Last week I spent about half an hour under a bridge with some musicians, 2 guitars, a microphone and a camera.

About 2 hours of post-production later, I released a music video for one of my new collaborators: Edward Guglielmino.

Edward Guglielmino – Late At Night (Bridge Sessions) from Jaymis.

The idea for this piece was that it start out looking like it was shot on a camera phone, and seamlessly segue into a lovely HD panorama. The camera was locked-off on a tripod. All zoom and camera moves were created in After Effects. I’m very happy with the effect, but that’s not really why I post it here. I’ve been considering, discussing, and planning my future as a visualist, and I’d like to share some of where I’m aiming, and hear what you, lovely CDM readers, are pointing your considerable talents towards.

This video is part of a slightly new direction for me. Previously I’ve striven for “perfection” with every work. The cleanest image, the highest resolution, the perfect performance, the seamless post-production. These are all noble goals, clearly, but they’re not really compatible with an abundant output, and it’s an abundance of output which I feel is the way for myself – and others – to transition from weekend-VJ to full-time visualist.

After being part of a touring, album-releasing rock band for a year, I had a chance to meet a lot of gigging musicians all around Australia, and almost all of them loved the idea of a touring visualist. The concept of a “visual member” of a band has been around for a long time in the electronic music scene, but rock bands are rapidly becoming interested in our world. This seems to be creating a “seller’s market”, as the number of bands greatly outstrip the number of VJs, so it’s quite feasible to be involved in multiple projects.

The visualist also brings something quite obvious, but extremely valuable, to a band: Proficiency with video! Video is currently the most powerful medium for viral culture on the web (read: “in the world”), so if a band brings a visualist into their creative sphere, not only do they increase the visual impact of their shows, but they bring in the capability to create much more potent marketing material which spans the senses. Whether it’s full filmclips, live gig videos, or visual mixes to go with released tracks, as a visualist you have ample scope to become a core member of a band.

I think this integration is where the future of the music industry lies. Previously the model was to save up money and art, to take it somewhere secret for a long time, then eventually release a monolithic product – an album or a live show – and hope people identify with that. I feel the future of music and video is smaller, incremental works. Gathering fans steadily, through free, easily accessible releases in whatever media and networks are available, rather than holding out for the giant fanfare of an album or tour, which has a single shot at success.

Which is why I shot the Bridge Sessions with Edward Guglielmino. We spent a couple of hours – considerably less time than I wasted last year discussing CD packaging options or album revenue shares, and created something which lets people identify what we’re doing, to become fans, and to join our journey as artists. Because it’s a piece of art, some people will love it, some will think it’s boring, or terrible. If it was an album we’d spent a year making, those latter reactions would be a tragedy, but we only spent a couple of hours, which means we have another chance to turn those people into fans next week.

  • Examples of an early version of this idea would be Severed Head (now officially disbanded). Thanks to Benton C. for the intro on that.

    Today we have plenty of inspiration:
    1) Gangpol & Mitt –
    2) Rechenzentrum –
    3) Meneo + Entter –

    Doing them selves. Making it their own. Microtainment 🙂

    A little shameless self promotion:

    We'll be touring Portugal and Spain this summer starting at Arbertura2 in Lisbon hosted by Elsa Viera (Share/Monkeyfish) and Ana Carvalho (VJ Theory).

  • DaNni

    I don't mean to sound harsh… but was the autofocus-hunting-periodic-blurring of the image some kind of artistic choice?

  • stk

    Australian band Decoder Ring were (are?) an outstanding example of a 'rock' (more electro-rock-pop-prog) band with an in-band visualist – 2x 16mm projectors(!) synched perfectly with their music.

    Haven't seen them since they got famous with the Somersault soundtrack, but their earlier gigs were some of the best I've ever seen, from any act.

  • @DaNni: The autofocus hunting was actually some kind of stuff up 🙂 I'd thought that focus was locked off – apparently not. It was subtle enough that I didn't notice it on playback at the shoot.

    This is the one thing which I'm not happy about with the piece, but the whole concept is about a single, fast shoot, so there was no way we were going out there to do it again, and not many people have picked up on it (indeed, some seem to think it adds to the effect. I'm guessing these aren't people who have HD video cameras).

