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Austin's 'Home of the Blues Since '75' Streams Live with 3rd + Lamar and Blackmagic Design

In 2022 legendary Austin, Texas music venue Antone's partnered with local ad agency 3rd + Lamar to deliver its live shows to fans far beyond Austin's 5th Street thanks to a state-of-the-art, fully installed, single-operator multicam live streaming setup.

Austin’s self-described “Home of the Blues since 1975,” legendary venue Antone’s Nightclub has delivered classic performances from the likes of Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, B.B. King,and Jimmy Reed to fans lucky enough to secure a spot within its close confines for nearly 50 years. Like so many other venues whose ability to serve the public was affected when the pandemic hit in 2020, Antone’s began looking into streaming as an alternative way to bring music to fans, and in 2022—long after its doors re-opened and the club has resumed packing the room for top-flight shows—Antone’s found a way to present its shows to fans far beyond Austin’s 5th Street thanks to a state-of-the-art, fully installed live streaming setup. 

The streaming workflow was designed and implemented by Tony Stolfa of local media agency 3rd + Lamar. It’s built around 4 Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K Pros and Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio Pro HD, fully operated by a single on-site technical director, minimizing the gear’s and the video crew’s footprint and potential for intrusion or distraction in the intimate venue.

Rooftop Live

Although the new streaming installation is a relatively recent development, 3rd + Lamar’s relationship with Antone’s goes back several years. "I've shot a few times at Antone's for various events. Universal Music had a showcase there for South by Southwest in 2017, so we filmed some stuff there at that time," he recalls. "And then during the pandemic, there were a few shows that they had interest in [streaming] live, but they didn't have the setup for it.” Just as venues in the area were beginning to open back up, Stolfa says, “we brought in our portable custom system and we were able to come in and put four cameras on the ground and do a live show with Jackie Venson, who is a local artist here in Austin nationally recognized like global artists. That had a big showing, and both of the shows that we live streamed sold out in the venue. And this opened their eyes to the idea of monetizing outside of their four walls." 

With in-house attendance at Antone’s capped at 400 even in the best of times, and the club routinely booking acts that sell out bigger venues, Antone’s recognized an opportunity to reach a broader audience without compromising the intimate atmosphere of the club. "Having the ability to take those shows beyond their venue was something that was really interesting to them," Stolfa says, "and the impetus for that was during when we live streamed those Jackie Venson shows.

During the height of the pandemic, when the local music scene was essentially shut down due to social distancing requirements, 3rd + Lamar had been working with music venues in various ways, including doing no-audience shows that were for a time the only shows in town. Also, as a full-production ad agency working with local realty companies, they signed up area bands to do live streams from model homes to provide a showcase for both the realtors and also the bands who had very little exposure at that time. 

"I believe we did at least 20 of these during the pandemic with no audience. And when there was an audience, it was usually a very VIP audience experience with fans socially distanced in the yard outside. That was something we started brewing up during the pandemic," he says. "And then we started our own original live streaming series called Rooftop Live, partnering up with a venue on the east side downtown in Austin. That was fully funded and sponsored by us."

Stolfa says the agency did this both as a gesture to the community and because "we were kind of starving for entertainment as well, and there was no work coming in. A lot of companies were cutting their budgets, and so we decided that we were gonna try to give back to the community while we could. Rooftop Live was really cool because we shot it on a rooftop with the backdrop of downtown Austin. We shot it around sunset, and so you get that golden hour look. It was difficult for our camera operators to chase the lighting and exposure, but it turned out to be a really beautiful showcase."

Engineering a Streaming System for Antone's

So 3rd + Lamar was already engaged with the local music scene when they did the Jackie Venson show at Antone’s, and then began moving toward establishing a more permanent streaming setup there. One challenge with Antone’s, Stolfa says, was that “they wanted something very specific. Whatever system 3rd + Lamar engineered in the venue would have to be “fully remotely operable”—to avoid crowding the club with camera ops. “We’ve filmed some shows with boots on the ground and handheld camera operators there in the past. We were bumping  elbows with everyone on stage, and then you have to take up a large footprint with stanchions, and a video village downstairs.” That takes up space on the floor, he adds, “which means you can’t sell those tickets.” 

The other factor they needed to consider with Antone’s, he continues, was that “they also had a hard budget on it. We knew exactly what would fit”—in terms of footprint and cost. “We know Blackmagic is the highest quality hardware that you can get, and the most affordable [brand] on the market that I trust. So we originally established that it was gonna be a Blackmagic setup early on. And we built a custom encoding system."

