Wes Nelson performs SoundOn Sessions: ‘Working with SoundOn is enlightening’

UK artist Wes Nelson speaks to Headliner about his career in music to date, what’s coming next, and why working with TikTok’s SoundOn distribution platform has been an “enlightening” experience.

Topping a bill already spilling over with talent, UK star Wes Nelson’s show-stopping headline set at the second SoundOn Session on November 16 was just one of many highlights on an evening that showcased some of the most exciting new talent in the business.

Marking an exciting new partnership between SoundOn and Headliner Spaces, SoundOn Sessions aim to shine a spotlight on the very best new artists coming through in the UK, offering them the chance to perform live at The Pioneer Club in St. Albans – one of the country’s premier grassroots venues and creative hubs.

Nelson's headline show followed a series of performances from some of the MOBO UnSung Class of 2023 - a relatively new talent contest driven by TikTok and SoundOn aimed at highlighting exciting new acts. Blistering renditions of hits such as Nice To Meet Ya and See Nobody drew rapturous response from a crowd packed with fellow artists, fans, senior music industry figureheads, and more, while a guest spot from regular Nelson collaborator and producer Ayo Beatz served as an unexpected surprise for those in the crowd.

Speaking to Headliner after his set, Nelson explained why he believes events like SoundOn Sessions are essential for artists in developing their craft as performers.

“My first performances were good, but they were nowhere near what I’m doing now, and there is no cheat code for that,” he said. “Your singles might do well but that doesn’t develop you as an artist and a performer. And I started to get success at first during Covid so I couldn’t perform. So, shows like this – even though we’ve done things like The O2 with N-Dubz – are no less challenging. In fact, they are probably even more so.

“You have to lift the crowd, and there isn’t that massive buzz where you have an arena of thousands of people,” he continued. “You have to really engage with the audience, and doing shows like this allows you to do those big performances so much better, because you learn how to engage the crowd. I call it crowbarring. If the vibe isn’t there when you first come on you have to crowbar it in. Nights like this help you learn to do that.”

SoundOn gives me freedom, and as an artist freedom is the main thing. Wes Nelson

He also went on to describe the relationship he has cultivated of late with the SoundOn platform. Having recently left a major label deal to pursue an independent path, he was keen to highlight the added control and freedom that comes with such a distribution model.

“My journey with SoundOn has been enlightening,” he said. “My debut single was See Nobody and I released that with Universal Music, which was great, and we went on to do Nice To Meet Ya and Drive, all big smashes. But at the same time, as a creator, you want to have full creative control and freedom when it comes to what music you want to put out and when you want to put it out. And if felt like I just didn’t quite have that.

“With SoundOn you get that independence. It feels great to be able trial music. I feel like my introduction to music was almost the wrong way around. I went straight in at the top and never got to experiment or play around with different genres. It just had to be hit, hit, hit. But now I feel like I can play around with what works for me and better understand who I am as an artist. It just feels great to be able to put out the music as I want it. It’s perfect for me.”

In addition to the control SoundOn has offered Nelson over his output, it has, he notes, facilitated greater experimentation in his approach to songwriting.

“I’ve recently been working in all these different genres and trying new things, and I feel like I’m still discovering myself as an artist,” he elaborates. “So, the challenge is being able to put things out that I think might be sick but might not resonate with the crowd that’s messing with my music. But you still have to think about who you are and who you want to be. You can’t just do the same thing you were doing before.

“With my previous major I had control but there was always that looming subconscious thought that someone’s watching. And don’t get me wrong, SoundOn are across things, but they give me a bit more freedom, and as an artist freedom is the main thing.”

As for what’s next for Nelson, new music and a 2024 European tour look set to elevate his star further still.

“I have my first European tour coming next year, which I’m really excited about,” he said. “We sold out our UK and Ireland tour, which is super important for me. It really boosted my confidence. Even though we’ve done massive shows they’ve been with the likes of N-Dubz and Clean Bandit, so to be able to sell out my own tour is a huge highlight for me in my career. And there’s going to be more singles and more experiments.”

Commenting on the standard of The Pioneer Club as a grassroots venue, Nelson also noted: "For such an intimate, grassroots venue, the production values at The Pioneer are next level: LED wall and floor, and a proper high-end sound system that made you feel like you were in a much bigger venue."

Headliner recently spoke to TikTok head of artist services UK, Nichal Sethi, about the ways in which SoundOn can benefit artists. You can read the interview in full here. We also spoke to Ayo about his plans to utilise SoundOn on account of its ability to, "put power in the artists' hands".

In addition to the stellar performances on the latest SoundOn Session, another key component of the evening’s success was The Pioneer Club’s sound system, which is made up of eight JBL SRX910 line arrays, four SRX928S ground-stacked subs and four JBL PRX908 floor monitors.

Two PRX915 DJ monitors also feature at the venue, along with a Soundcraft Ui24 mixer.

Meanwhile, two JBL PRX912s are positioned on the VIP balcony as delays.

JBL’s presence at The Pioneer Club is not confined to the main performance space. It also reaches into its bar and mini performance area – The Suet Yard. Completely reimagined from its initial iteration as a communal canteen area, it is now a social, DJ and performance space that sits alongside the main venue area, complete with a bar powered by Signature Brew and a JBL-powered PA system that can accommodate everything from DJ sets and stripped back and acoustic sessions for up to 200 people.

The full PA system consists of a selection of speakers from JBL’s PRX Series, including PRX915XLF subwoofers, PRX908 and IRX108BT loudspeakers, as well as a Soundcraft Ui24R mixer.

Nelson's headline set also marked the first show at The Pioneer Club to utilise the venue's brand new LED wall and floor, courtesy of Leyard.

"By deploying our products at forward-thinking places such as the Pioneer Club, it gives a medium to promote the next generation of music acts; it’s also socially responsible and, as with other organisations, might help steer one or two people into a career in technology or music that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to embrace,” said Leyard's Luke Marler-Heusen.

Furthermore, a comprehensive Martin Lighting rig works to spotlight the artists and sets the mood on stage and throughout the venue, which includes compact beam moving heads, bright single-lens LED moving heads, bright single-lens LED PAR cans, bright single-lens colour LED PAR can light fixtures, ultra-bright quad LED blinder fixtures and a JEM ZR35 fog machine.