Nightbreed LA's Bryant Acosta on Gwen Stefani, SoundCloud, and Future Lovers Block Party

Plus, why musicians need that business side

Bryant Acosta is founder/CEO of Nightbreed LA, a music, fashion and art events company.

Nightbreed has become a juggernaut in Southern California and beyond, bringing together crowds upwards of 3,000 partygoers per event. Acosta and his team have worked with such talents as Felix Da House Cat, HarryRomero, Cube Guys, Little Boots, Pete Tong, Gene Farris, Desert Hearts, Pillow Talk and Grum.

We caught up with Bryan for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.

Bryant, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Hesperia, California, but I was born in West Covina. So I am a native sort of Angeleno, in a way, essentially the East Side. Growing up I just knew, "This isn't the place for me to grow up. This isn't the place for me to do what I am supposed to do, or meant to do," which was to be a creative force in the industry. I just moved back to L.A. and went to school at the Art Institute of California. I ran with my skills, which was always being creative on one level or another. That allowed for me to just blossom in the city.

Your earliest musical memory.

My muses have always been No Doubt, Green Day, Alanis Morissette. I was brought up in that ska grunge punk era. That really influenced my fashion, and influenced my take on life. I was always kind of a no-holds-barred kind of person. My ambition came from the idea that you never know until you try it. I've always been a little bit fearless in that aspect. Whether I win or fail, I've always known that. If you never try, you've automatically lost.

Your first concert and what you remember about it.

No Doubt, and it was in someone's backyard. I'm obsessed with Gwen Stefani. She was sort of my muse, fashion wise. And then being able to see that transition and that growth, and how you can be a little bit of everything and then still be your own person, that was a big influence for me. I just remember just being blown away by her energy on stage. It's funny in the LGBTQ community, especially gay men, we all have that one woman muse for some reason. Usually people pick Cher or Britney or whoever. And I'm the oddball out with Gwen Stefani, but I'm happy being the outlier. Because I always felt like I never fit in anyway. So it definitely influenced who I am and how I approach the world. I think that it also allows me to get along with everybody.

Your favorite band/musician and what you love about them.

Gwen Stefani and No Doubt would definitely be my go-to's. But I also loved house music in the '90s. I never was like, "Oh my God, I have to go see these DJs" because I couldn't get into nightclubs. I was a kid and it was easier to get into the live shows because it's all ages. But as soon as I started clubbing and exploring what L.A. had to offer, I immediately became obsessed with the DJ nightlife culture and people like Felix da Housecat, Bad Boy Bill, and people from that era like Tiesto. I was all about it. Those artists are influences that I look to now because in music production, there's just so much you could do with electronica. You can hear something from someone, like a Gwen Stefani, and recreate it, and give it a totally different point of view and new life to a song by remixing it. I really love that because in a sense you're recreating art that somebody's already made, and giving it new life.

How you get your music these days.

I love SoundCloud because I feel that it is really for that kind of creator. Sometimes I'll just go to Google and type in "remix for x." I follow a lot of people there. I listen to their music selection, what they're listening to, what they've reposted, and it's great finding those gems. I also do a lot of research on my big favorite artists. There's a couple of websites that show what songs are playing in their playlists. I feel like it's a little bit more curated that way, because what I try not to do is go to Beatport's top 10 and download whatever everybody else has in the crate. I want the weird, obscure stuff that you know is going to blow someone's socks off. A lot of the DJs that we've been able to bring along into our pack, they'll send me very interesting curated things as well. I have a pretty good library of things because of that, from research and from kinship with the other DJs.

Your favorite place to see a concert.

I like the Hollywood Bowl, but I don't like leaving there because it just gets so crazy packed. I like outdoor venues probably the best.

Your favorite music video.

I love the whole early '90s music video. I feel like artists were actually creating art in the music video as well. I don't watch music videos anymore because they're just too basic, but I used to love the Radiohead videos. Even the bands that I talked about, I remember Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" video, it was so simple, but it was so effective. I loved the play on personalities in that video. It told a story that was interesting. I didn't like the whole idea of "Video Killed the Radio Star," but kind of did because in my head I would always picture something different for songs, and then if I saw it and it wasn't up to the expectation, then I would think, "Oh God, this just killed the song for me." I think having music videos by Björk and Radiohead in mind, that late '90s/2000s video era was the best.

Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.