    @ilan: Thanks for the examples, I'll have a look around. Severed Heads are disbanded, but Tom Ellard is still touring around and doing the AV thing.

    stk: I had actually heard about the Decoder Ring setup before, but never saw them play. Something else to hunt down.

  • massta

    Haven't had much luck with bands. They're either poor or don't want a VJ. I think it works better with mainstream bands with a lot of success or bands with low member count like a duet, which could use more visual entertainment.

    Lately, I've been more on the album frame of mind. Consider a VJ who can put together 45 minutes of amazing live performance. Add in a great dvd/t-shirt sales while mixing up each tour with a new set of visuals. My problem is music copyrights since I only create video. I think Vello Virkhaus has a great combination and an awesome website: (shameless friend plug)

  • Patagonie

    Quite visionary IMHO! I'm totally aligned with that vision of the future of music

    Somehow, the current music business has come to an end (-50% revenues in 10 years and counting). It's structurally flawed since the invention of 2 things: digital music format and the Internet.

    The solution : nobody has the solution at the moment. But clearly it will be based on ideas such as the ones you put forward.

    First, sell less of more (LongTail principle). Music is a world of niches. Currently niches are ignored by the music industry because they're not profitable. But by switching from a hit to a niche economy (again a LongTail principle), you can address niches and make them viable, as low as their audience can be.

    Second, acknowledge fan demand for more proximity with an artist. Get close to your fans, and they'll eventually feel close to you and buy whatever you have to sell them. Last week I attended a conference on "music 2.0" in paris about a month ago, and one indie label guy said something that stroke me: "when you reply to a fan on myspace, you get a fan for life". Simple recipe for keeping an audience alive and kicking.

    Third, since music granularity has changed from album format to single-track format – because of iTunes the album format is also declining, you need to acknowledge it. Give people what they want : short, creative, imaginative bits of media that they can buy for cheap. This is how eventually people will buy full albums, attend concerts, etc.

    (the LongTail idea).

  • @massta: The album thing is a great call. Definitely somewhere that I'm heading, both with electronic and rock music.

    Licensing is an interesting point though. I'm not sure about the rest of the world, but in AU if you direct a music video which is played on TV, you don't get any royalties. The copyright and mechanicals owners of the music gets their royalties, but the director gets squat unless he's worked it out with the copyright owner. I had a chat last year with some AU Film guild people who were apparently working to change this, but it's currently an interesting situation here, as video is getting more important, but still doesn't feature, financially.

    @Patagonie: I think there are loads of solutions. The thing is, there's not one single solution any more. Because culture is breaking up into micro-niches, many of which have enough fanbase and organization to support themselves, there may be a huge number of solutions which work, and we're already seeing that this is the case.

    I definitely feel that more interaction with fans is a key to all of this, and for me this kind quick-release video is an important part of it.

    I think it will be a while until artist properly transition away from the "Album" idea, but I agree that it's definitely declining, and we need to find other ways of packaging things so fans can consume what we're creating, and support us in creating more.

  • @Pagagonie

    On the album bit. It will be interesting to see where this concept goes. We still have novels and movies despite the plenitude of mini-media. I think if an artist has something cohesive to deliver then something like an album or a compilation of material is possible.

    An example from the beloved comics world:

    I think the key is being open, creative and communicative. This thing about replying to a message from a fan is key. I would not necessarily get too tied down trying to figure out how to tailor ones creativity for a particular niche. Just be and people will appreciate you for it.

    Ok… I really have to get back to work now 😛

  • Patagonie

    About the album/compilation format : agreed, there will still be albums, esp. when there is coherence and/or progression in it. For instance concept albums (how can one dare to listen to Dark Side of the Moon in shuffle mode?).

    Aggregating different media types into a compilation is a good point too, as an artist's universe often stretches beyond pure music.

