You already know Nakia.
You also saw him singing his heart out in the commercials for NBC's The Voice last season. He was the one with the chutzpah to audition with Cee Lo's "Forget You," knowing full well that Cee Lo was on the judging panel. Amazingly, Cee Lo picked the Austinite to be on his team and groomed him to be his personal favorite on the team.
Although Nakia only made it to the semifinals, the blues man returned home with pride, having represented the city well and knowing the direction he wanted to take in order to kick his music career into overdrive.
"Cee Lo was the best mentor I could have asked for," says Nakia. "He's not doing things the traditional way either. He's just being himself, which is exactly what he kept telling me I had to do every step of the way..."
"I wanted to go on The Voice and show the industry how far I could get without doing it the traditional way," Nakia explains over rolls and sweet tea at his favorite restaurant, Threadgill's World Headquarters. "But I realized really quickly, they would still never give me the time of day regardless. So I immediately put the desires to win to bed. I decided instead to make good TV, to give performances and really represent Austin on the show. After all, it’s the reason I was even there in the first place."
As the series wrapped, Nakia watched as many of his cast-mates began signing contracts with recording companies. Later, he watched as several of those deals quickly soured, thanks to poor management and worse promotion of said albums. The reality show engine ground to a standstill, and The Voice came under criticism for not delivering a "superstar," a term that makes Nakia cringe.
"I was released from my contract 30 days after the last episode aired," he reports. "The people who got picked up from my season had records come out, and very few of them had much support beyond the initial record. I never went on to win, and I certainly never went on to get a record deal. And that was fine by me."
He continues, "I talked to a lot of people who had already done reality TV like Cas Haley, Patrice Pike, Graham Elliot. Graham especially was adamant about telling me, 'Whatever you do, do not go on television to win. You go on to make a really good television show and connect with the people at home on a new level. The people at home watching you on their couches are your new audience so wow them.'"
Taking that advice to heart, Nakia made a huge impact on his season and on the judges by always emphasizing his originality and highlighting his soulful bluesy voice. The quite unconventional Cee Lo proved to be the ideal role model for Nakia, and the emerging scene-stealer quickly flourished under Cee Lo's watchful eye.
"Cee Lo was the best mentor I could have asked for," says Nakia. "He's not doing things the traditional way either. He's just being himself, which is exactly what he kept telling me I had to do every step of the way. Being me is what got me as far as I’ve come, and it’s what I have to continue doing."
A year after the season wrapped, Nakia is emerging from a busy schedule of touring, songwriting and regular fan-building appearances around Austin. At this year's SXSW, he and his manager decided he was ready to pair up with PledgeMusic to make his first solo album. Free from contracts, aware of the challenges and entirely stoked to employ everything he learned from his experiences, Nakia is thrilled to be undertaking this next challenge.
"We're still weeks away from release, and fans are getting previews of tracks and giving their input on choosing song titles, track order and cover art. I really want this to be our record, or even their record."
"The Voice was like recess for me. That was the playground where everyone was chanting my name and everyone was playing and having fun," he laughs. "This, today, the record-making and the pledging, this is school. The getting out there and working with songwriters and getting a tour together, that’s school. Television was awesome. I fucking loved it; it was great. But it is not reality. Everything that I did really helped prepare me what came next, though."
On any given day, the musician wakes up and greets his fans online, takes his partner Robert to work and heads over to the recording studio to lay down a track with other local musicians. Later he goes to perform with someone at the Saxon Pub and then heads home to double-check on the progress of his album on PledgeMusic.
The relatively new online fan-funded music platform has become another creative way that musical artists, sick of wheeler-dealing record companies and half-hearted promotional deals, have taken the record-making process back in to their own hands. Artists like Ben Folds Five, Juliana Hatfield, Rachel Yamagata and, now, Nakia have embraced the entirely hands-on approach that appeals directly to their biggest fans.
"[Making my record] through PledgeMusic allows me to promote and market the record months before the normal album cycle would even start," he explains. "We're still months away from release, and fans are getting previews of tracks and giving their input on choosing song titles, track order and cover art. I really want this to be our record, or even their record. It’s my songs and my sound, but it really becomes their record. They’re the ones driving the process."
At the time of this writing, the business-minded singer is at 80 percent of his fundraising goal, with nearly 350 separate pledgers. While that may seem low considering his 25,000 Twitter followers and 16,000 Facebook followers, Nakia himself knows there's a big divide between followers and committed fans.
"The majority of my [social media] followers come from The Voice, and most of those people are from a demographic who don’t have a debit card yet," he muses, realizing that excitable tweens who watch TV don't always follow up with parents' disposable income.
"The majority of the people who follow me have never really paid for music as a commodity. Maybe 10 percent of them are of an age that they remember even shopping for music. Which is partly why I'm so excited to be working with PledgeMusic. I feel like this is the beginning of the last great stand for musicians. Everyone is going to have to get creative and smarter about how they make music."
Part of Nakia's PledgeMusic campaign involves exclusive personalized gifts to his pledgemakers, guaranteeing that additional personal touch to the experience. On Wednesday night, the singer is hosting a Lucky 7/11 Pledge Party at the Threadgill's World Headquarters as the last major push for the album's fundraising efforts. Attendees will get to hear all of the new demos from the album, including those that so far have been unavailable.
The personalized approach to making music will always appeal to this life-long entertainer, who credits his sure-footedness in the business to the support he got from Austin area musicians after moving to Texas 10 years ago.
"There is a very long list of people who have employed me while I was searching for what I thought I wanted to do in life," he says. "But it wasn’t until I got to Austin and really was able to let go of everything else and focus on music that I discovered how much love they’ve shown me here. There are so many resources here like HAAM and SIMS that literally kept me alive and took me under their wings and taught me how to go on tour and how to get gigs. I was born to sing and to entertain. It took a long time to figure that out."
Nakia is living his life and making music as a genuine reflection of the city that continues to raise him: as a true original.
Watch his video and help Nakia finish his fundraising goals to complete his album at PledgeMusic, and join him for his Lucky 7/11 Pledge Party at the Threadgill's World Headquarters from 7 - 9 p.m. Tickets are $11, with dinner available.