I don't really listen to podcasts too much.  If I had to say something about TV, though, I love the music curation on HBO original programming, like the show Hacks. They have such great musical direction. I'll hear a song that I've forgotten about, or will love a new jam that I hear. If there is something to be said about TV, it's the sort of musical curation that happens on HBO originals.

Looking at the new Sex and the City show, one of the reasons I didn't care for it was not just because it felt a little bit forced, but also because of the lack of music in it. I went back to the original show, and I was like, "Oh, my God." There was way more depth musically. The new show just didn't have those moments where there was a quirky part. Music adds so much to what you're trying to express as an actor. And given the right moment, it could really bring it home. I think that was something that was sorely missed, on top of the voiceovers from the main character. Audio is just so important. It felt a little bit stale for me because of the lack of music production within the show.

There's a scene from Hacks where Jean Smart is suing her assistant for breach of contract, and she's all happy getting into the car and says, "Oh, by the way, I'm suing you." And then all of a sudden it cuts to "The Bitch Is Back" from Elton John. They're driving off into the sunset. The way that it cuts is hilarious. It makes you feel sad for the person, but at the same time you're dying of laughter for the way they pulled that off.

A recent project you're proud of.

Future Lovers Block Party. I was not expecting to sell out in our first year. In fact, we were a little bit nervous that we weren't going to make ends meet for this. Obviously we have a lot of learnings from it, but at the end of the day like it, it surpassed our expectations and everybody just loved it.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

There's a producer called Ladyfag in New York, and they do this festival called LadyLand. They literally started with an underground kind of event, and they've grown it into like a monthly festival, which is pretty awesome. It's taken them a minute, but they did it. They've been having people like Christina Aguilera headline. It's one of those all-inclusive style events and I think that's something they should be very proud of. It's aspirational for us to continue on the trajectory that we're going to be able to do that kind of event. 

How musicians should approach working with brands.

I think because a lot of artists don't have business acumen, they usually just go by the wayside. One of the things that I highly recommend people to do is when you're reaching out to people just have an EPK that has all the touch points about yourself in one spot. When I get artist submissions, some people don't even know what their rate is. Knowing your worth is usually a boon for you. Because if you approach somebody with a bunch of scattered ideas, and then you're like, "Oh, well, I'll work for 100 bucks," or, you know, people are just going to grab your foot instead of taking your hands. It's one of those things where if you don't know who you are, then you don't know what you stand for. Anybody can take advantage of you. That is one thing that I think people should just go into a situation knowing their worth. Knowing what they're bringing to the table. Unfortunately I think a lot of people just don't have that. I think that just comes with artist's territory, right? Because most artists are driven by the fact that they just want to create, and they just want to be artistic. The business part is sometimes missing. Being able to dial that in is something that I would recommend people to do.

How brands should approach working with musicians.

I feel like, because a lot of brands are not connected to community, they end up looking for who has the most followers. One of the things that I would say for brands is, do you have community managers? Or people that are more in the social media sphere? To connect with artists in a more authentic way.  It's hard to kind of say, "Create an ambassador job," but really it's just about not going to the same people and mixing the grab bag. That's what I notice brands tend to do, they find the three people they like, and they stay there because it's their comfort zone. I think that it's more of a complicated situation, though, because it depends on the activation, right?

If you're a brand and you need the artists to bring people, then obviously you're gonna go with artists with the bigger followers. Going for somebody that doesn't necessarily have that, and building in the way we do, can help create somebody that can bring the fun. Bring in those underdogs to be able to fill in the gaps. I think that's what makes us successful, I would like to see more brands reach out to local communities and underserved communities.

What music can do that nothing else can.

I think music is universal. Math and music are the two universal languages to me that can bring people together. Two plus two is always going to be four, and sad music and happy music is always going to make you feel those comfort zones. Music is able to bring people together, and has that universal quality. You can hear something in a different language, not understand what it says. But because of the tone of the music, it'll make you feel the feelings that were intended by the artist.

I think that's the beauty of it. I hate math, by the way, but that's the beauty of it, it's the same in every language. You're gonna get to the same point.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.

If it's not music production, it would definitely be on the graphic/creative side of things, or even fashion. I worked in the fashion industry for a minute, and I love clothes, I love style. I love all of that. To me it all goes hand in hand, so it's easy to vacillate between all of those kinds of careers. 

Liner Notes is our weekly interview series, publishing every Monday, where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please get in touch.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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