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.
Do you know what day it is? I’ve been waiting for this day all year. It’s March 18, 2012 – one quarter of the way through the year – and the night I experienced the first show I’d write about in 2o12.
It’s not that I haven’t experienced a lot of wonderful shows this year; I have. I see live music nearly every night, and I don’t go out with the intention of seeing a shitty show. So, I have experienced some truly amazing concerts in 2012. I wish I had written about some of them. But I haven’t.
Why Puscifer? Because there’s nothing “standard” about it. I’ve seen this show previously, during an earlier leg of the tour. Yet, it feels different every time. I think about that often – musicians who tour around the world on the same, 10-song, “hit” album for 2. . . or 20 years – wondering if they get bored; experiencing, via their shows, that many of them do. Maynard James Keenan and the brilliant musicians who make up Puscifer have no time for boredom. They’re busy setting the stage – literally, metaphorically, physically, and intellectually – for the show to come. The show-to-come follows the hysterical, thought-provoking (sometimes thought-revoking) pre-show, which comes after Carina Round’s opening show, before she joins Puscifer.
Escondido? It makes sense. Maynard James Keenan invites you to go places you’ve never been. Bring your sense of humor or you’ll miss some of the best parts.
It’s not about politics. Puscifer carries with it conversations about ideas. That’s where the fun and creative solutions originate: conversations about ideas, rather than arguments about politics. Puscifer is not about pushing an agenda. It’s not the “I’m a musician and you’re going to pay me a lot of money to use this time as my platform to push something on you” approach. Instead, Puscifer offers you the platform to create new ideas. Puscifer doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience. You made it to the show – you know what’s up. Or, you don’t know what’s up, but you’re open to exploring ideas.
Puscifer provides a premium sound experience. I don’t know whether there’s any scientific evidence of this, but I’m of the belief that you should never have to wear earplugs at a concert. If the sound is properly mixed and amplified, it consumes you, not your eardrums. I’ve never needed earplugs during any Maynard James Keenan incarnation: TOOL, A Perfect Circle, nor Puscifer. The sound envelops you, rather than hurt your ears. So, as opposed to hearing muffled music through a set of silicon ear plugs or cringing with every drum beat, you feel elevated. You’re able to have a full experience of the show, as intended by its creator. The sound is so consistently exceptional, regardless of venue, that you’re aware of, and grateful for, the intention and effort put forth to make it so.
Yeah. . . I bought a Puscifer hoodie. I’m considering adding an English sub-title on the back of it: “Yes, I paid $65 for this hoodie and it feels like a steal.” We’ve got to support art. We don’t have to agree on which art we appreciate, but it is our responsibility to support the art we do appreciate.
Maynard James Keenan weeds out the cattle. Tonight’s show took place in Escondido. If you’re of the belief – or holding onto hope – that aliens may some day come for you, Escondido is the type of place they may touch-down first. Only those people with a great deal of faith in the process, the adventure, and the outcome, would actually commute to Escondido. It’s just far enough outside the comfort zone of the people who go to a Miike Snow show – not the people who actually like Miike Snow – the far larger population: people who go to a show just because it’s “the place to be” and they have to look cool on Facebook. Puscifer is not for them.
It’s Sunday night. A rock concert and a 2-hr drive, on a ‘school night’?! Puscifer reminds everyone: music doesn’t stop because you have somewhere to be in the future. Your presence is rewarded.
I’m not going to tell you how the show goes, what Maynard wears, nor regurgitate the set list. Puscifer is an experience one should have for themselves. I will tell you this though: he fucks you with his music. Take that any way you like. It’s Puscifer.
“ Life is too short NOT to create something with every breath we draw” – Puscifer
March 4, 2010
Rooftop parking lot
Downtown Los Angeles
Broken Bells Record Release Laser Light Show
If, when Broken Bells created this, they imagined how happy and grateful they could possibly make somebody feel, I feel even better than that. And by “created this” I mean: not only the Record Release Laser Light Show Drive-In, but the music, the art, and the experience of it all.
This is what music is
It’s an experience
That’s why people are going back to vinyl
They want to touch something
They miss the experience
It’s a community
They want to be part of something
At 8:00pm tonight Broken Bells took over a roof-top parking lot in downtown Los Angeles for a drive-in style laser light show, synchronized to their debut album. And it wasn’t just fancy shapes and pretty colors – it was an actual choreographed, scripted, 3D, laser light music video for each song, weaving several stories together into an album. It took time. It was thoughtful. It added meaning. It moved me. It gave me renewed hope for music. . .
Y’know, U2 has this whole “360″ spaceship show. And it’s visually spectacular. But it feels like they did it just to be big, to do something nobody’s done before, to be larger than life. And that’s respectable, on its own. But it didn’t feel all that relevant to the music. It was just an awesome visual show. . . oh, and also. . . there was music. It’s costing $750,000/day to keep that tour going and the carbon impact can’t be good.
Don’t get upset - I’m not giving U2 shit (and this will come full-circle back to Broken Bells). I love U2. I like to get lost in Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumming. The drums in U2 songs are some of the best there are. I love that The Edge created a sound that is unmistakably his, and therefore, unmistakably the band’s. I love watching Adam Clayton swinging that bass around like it’s his dance partner. And Bono, your voice is great. . . So, you don’t need to go flying through the air on an illuminated neon megaphone. It doesn’t add anything to the music. In fact, if you re-read my review of that show (which I think is very complimentary), it doesn’t speak all that much about the music. It’s mostly about the visual aspect as a stand-alone experience. I already got my ticket for U2′s next spaceship 360 show in the LA area, but I’d rather see the show I just described.
House abducted by spaceship
What Danger Mouse and The Shins‘ James Mercer (aka Broken Bells) created tonight added something to the music. What Nine Inch Nails creates adds something to the music. What Portugal. The Man creates adds something to the music. What Radiohead creates adds something to the music. What The Soundtrack of Our Lives creates adds something to the music. There are Artists doing it every day (including U2 – I just don’t think the current tour is the best example of it). And it’s great. I only mention these other Artists within a Broken Bells review to illustrate that there are many paths to creating an exceptional experience. Not right or wrong. Some more about the music than others. From one of the biggest bands in the world, to a brand new concept, to a band you may not have heard of but you will know them when you see them. . .
It's too late to change your mind
Danger Mouse gets it. He does it every time. He knows what’s happening. He knows where we’re headed. He’s a little ahead of the game, so not everyone is going to get it at first.
Tonight’s event left me feeling like Broken Bells created this as part of the music; that they originally set out to do exactly this. It wasn’t just an afterthought; it’s more than simply a cool way to promote something. They didn’t want to just make a record – they wanted to create a mutil-sensory experience. I’d love to know more. Perhaps an interview at SXSW?
Broken Bells 03-09-10
On March 9, 2010 (that’s Tuesday), we really should buy the Broken Bells album. Some of us can buy extras for those who can’t afford to buy one, but everybody should have one.
PS – The Broken Bells Laserium glasses are the gift that keep on giving. And they didn’t even exploit the opportunity to paste some marketing message on them — they knew I’d remember where I got them.