There is a high chance you might have heard the ubiquitous 2012 Macklemore hit “Thrift Shop” that now boasts 785 million views on YouTube and that held the number one spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 2013 for six consecutive weeks. If you look closely at the video credits, you will spot Jay Neilson as one of the members of its small production team. Neilson, a College junior majoring in media studies, is one lucky individual who had the chance to apply his creative savvy to work alongside one of the biggest names in the music industry.
Describing himself as gregarious, compassionate and goofy, Neilson first connected with Macklemore in 2012 by means of his good friend, a talented photographer that was working with the team. Neilson’s friend was invited to work on Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” video and was encouraged to bring a buddy as help, and that is how Neilson entered the picture. The crew was composed of only five people.The crew was a family-centered business, a small, independent enterprise where each person had his or her own role in production, merchandise, marketing and outreach, among others.
As a first-time unpaid intern, Neilson’s role was to help everyone with their different projects on the filming grounds. He worked as an assistant to the main producer, compiling files and locations, renting vehicles for the video and preparing other video production-related materials.
“All the roles in the production team are so fluid, it’s difficult to explain my exact role,” Neilson said. “I also worked with merchandise and outreach and everyone worked together. Awesome environment. It was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was a party everyday, although there were a lot of responsibilities.”
Following this memorable summer experience, Neilson continued to help the production team with small projects that he could attend to from afar. Years passed and, last summer, he decided to get a more hands-on experience yet again and emailed the team to ask whether they might offer him a spot in the production crew for a new project. He was accepted and joined the crew once more. Although it was hard work, with 15-20 hour-long shifts, his utmost dedication made it an engaging and growing experience that armed him with novel, useful skills. He soon received a promotion and was officially employed and that was when he became closer to Ben Haggerty, otherwise known as Macklemore.
“Everyone was expected to give the their best,” Neilson said.“Ben is a great friend, everyone lit up as he entered the room. He respected everyone and he motivated me to work harder,” Neilson said.
Neilson did everything from responding to fan mail and organizing merchandise to setting up printers and helping to organize concerts in Las Vegas and San Francisco.
“Ben came in one day and asked us what we thought about Ed Sheeran,” Neilson said. “He asked me personally what I thought about Ed. I then had a conversation about him and how Ed Sheeran might affect his career.”
Soon enough, the two artists collaborated for the song “Growing Up.”
“I would sit for hours with Ben outside, just talking about life and what he wanted to do musically,” Neilson said. “He is an amazing guy. I love him as a human being. He is spiritual, compassionate and very energetic and creative.”
Neilson recalls many memorable times with him.
“It was my last day in Seattle before I left for a trip to Southeast Asia and he texted me to help him move these custom Jordan shoes made in association with Nike [Macklemore’s own model] into his house,” Neilson said. “After I helped him out, he sent me a heartfelt text, a very kind message. He told me how much he appreciated me. Soon after he promoted me. He also asked me about my favorite type of Jordans, and the second day he came in and gave me two pairs of shoes from his own shoe collection just so I can have my own personalized ones.”
Neilson declares that he is motivated by success and by being surrounded with driven, intelligent and creative people that can only serve as an impetus to propel his own artistic path.
“I love to see how other people interact with the world and the things that they love and believe in,” Neilson said. “I’m passionate about people and their creativity.”
In the future he hopes to find his own path in the music industry and beyond.
“I don’t know whether I’ll do [media/music] production or management, but right now I’m very into marketing,” Neilson said. “I just want to reach a balance between pushing to create great art and working with cool individuals and making money off of it.”
Neilson declares himself open to opportunities and is looking forward to discovering what is in store for him in rapport to his collaboration with Macklemore and beyond.
“In the end, I’m the protagonist of my own story,” Neilson said.