Jam On: The Story Behind Live Music Service Nugs.net

Nugs.net. Ever heard of ’em? I hadn’t but was intrigued when I saw the press release: “Live Music Pioneers nugs.net Launch Streaming Service.” Turns out the company has been making professional recordings of concert performances available to fans of jam bands for years—something followers of Gov’t Mule, Phish, and Widespread Panic probably already know. To learn more about this unique service, I reached out to founder Brad Serling.

S&V: Can you tell us a bit about the history of the company—how and why you started it and the story behind the name?
Brad Serling: I actually launched the nugs.net site in 1997 so we’re approaching 20 years. Back then, the idea was to make it easier to trade my tape collection with other tapers. I had started recording the Grateful Dead in 1990 and continued with Phish, and there wasn’t enough time in the day to copy my tapes for everyone who wanted them. So, with the bands’ permission, I started a website to post copies of my recordings for folks to download. The idea behind the name was a play on the word “nugget”—nugs.net is a network of nuggets. Each tape in my collection was a nugget in a musical gold mine.

By 2000, nugs.net was serving 3 million free MP3 downloads of primarily Phish and Grateful Dead from my tape collection. I received a letter from the attorney representing both bands at the time politely asking me to cease and desist. I called him that day and he said, “We either need to shut you down or go into business with you.” I emailed him a business plan, and the next thing I knew I was invited to San Francisco to meet with the Grateful Dead band members, their archivist, and of course their attorney.

The nugs.net site remained a free repository of my recordings after the Grateful Dead hired me in 2000 as a consultant, and even after partnering with Phish in 2002 to launch LivePhish.com, it was important to the band that the nugs.net site remain free. So over the years, nugs.net became the name of the company, but the site nugs.net stayed free.

This year is the first time we’ll actually start selling music directly on the nugs.net site as opposed to our sister sites like LiveDownloads.com and artist-branded sites like LiveMetallica.com, and LiveChiliPeppers.com. With the launch of the nugs.net.app last fall, we decided to consolidate our multi-artist store under the nugs.net domain.

S&V: Any idea how many recordings have been downloaded over the years?
Serling: There’ve been over 260 million downloads from nugs.net’s various stores since we officially started selling downloads in 2002.

S&V: Wow, that’s impressive. Last November you launched the nugs.net streaming service. How’s it doing?
Serling: For a live music fan, having last night’s show from all your favorite bands in the palm of your hand is irresistible. The reason we started the nugs.net streaming service is because of the overwhelmingly positive response we got from users of our LivePhish streaming service, launched in late 2014. With both the nugs.net and LivePhish streaming services, we’ve had nothing but rave reviews from our customers. They love the convenience, portability, curation, and immediate access the services provide. But they aren’t for everyone, and the price we have to charge for them reflects that.

For a live music fan, having last night’s show from all your favorite bands in the palm of your hand is irresistible.

While our single biggest selling format remains MP3 downloads, we are seeing a lot of younger, new customers adopting the streaming services as their first experience with nugs.net as well a large number of existing purchasers who are continuing to buy downloads and CDs, but who also want the convenience and portability of a streaming service. We just crested $1 million in subscription revenue, serving just over 500,000 streams per month from the streaming catalog of 10,000 shows from just 15 artists, including Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee, and The Disco Biscuits.

S&V: In addition to getting access to thousands of concerts on demand, what other benefits do you get with a streaming subscription (which costs $12.99/month or $129.99/year)?
Serling: One of the key features of the nugs.net app is access to nugs.net radio, our 24/7 live Internet radio station that plays songs from hundreds of artists in our family. Also, the app makes it easy to find what you want to listen to—you can search by artist or by year. Another cool thing is that we get together with different featured artists every month to select special and noteworthy shows to highlight. And everyone should know that we offer both free and paid subscription versions of all our app, so anyone can get into streaming if they’re interested in joining us down the rabbit hole.

S&V: How many live recordings are in the nugs.net archive, and are they all available for streaming?
Serling: Nugs.net has approximately 15,000 live concerts available from over 1,000 artists, containing over 500,000 live tracks. 10,000 of the shows in the catalog are available in the nugs.net app, plus 600 in the LivePhish app. We intend to introduce several new artists to the nugs.net streaming service this summer, which will increase the amount of content available for streaming. We also plan to add over 2,000 new live concerts to nugs.net in 2016, and more than half of those will be available for streaming.

S&V: Who’s the typical nugs.net user/subscriber?
Serling: Our audience is segmented like the typical audience shot you’ll see one of our bands post on Facebook on any given night: 80 percent male, 20 percent female. Interestingly we used to see a spike among 35-44 year olds, but since The River Tour started this year with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, we’re now spiking at 45-54 year olds in terms of the most sales.