But other than the custom elements, he says, "It's fully Blackmagic. We're using the Studio 4K cameras, which had only been on the market for 6-12 months when we got them." Stolfa says his company had worked with Blackmagic gear before, particularly on some productions they did for Austin Monthly, but the Antone’s project was the first time they had collaborated with their systems architect to develop this particular type of custom in-house rig. “We theorized that it would work. We needed to mount the cameras overhead, and we didn’t want the crowd’s experience to be diminished by the movement of the cameras. Blackmagic lends itself well to that because the camera packages they have are very discreet and small, and the Micro four-thirds sensor keeps the weight of the lenses down.”

The Micro Four-Thirds lenses have other benefits as well. "One big advantage that we have with the Micro Four-Third,” he explains, “is the crop factor. This is nice for us because the cameras are pretty far back and we wanted to be able to have a long zoom range. Even with a 35 max focal length, we're able to get really tight shots. And when I say really tight, I mean closeups of each of the artists' guitars, the drummer, and that sort of thing. That's one of the big perks of the micro four thirds. You're limited on your selections, since there are only a few makers of Micro Four-Thirds. But with Blackmagic having such great low-light sensitivity, the smaller sensor size didn't affect us much."

Video Village, Population 1

With the new fixed setup at Antone’s, the video village is located entirely upstairs, along with the artists’ green rooms, away from the stage and the floor filled with fans. "Everything is wired coming downstairs,” he explains On the main stage we have four cameras, all Blackmagic Studio 4Ks. Two of them are on Dana Dollies, and they're controlled with an eMotimo ST4, which allows us to turn them into PTZ cameras, essentially. It has motors on it that we're able to remote-control upstairs with a Skaarhoj controller.The other two cameras are just on the eMotimos, without the dolly tracks. So they're static cameras, if you will, but we're able to zoom in and focus from upstairs."

As becomes clear from watching a stream from Antone’s online (like the Mardi Gras Bash with C.J. Chenier and Marcia Ball available for free on the Antone’s site), "We have a center camera that's on a Dana Dolly, and it's our big wide kind of sweeping shot. You can see the truss and the stage lights and the crowd experience. And then we have our stage left and right cameras, and those are just adjacent to the center camera. And those are on zoom lenses. The center camera also has a zoom, Panasonic 12-35mm F/2.8 Micro Four-Thirds. And then the side stage camera, our fourth camera, is on the Dana Dolly, so it's moving, but it's got a 7.5,, fixed lens, which we use to get that sidestage/backstage feel. It really adds a cool dynamic 'cause you're seeing the lights and looking into the crowd. It makes the venue feel big.”

And, not counting the audio engineer at the mixing desk (who is often working from off-site), as far as the video guys, it is indeed a crew of one: "The technical director is the camera operator on these shows. We have a system with the Skaarhoj where you can basically develop presets for each of your movements, and really all it comes down to is changing the speed of those movements. And then you can manually set keyframes essentially to time the motion that you're tracking there. So one operator can actually punch the show and operate the cameras."

Before they actually got the system running, Stolfa admits he had his doubts as to whether it would all come off, given what Antone’s was asking for. "They wanted to have a system that they could just plug and play and have either a remote operator or one person on site operating it. Originally, we were like, 'That's gonna be impossible. How do we make that work?' And really, it was the integration of having all the flexibility with the Blackmagic cameras. We use the Studio Converters on those Blackmagic cameras, which gives us a lot of control over the coloring and functions of the camera. We can change aperture, focus, and color by using those converters upstairs. So there's really not a reason to go downstairs for the technical director." 

For each live stream, Stolfa says, 3rd + Lamar is filming in 4K and streaming in HD, which allows for punch-ins in the program feed. But it also means that they come out of each shoot with 4K footage they can repurpose, whether in the sizzle reel they created for Antone’s or for use in electronic press kits (EPKs) and other media and promotional materials for the bands themselves.

He adds that 3rd + Lamar is currently doing two shows a month on average for Antone’s. “Not every show has a livestream ticket,” he explains.

The agency is also working to duplicate and adapt the custom streaming setup they devised for Antone’s for other venues, with a couple of bids in the works in other Texas cities. One, he says, involves a comedy club, which presents its own “unique problem-solving situation. For a comedy show, you really don’t want a lot of camera operators running around distracting everyone from the performance, So it’s really important for them to have a small footprint. So it’s looking like we’ll be leaning towards Blackmagic for that as well.” 

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