’s pretty important to your business and how people will find your artists on Facebook. You should have these conversations early and do everything you can to help avoid what’s happened in the case of The Weeknd.
As a larger business lesson: make sure you have strong relationships at every key social media site. Maintain these relationships. Have dinners and regular meetings. Don’t just call when you need something. Look to these businesses as partners and work with them consistently.
Since I couldn’t find The Weeknd on Facebook by doing a simple Facebook search, I went to a company that actually knows how to do search, Google. As expected, Google (even with an incorrect spelling) directed me to The Weeknd’s Facebook page. Once I got there, I saw they had a “Video” tab, so:
2. I tried to watch The Weeknd’s videos posted on Facebook
Here’s what happened:
Solution #1: If you aren’t actually going to make the videos available for viewing on Facebook, then don’t include a YouTube tab on your Facebook page.
Solution #2: Pull your head out of your ass.
Ok, as it turns out now – I am giving you shit. Few things piss me off as much as this. This is your artist, right? And these have been deemed as official videos/streams? I’m assuming so because they’re on your artist’s Facebook page (even though that’s fucking useless) and YouTube channel.
Why on earth would you make it so difficult for people who actually want to hear your artist’s music to listen to it through the official, LEGAL, channels? Stop bitching about file sharing sites until you stop doing shit like this.
3. I went to YouTube:
No problems here. A Google company, YouTube has efficient, easy, and effective search.
Why am I showing you a good example? So that you can maximize it. Understanding that you want people to be able to find your artists, put your money where search is most effective. Run ads on Google and YouTube, as Atlantic Records is doing for Portugal. The Man in the example above.
In the case of artists who have unique names, like The Weeknd or CHVRCHES, you should probably run ads on Facebook as well. This will help get your artists in front of fans who couldn’t find them through a simple search.
4. After YouTube, I went to Ticketmaster:
After all this, I was considering going to the show.
Ticketmaster has similar search issues to Facebook:
As it turns out, Ticketmaster’s search is better than Facebook’s though. If a user types in “The Week”, the appropriate artist will come up. Nonetheless, there is an even better solution.
Solution: On Ticketmaster, whether I search for “NIN” or “Nine Inch Nails”, I get the correct results for that artist. This leads me to believe it’s possible to optimize search for artists like The Weeknd and CHVRCHES on Ticketmaster as well.
Call Ticketmaster. Explore the option of having the correct results show up, whether somebody types “The Weeknd” or “The Weekend”; “CHVRCHES” or “Churches”.
In closing:Please pay attention – you CAN fix things like this, which will ultimately help you reach your objectives:
Increase an artist’s fan base
Generate advertising revenue (your YouTube video views will increase if you allow video embedding)
Perhaps even, sell music
I apologize for coming across angry, but this is important to me too. I’m tired of hearing about how the music business is failing. I want musicians to succeed and if you’re doing a good job supporting them, I want you to succeed as well.
Don’t lose sight of the basics:
Make sure people can quickly and easily find your artists on the sites that matter most.
Make your artist’s official content (videos, music) accessible. It’s a bit unfair to be going after fans on file sharing sites when you’re not allowing them to access the music legally, through your artist’s official channels.
Furthermore, be happy people are interested in your artists at all. We’re not on opposite sides of this. The people listening to your artist’s music – whether they’re paying for it or not – are the people you want on your team. Stop punishing people for caring about your bands. If you make music accessible, you will win.