    Don't know if you came across these take-away concerts. Those are some sort of improvised concerts (street, subway station, shops…) by something high-profile bands. Check it out : here

  • I got the chance to VJ a live camera feed of the band Kinky @ the Microsoft Zune 2.0 release party last December. My buddy Jacob Stone (Punch-Drunk Productions) was on stage with a Cannon GL getting the shots of the band while they played. I ran his feed into/through my Korg Entrancer (everyone should have one!) and out to the two projector screens on either side of the stage. What was so cool is, I was able to do lots of organic manipulation of the video image – real-time scratching/sampling, mirror effects all in-time, reacting to the music. While I was doing this (and grinning from ear to ear) I couldn't help think that THIS is the future of live camera feeds!!!! I should never – ever – see another big concert with "cut camera one, camera two, back to one, crowd three" etc etc projected on the screens! Our setup was pretty ghetto, but the result was pretty cool! Being able to scratch to guitarist jumping in the air over and over – in time and fade to the new camera shot – awesome. Now, if only we had recorded it!!!

    Another comment. I recently read an article in Creative Cow Magazine describing UK based Studio Skylab's work for Oasis' 2007 Brit Awards performance. They were contracted to create the visuals for Oasis's big finale. Reading about how they had "only the rehearsal audio" to work from since and:

    "The problem for us was, if the band played too fast or too slow, none of the visual elements would work. So we created chorus pieces, bridge pieces, and verse pieces, each with a 3 second tail. These would all be triggered individually at the right cue points by the lighting director during the performance that night."

    COME ON! Anybody ever hear of a VJ before???? This killed me! Europe has a huge VJ scene! How could they have missed this?

    It's sad to think that at the TOP – you've got LIGHTING DIRECTORS cuing video clips! It reminds me when I saw Paul McCartney in '05 and the video during "Got A Feeling" – a clip of some base speakers pumping out the beat – was not even in sinc with the music!!! Paul! COME ON! Any VJ could have adjusted the clip to play in time! What's the deal? I think producers of these events might be a tad out of touch with what's going on. Thoughts?

  • @Patagonie: I hadn't seen those particular take-away concerts before. That's an extremely impressive collection! There's plenty of people doing that kind of thing around the place though. I know some electronic musicians in Brisbane who have been going to various locations and setting up a generator to play gigs. Most notably in the middle of a huge river-crossing footbridge.

    @Scobot: I'm with you on the videos + entrancer thing. At the beginning of this year I was all but ready to sell my entrancer and transition entirely to digital video, but the Vixid and my collection of tiny cameras has totally changed my mind! I've been working on some Vixid tutorials, and purposefully haven't brought the entrancer into the mix yet, but it adds another huge layer of Awesome. Pity that Korg aren't doing video anymore.

    I've had a little experience with VJing and TV (my band played on Australian Idol last year), and that is the exact experience I had. They weren't interested an an actual VJ having control over the video, I just had to make a pre-rendered video 3 1/2 minutes long and hope it worked.

    I think producers are definitely out of touch, and also lighting people seem to be threatened by what VJs can achieve. It's going to change, but at the moment you have a lot of misconception and red tape to cut through at those higher levels.

  • @Scobot I had a similar viewing experience at a huge festival in Nyon, Switzerland where Bjork was the headlining act. I have to say that Bjork does not really need visuals for impact. She IS visuals and the stage was arranged thoughtfully. But they did have two very large screens to the left and right of the stage as is common in large shows where the distance between the crowd and performer is considerable. Unfortunately… and I quote an entry from my own blog

    "They also had some really bad visual accompaniment that consisted of live feeds where some thoughtless video technician blurred her image or put a mosaic filter on it. Someone did get the brilliant idea to point another camera onto a Lemur one the musicians was using. In the following days lay people who also saw the show would tell me 'The visuals were amazing! They had this image of a very cool screen that someone was manipulating with their fingers' and I would casually say 'Oh that. That is a Lemur…'"

    No matter how great a VJ one is there is also the requirement of being well connected and being business minded. That is very often the key to removing said misconceptions and red tape. It will happen. And then there will be something else to bump up against.

  • Gilbert

    I was just talking to a fellow who's a professional contracting cameraman. He does lots of shoots of material for local news type things, disasters, whatever etc. For his line of work (journalistic), he has to shoot everything quickly and spontaneously. Sometimes his shot's only there for 5 seconds.

    Anyways, it was real enlightening to talk to him. He told me about how after doing it for a long time you just sort of get this natural feel for the equipment and you always have one eye looking around to make sure you don't miss anything important.

