Travis Mills’ self-proclaimed status as a “renaissance man-child” is pretty spot on when you take into consideration that over his career he has gone from being an unsigned rapper on Vans Warped Tour to a recurring role in a Netflix series and now serves as a tastemaker on his own Apple Music Beats 1 radio show.
When he started making music, laptops were just becoming widely accessible and beginning to be built to handle recording. His trial-by-error recordings, as he calls them, were uploaded to Myspace. Today, he sees the process as more streamlined, as technology improves and more social networks exist.
“We’re in the era of self-sufficient artists. It’s the era of kids making albums in their bedroom and rolling it out in the same week,” he explains. “Before it was like labels were the gatekeepers to the industry to get your music heard. But with the internet and technology the way it is right now, I feel like those gatekeepers are gone. Now it’s 100 percent up to the artist on how they want to release their art.”
Having a radio show about pop culture and music discovery wasn’t necessarily a career goal. However, it also wasn’t a surprise when he was presented with the opportunity to host on Apple Music’s Beats 1.
“I have an Apple logo tattoo on the palm of my hand that I got when I was 18 years old by no relation at all. I’m just a huge fan,” Mills reveals. “I think it’s just a culmination of me, my personality and all the crazy stuff that I’ve done throughout my life that led me here.”
His history with the tour dates back a bit further though, as he once spent a summer slinging merch for Babycakes Clothing and performing in the brand’s tent as an unsigned rapper. With Warped completing its final cross-country run in 2018, he predicts something else will fill the void of the tour.
“Warped Tour became a legacy because of its consistency, proving itself year after year and cutting its teeth with breaking acts,” Mills says. “With culture shifting, you do have festivals coming along, like Rolling Loud, that give a platform to underground artists that the other festivals weren’t booking. But in regards to the specific scene, I think something else will come along and take its place. It always does.”
Like Mills, acts such as Katy Perry, No Doubt and Green Day used Warped Tour as a stepping stone to launch their careers. He assures that up-and-coming bands shouldn’t worry about the tour not returning next summer. Driving his point home, he offers honest, first-hand advice on how to garner an audience without it.
“I don’t think a tour like Warped Tour is necessarily 100 percent responsible for any act,” he posits. “It really comes down to the acts themselves on the tour. I went on Warped Tour with a ton of acts who didn’t have huge fanbases and never got them. It’s what you do with the fans you already have and connect the most you possibly can. Are you responding to every comment on Instagram? Are you doing meet-and-greets after the shows? What kind of artist do you want to be?”
With widespread popularity of YouTube, Instagram and Twitter being used as platforms to catapult artists to fame, it can be hard to stand out. Mills was drawn to the emerging alternative-rock act YUNGBLUD and immediately invited him on his show to learn more.
— YUNGBLUD (@yungblud) November 13, 2018
“Someone like YUNGBLUD definitely caught my attention just off the energy I heard in his first couple of songs,” he says. “When you discover an artist like that, you go on their socials and see what they’re up to on tour, how the live shows look, and it just completes the full picture, you know?
“As an artist myself, I feel like I have a level of access to these acts to see if it’s authentic or not,” Mills continues. “And when I do find something that’s authentic, I cherish it.”
You can tune into Travis Mills Live on Beats 1 every Monday through Thursday at 4 p.m. PST.