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MixOne Soundstage: Audience-Less Shows with a Festival Feel

Sidelined from rock tours and festivals by the COVID-19 crisis, MixOne Sound put their gear, expertise, and storage space to use building a state-of-the-art soundstage designed to deliver festival-like livestreamed experiences with audience-less shows.

Kevin Garcia of Orange County, California-based MixOne Sound, go-to live event production, staging, and video crew for Live Nation and a host of top rock acts and festivals, handled videography duties on what was, most likely, the last live show in Nevada before the state imposed COVID-19 social distancing restrictions in March. Working with Nebraska-based alternative rock band 311 on the band’s annual 311 Day celebration (beginning March 11), MixOne Sound had done the first two shows of the three-day event when they got the call on March 13 that the state (along with the country) was shutting down. Given that the audience for the third show would be the same as for the first two, the band and crew received a special dispensation from the governor to do the third show, and with some reluctance they proceeded with the third-day gig. (After extensive contact tracing, Garcia reports that no spread of COVID cases resulted from the shows.)

Following the 311 Day shows, Garcia was booked to join the band on a “50 shows in 50 states” tour celebrating 311’s 30th anniversary of being a band. Of course, not one of those 50 shows came to pass.

Back in Orange County, Garcia and Bishop found themselves at loose ends, unsure of their next move. With no rock shows, music festivals, or in-person live events on the docket for the foreseeable future, the lifeblood of their livelihood had disappeared overnight. “Spenser and I were sitting in our shop, which was just a warehouse for all our gear,” Garcia recalls. Looking around at all the equipment, Garcia said, “We could do a soundstage.” Bishop replied, “I don’t like doing video unless you’re here, and you’re never here.” Garcia answered, “Well, I’m home now.”

From that moment, the idea for MixOne Soundstage—a state-of-the-art, fully operational venue where bands could deliver stream-first, audience-less performances for their fans—began. Garcia said, “We have an LED wall, we have all the audio and video gear, we already own it. We don’t have to rent anything like a lot of places unfortunately do. We’ve got our partners, Hudson Audio Works, in the same building. It’s what we do. Let’s do live streams. Let’s build a soundstage. That’s gonna be the move.”

Booking Bands

The first week of April, they began designing the soundstage. “We built it, tore it down, built it, tore it down, and built it again,” Garcia recalls.

With the soundstage nearing completion, the next step was to start booking bands. “I’ve worked with almost every major rock band,” Garcia says. “That’s my niche. So I just started calling Atlantic Records, and Warner, and Elektra, and Sumarian and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this spot. You already used me for video. Let’s be a little more forward-thinking.'"

Garcia lined up their first gig when he reached out to Andrew Jarrin of Roc Nation, the management firm owned by Beyonce and Jay-Z own. CHON, a band Jarrin rep'd, was looking for a way to promote their new record. With the soundstage not quite ready for primetime, Garcia packed up the gear, went to the band's house (Figure 1, below), and produced “a five-cam multistream to five platforms from their living room. That was a nightmare--two Instagrams, one Facebook with a cross-post, and two YouTube. So I had five going up, which as you know is not fun.”

Figure 1. Producing a 5-camera multi-stream of CHON from the band’s household

Although the show wasn’t a notch in the belt for the soundstage per se, it proved a key step forward nonetheless. “That kind of sparked it,” Garcia says, “because that was the moment that legitimized it: MixOne can stream.”

The crew produced their first event on the soundstage with the band Fever 333 in the days after the killing of George Floyd. That livestreamed benefit show garnered 250,000 views that day, and “raised north of $20,000 for the Minnesota fund with that band here, and that kind of put us on the map as, ‘This is the spot to be.’” Following that show, MixOne Soundstage became “an established building that people actually like will mention when they're talking about live streams in Southern California.”

Providing a Festival-Level Experience

A key part of the soundstage’s appeal, in the context of the limited concert experiences available now, Garcia says, derives from the novelty of the living-room lockdown streams to Instagram and Facebook wearing off. “People check out now,” he says. “They want to hear real quality. They’re out of shows on Netflix or out of movies to watch all they have left is what entertainers can do their own. So the bands come here because our audio is run like a festival would be--you're getting real multi-track audio. It’s not a room microphone. It’s actual mics on every instrument. Our whole thing is, ‘Imagine you were going to play a festival.’ That’s the experience the band gets. And the fan gets the closest experience to that possible through a screen.".

But the challenge of delivering that experience doesn’t end with the inherent limitations of delivering a concert or festival experience to a remote audience through a screen. It’s also maintaining the sort of physical social distancing on site that’s mandated by current restrictions.

“We have very limited crew in the physical space due to safety,” Garcia concedes. "But there’s a lighting guy out there. There's a monitor guy. There’s a camera guy. There's a jib in your face.” Bands who perform in the space “feel like they’re shooting a music video.”

MixOne is also working to deliver an engaging experience for fans, and live give and take with the bands. “If we’re doing a true livestream, we have two 70-inch TVs out there that we can put comments on that the bands can see in what we'll call relative real time. It still takes about 45 seconds because of YouTube or Facebook. But if someone’s saying, ‘Oh, this is my favorite song,’ or ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so hot,’ the band can get that interaction. It’s not the same as getting the applause, but they know people are actually watching them. In my opinion, it’s one of the closest things to filling the void that there is at this time.”

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In mid-December I spoke with MixOne Sound & Cinema Video Partner & Director of Film Kevin Garcia about the tentative return of live music as the pandemic continues, the challenges of streaming shows with hybrid (in-person and online) audiences, and the gear and techniques MixOne uses to deliver a unique experience to their online viewers.