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Odd!Life Melds Music Video with Concert Streaming in Underoath:Observatory

Grammy-nominated metalcore band UnderOath set out to fill the void left by a year's worth of cancelled tour dates by giving their fans something new: three livestreams featuring top-to-bottom performances of fan-favorite albums, produced in the cinematic style of the band's music videos.

Even as regions that have been relatively successful in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have undertaken phased reopenings, and professional sports leagues have resumed under somewhat altered conditions, touring musicians sidelined since March must reckon with the likelihood that, at present, live concerts in packed venues with exuberant fans singing at the top of their lungs are on few reopening roadmaps. Live concerts, many say, will be among the last things to come back.

Artists have dealt with this blow to their livelihoods and their ability to connect with their fans in various ways, most involving livestreams of some kind. The first weeks of shelter-at-home yielded loads of “live from the living room” performances on YouTube and Facebook, intimate shows that in some ways brought fans closer to their favorite artists than they’d been before. Some performers monetized these streams directly through Venmo or PayPal; others with bigger nest eggs used them to raise money for local food banks or other causes.

We’ve seen a growing trend of audience-less concerts, from the Dropkick Murphys’ livestreamed gig from an empty Fenway Park to staged in-venue shows with Zoomed-in audience participation like the Jason Isbell/Amanda Shires show at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville we wrote about here.

Grammy-nominated, Tampa, Florida-based metalcore band UnderOath recently set out to fill the void left by a year’s worth of cancelled tour dates by giving their fans something they’d never seen or heard before. In an ambitious project designed to combine the raw energy of a live show with the cinematic, stylized impact of a music video and a unique setlist, the band delivered three livestreams featuring a top-to-bottom performance of one fan-favorite album per show. In successive weeks, the band performed Lost in the Sound of Separation (2008), Define the Great Line (2006), and They’re Only Chasing Safety (2004).

As pay-per-view events, the livestream series, known as “Underoath: Observatory” also served to test and implement a new business model for the band to monetize their work in this time when their usual revenue streams are unavailable.

A critical component of the show was the venue, a warehouse known as “The Observatory” that the band’s creative team transformed into a unique performance space customized to create the look and feel they wanted the shows to have. They also partnered with local production outfit Odd!Life Studios to produce the livestreams, with the expectation that Odd!Life could deliver a cinematic experience that matched the band’s concept.

“Thankfully, the creative team behind this, Tension Division, had a solid vision from the start,” says Odd!Life Founder and Senior Storyteller Lief Thomason. Brought in just two weeks before showtime, Odd!Life nonetheless found it easy to grasp the direction of the project because of how clearly Tension Division laid it out. “They had a whole mood board for it, which was fantastic, because it helped me to just come in and say, ‘Okay, I know how to set it up.’ It had a fairly clean look to it, but lots of energy, lots of contrasts, and lots and lots of haze. Because of that strong-held vision, we had a through line that we were always able to refer back to if we ever felt like we got too far off track. With those mood boards, we always had an anchor for what we were trying to create.”

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Thomason also attributes the band’s success in bringing the energy and impact of a live concert in a room with no audience to the vibe they got off the space, lighting, and of course the haze. “It was kind of an ingenious design from the get go, because it placed the band into this environment. And then once you had haze and lights and everything going, it enabled them to be immersed into the same setting that we were trying to get the audience immersed into, which was that feeling somewhere between live music and music video,” Thomason explains. “And obviously, they’re professionals. They know how to amp it up when they need to, but the setting really helped them do that as opposed to sort of singing out into a void.”

Naturally, camera choice was a key part of capturing and delivering the desired look. For four of the eight cameras used in the shoot, Odd!Life chose Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6Ks. Two advantages these cameras offered were the ability to shoot in cinema-style 24p, and a sensor that could capture 4K (and then some), enabling Underoath to offer not only 1080p streams, but the ability to repurpose the footage later on in 4K releases.

“The band specifically was looking for something that was more like music video-style than standard livestreaming or a broadcast look,” Thomason says. “The first request was it had to be 24p. I knew Blackmagic was able to handle that, because I had done a few smaller-level streams inside of recording studios utilizing that same stuff with the ATEM Mini Pro. So I knew it would achieve the look. And personally, having shot with what they're used to--the RED cinematic camera--I knew with the Blackmagic I could get a real close feel to what they’ve done in music videos in the past. We wanted it to feel like an Underoath music video, which really has to do with cutting to certain beats and a little bit of chaos here and there. So I knew all of that going into it, and I knew that if I wanted to play the switcher like an instrument, then I would have to have all channels usable all the time.”

Odd!Life used three camera ops—one on a gimbal, one handheld, and one operating a camera with a wide-angle lens on a tripod at the center of the stage area to provide the “pit view.” The crew also included an assistant director and an OBS op managing the livestream.

Thomason switched all three shoots live using an ATEM 2 M/E Production Studio 4K. Using Blackmagic HDMI to SDI Micro Converters, Odd!Life was able to connect the four DCC 4Ks and the four GoPro cameras also in use to the switcher via SDI. “We were in a huge space, so we had to run a lot of long cable, which meant I knew I couldn't use HDMI, which is what I had done with the ATEM Mini Pro in my past experiences. So I had to have conversions out of everything, including the GoPros, which have the weirdest signals. Scaling those is virtually impossible, unless you have something that can read what it's doing and then output the right thing."

Even as the Observatory shows have proven successful enough that Underoath has already teased the possibility of doing more album livestreams following this concept in the future, Thomason notes that the band wasn’t sold on livestreaming at the start. “The band did not want to do live streaming going into this. They had seen so many examples and they said, ‘It's just not right for us’--until this concept of the Observatory came in. And at the point that, you know, they decided, ‘Okay, we're in.’ They were still hesitant with what the result would be when we watched back the first concert that night when we cut the stream. They were so excited, you could see the potential running through their heads was just enormous to them.”

Thomason says that Odd!Life Studios has projects in the works with other bands with a similar concept, combining livestreaming with the creative production values of music video. “I’m excited about what all of this could mean,” he says. “Nobody wants to be stuck where we’re at right now, but to be able to utilize the tools that we have for new exciting and engaging possibilities, it’s neat to see it unfold.”