    I imagine if you shoot a lot, even at lower quality, it'll probably improve your skills tremendously compared to spending a huge amount of time obsessing over a few elaborate projects. That's probably one of the biggest wins of your strategy right there.

  • Gilbert – a great call, although that works for any kind of creative endeavour: post production, shooting, editing, VJing, songwriting.. Being more prolific helps you improve skills in a different way to being meticulous. Both are absolutely valid. I've done my fair share of obsessing in the past, but I'm finding value in balancing this with some quick, rough work as well.

  • Jumping right in, since this is where I dig what's happening now – people ARE getting into a holistic treatment of their presentation, and diy is nolonger for those who have no other choice
    @ilan, your comment regarding the Bjork shows is very telling; that notion of people getting a deeper insight into what's going on on-stage is so key; part of the whole point of live shows is getting up close and personal and also about changing ones view of the pieces being performed.

    My own live:
    1) Allow me to manipulate as much as possible in real-time – often ALL programming is done live.
    -> Any visuals should reflect that.
    -> only way possible is through generative media and live video streams. Using stock anything would feel contrary to the entire notion of my performances.
    (video here, Live triggering vvvv :

    @jaymis, I really liked that video! Simple often gets the job done, esp. when the artists performing are as good 😉
    The only thing I didn't dig, ironically, is the camera-movements (after effects?) Looks like either band or camera is on a boat in the beginning.

  • @wetterberg
    I agree about the 'up close and personal' can be achieved by well placed cameras. But that was not the driving point of my statement.

    These screens were being used as what I would call 'visual amplification' in that it allows the audience to see the artist because otherwise all they paid for was a little spec on the stage that is Bjork. This has been done for years. In the case of these kinds of shows the artist is charismatic enough that the artist IS the visuals.

    The problem with this practice here is there was likely ZERO communication with Bjork on what the content of these screens was going to be beyond 'you have big screens… ok… any ideas?' No ideas then nothing happens beyond what I saw. What I saw was a cheesy mosaic filter applied to the image in real time that made her look as if a bee was looking at her. If it were part of the subject matter of the song this might have made sense. But as it was used continually it almost appeared as if they were told to use this on close up shots because she did not want people to see her up close. I don't really know. My point was that everything including pointing the camera at the Lemur felt like an after thought and therefore not in tune with the standards that Bjork sets for herself in almost everything she does.

    All of these things such as live cameras, clip playback systems, generative media are just tools. IMHO a great visualist or stage choreographer will work with the featured artist and ask a bunch of questions and then find out what tool best fits the ideas behind each song. Or it could be one style used different ways throughout the performances. Large or small this is a discussion that can be productive. Spontaneity can also work. It's really a wide thing that is open to many possibilities.

    About two years ago while I was still in the states I saw a premier broadcast of the show that Madonna did that year. The video was very much there. Huge and sprawling shots of horses galloping in water. Everything else… every aspect of this show including the cuts likely made in real time with the performance were so well timed it was simply breath taking. I am not by any means a big fan of Madonna. But like anything with that much talent and money behind it one cannot just ignore it. It was extremely humbling.

    I would probably not enjoy working on a project like that. A VJ would probably be just a cog in the wheel of this vast operation. Everything is made to LOOK spontaneous. For all I know they could have been using WatchOut and the whole thing was set to a timeline.

    The chapter that I take from this is that it's always a good idea really, really give some thought to what one is doing… sometimes. Or not.

    My personal dream is to do visuals for the Melvins.

  • Sorry for some of the typos. A bit tired from two gigs this weekend. 🙂

  • @wetterberg – Thanks for the feedback. The idea was that it starts looking like it was shot with a camera phone, and ends up as a stable, high def panorama.

    I'm not super happy with how the moves look, but it's quite good considering how fast I put it together. The movement wasn't keyframed as is, I used some broad movements and then added a wiggle with 2 parameters controlling rate and distance. Trying to get some convincing "organic" movement with minimal manual keyframing. Some bits look ok, some aren't so convincing.

    @ilan: You make many good points. The things you point out are what separates great performances from ones which are going through the motions. It seems that more bands and artists are understanding this kind of thing, and it's up to us to educate the rest of them.