“We keep reinventing ways for people to be celebrities, but what we’re always drawn to is someone who’s being authentic.” – Pete Holmes
Authenticity. This is something I noticed immediately about Adrian Milanio. It was clear to me the first time I met him that Adrian knew he was something special, but was very humble about it.
During high school, Adrian started songwriting as an outlet for his teen angst, mostly, but it soon became more than that.
His music started getting attention locally and online, and eventually he was booking bar gigs in Tacoma. One day, during biology class at PLU, Adrian noticed on Spotify that he had gained 25,000 new listeners in a month and thought, “holy crap, maybe I can actually make a profession out of this.”
He says that even before that he knew that college wasn’t going to be his end all be all, that there was something bigger in store for him.
“I’ve always taken pride in making good music and doing good things with good people,” Adrian told me before giving a perfect example of living that truth.
Toward the beginning of 2021 he received a grant from the city of Tacoma and decided to use that money to support and connect with four other local musicians in recording their own “Tiny Desk Concert”-style video of a few of their songs.
He booked time at Mothership Studios, hired a videographer, set aside a stipend for each of the musicians, and mixed the audio for each of these videos himself. Being able to support local talent and facilitate more connections is what was most rewarding for him.
Here are the artists he worked with on that project and a link to their music if you were interested.
Hannah Cho @pikapokecho
(You can check out a couple videos from that project below)
“I may be the figurehead of my success, but there’s no way I could have done it alone,” Adrian said. “I really want to pay it forward and give back in ways that I can and in ways that are meaningful to me.”
He is a mentor for other students at his alma mater of PLU. In fact, that’s how he met the videographer for the mini-concert series.
Adrian expressed a lot of gratitude for his mentors at ETC Tacoma; Quincy “Q Dot” Henry at Campfire Coffee, and one of the most acclaimed artists of the 2000s – Ne-Yo.
“Adrian is very, very close to a blow-up,” Quincy said during our conversation at Campfire Coffee. “He’s on the verge. If you look at the stuff that he’s accomplished in the last year or two, and even prior to that, he has the numbers.”
He is committed to his personal growth and growth of his community. In a way, the community is also committed to the growth of artists.
“I think that Tacoma is the kind of place where he can nurture his career and it’ll just be on him on how far it goes,” Quincy said. “There’s enough community support to [get you started] here.”
Quincy built the same thing here when he was doing music. You take the support that you gain locally and leverage that into a sold out show in Seattle, then Portland, and so on, Quincy told me.
Adrian shared with me that it can be a challenge to get booked around the city, and that part of it might be a small market for R&B music.
People that operate in different genres can sometimes be very segmented within their own local community. There are venues that seem to book the same artists or genres consistently, but don’t grant the same space for people who do R&B and hip-hop.
“I don’t really believe in gatekeeping, especially in 2021, because I feel like [by now] everybody has a space to be in and be who they are,” Adrian said.
It was clear to Adrian and I that Tacoma has no shortage of talent, but it does lack opportunities for connection between artists. He sees himself as the person to begin creating those opportunities as another way to pay it forward.
He said that one of the beautiful things about Tacoma is that its people can tell their own story through the things that they do and represent. It feels different from some other cities, where it seems like everyone is trying to get big by doing the same thing.
While he won’t rule out the possibility of moving to a different place, he’ll always be thankful for Tacoma and is proud to represent his city.
You can catch him at his next performance on Dec. 11 at Courthouse Square for RAIN Incubator’s Gift of RAIN event, which aims to raise funds that will increase this non-profit’s capacity to grow local companies, talent, and jobs in Tacoma.
He can also be found at adrianmilanio.com