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Live Bands On Film: 'Web Sessions' with Austin's All-Analog Transistor Six

Austin's Transistor Six recreates the authentic, intimate feel of the BBC's Peel Sessions by capturing almost-famous bands live on still and Super 8 film and delivering performance and interview clips in online "web sessions." Here's a behind-the-music look at Transistor Six, its founders, its business model, its gear, and its analog ambitions.

Daytrotter Meets Gizmodo

Northcutt and Llewellyn's obsession with retro gadgetry combined with their passion for stellar music results in a web session they consider kind of a hybrid of Daytrotter and Gizmodo, as they try to highlight the gear used during each of the sessions on their website. "A fan might say, ‘Wow, those are really cool double exposures that you did with the Hold Steady!' We'll link to the Lomography website where you can buy them." (Lomography reintroduced 110 film back into the market and inspired a resurgence in film photography, and there is a Lomography Gallery Store just around the corner from Frank.)

Transistor Six Gear Used

Audio runs through an analog Midas Venice console. "Depending on the band, we're trying to tailor the session to the right kind of equipment, whether microphone or board," he says. For example, the band Real Estate has an echoey acoustic sound, so they used a Blue Woodpecker mic, the kind you would picture Frank Sinatra crooning into, with a beautiful, warm analog feel.

Transistor Six also takes a refreshingly nostalgic approach to rights and credits. "We give bands rights to everything to do whatever they want with it. It's hard enough to make money as a band," Llewellyn reasons. "And it's kind of a compliment to us if they want to use the film or audio as their official pieces. We kind of look at ourselves as a 1970s visual magazine and they keep what comes out of it. All we ask is that we get to premiere it." They credit everyone, including their production interns from the UT-Austin Radio, Television, and Film department. All the editing, it should be noted, is done by high-profile Austin-based production outfit Supply Co.

The Authentic Film Feel

Using film as a medium for web video does pose challenges—chiefly, cost. They shoot on all Kodak film, which runs about $15 for a 3-minute roll of film, nevermind the $15-$20 processing cost. To save money in transferring the film to digital, which can cost $75 per roll, they purchased their own telecine machine.

Llewellyn says the question he gets asked the most is, why do you bother doing this on film? "If you can't understand," he feels, "then you're just not romantic. There's a nostalgic art to shooting something when you don't know what you're going to get." But everyone understands when they see the finished product. Girl in a Coma, for example, even decided to use the Transistor Six film still photos over their own publicity photos, preferring their richer, more authentic feel to traditional high-def glossies. Llewellyn took the request as the ultimate compliment.

As for a business model, Llewellyn quips, "I used to make this joke that I used to be in the music business, but now I'm just into music." Llewellyn laughs, explaining that they do monetize the content using sponsors (like Makers Mark and Dos Equis) who premiere content exclusively, making new sessions available only to their Facebook fans or site visitors for a certain period of time.

Years of industry experience have taught Llewellyn that old models for making money in the music business are quickly becoming obsolete or irrelevant. "People don't really buy music anymore, not to generalize, but not enough so bands can make a living. The idea of a ‘rock star' has kind of gone away. Everyone's sort of a working musician today. The question has become, how can I keep my creativity and myself going without having going to go back to my day job? So we monetize, and then we also give the content to the band. We don't ask anything from the sales of the audio."

Heartless Bastards

Stay Positive

Transistor Six has quickly evolved into a hypeworthy vehicle for free secret shows and high-profile popup premieres in their modest (250-300 capacity) venue. That's no small feat in a city as music-savvy as Austin. But the roster of artists that have done sessions so far is impressive (Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, One Eskimo, We are Augustines, and more) and as word spreads about this ambitious project, an (analog) buzz will surely build.

As for future plans, Llewellyn dreams of opening a London outpost, hinting "We have a venue lined up." For now, they have about 30 films in the can to churn out. And eventually, he envisions pop-up Transistor Six events in other markets. "We have a lot of friends with venues, in Los Angeles and New York. We're going to do a mini-tour film thing of it." In the meantime, Llewellyn, Northcutt, and Peris will continue to helm the analog revolution from behind the cameras and the computer, one band at a time.