Starting in 2017, the Heavy Music Awards was founded on the principle of recognising musicians, producers, and creatives working across the entire heavy music landscape. During the event’s fourth year in 2020, due to the state of the world, the awards opted to move the show to a completely online format, with live performances being captured at Subfrantic Studios, overseen by the team at AfterLive Music. With this greater attention on the online version, the Heavy Music Awards (HMAs) saw a sizeable uptick of interest from the global alternative community, with a record-breaking number of votes being cast and 177,000 tuning in to watch live.
“We’ve built a global audience since we began the HMAs in 2017, and we certainly wanted to keep that growing – but the COVID-19 pandemic gave us an opportunity to be creative and find new ways to present our event,” commented Andy Pritchard, Co-Founder of the HMAs. For the 2021 iteration, with in-person events now allowed in the UK, the team opted to take things one step further, hosting a hybrid performance which gave 2,400 die-hard music fans the chance to mosh under one roof to some of the UK’s freshest talent including Sleep Token, Trash Boat, Hot Milk and As Everything Unfolds, alongside an army of fans tuned in via Twitch.
“It was a huge relief to welcome fans back for the HMAs after such a long period of uncertainty,” Pritchard stated. “For many attendees we know this was a first step back to some kind of normality, so it was hugely important to us that they felt comfortable. AMG’s clear entry policy and the team at the venue made life a lot simpler for us.”
Pritchard gave his opinion on the ‘hybrid’ format. “There was a sweet spot where livestreams were the only way for bands to connect with fans, but we’re largely through that now so in terms of straightforward live shows, the onus is on artists to offer something much more valuable than just sticking a camera in a room as it can undermine the reason live music is so special in the first place,” he posed. “For a livestream to be worthwhile now, it needs to be something unique.”
Before the first band hit the stage, TPi was on the show floor chatting to the technical crew who pulled together all the pieces of this alternative gathering.
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A key player in last year’s successful virtual event was AfterLive Music Director, Adam Bonner. Taking on the role of Production Manager this year, Bonner discussed how his collaboration with the HMAs began. “I suppose you’ve got to wind the clocks back to early lockdown,” he mused. “I founded AfterLive Music as a reaction to some of those early streamed events – many of which had incredibly poor audio quality.”
As the company’s name suggests, AfterLive Music is committed to work on events that can be enjoyed not just at the time of the show, but also at home. Alongside fellow Director, Tegan Desporte, the company was formed with the mantra of ‘capturing moments and creating memories for all’ and has already worked on numerous shows that fit the mould of the new normal of hybrid concerts events.
One of the first projects AfterLive Music worked on was a series of shoots at the new Subfrantic Studios [TPi #264]. “We picked a few bands that we knew would be up for performing a set, all of which they and their crew did for free,” enthused Bonner. One of the bands was British metalers, Heart Of A Coward. After one of the members posted an image of the set from the shoot to Instagram, it garnered the attention of HMAs Co-Founder, Dave Bradley. “Dave got in touch with us and wanted to know more about the space. He explained that they were taking this year’s awards online, and that’s how it all began – the power of social media!”
For 2020, AfterLive Music along with video specialist, Static worked on a three-day shoot that was eventually packaged up and sent out into cyberspace. In line with regulations easing, organisers were keen to return to the venue where they had hosted the event in 2019 – the O2 Forum Kentish Town. “This year, the whole venue was split into two distinct areas,” outlined Bonner. “While we looked after everything in the venue for the live crowd, Static – headed up by Charlie Ryan – took care of the filming and streaming in a makeshift studio outside.”
Lightwave Productions supplied additional lighting and LED screens. “Henry [Clarke, Founder of Lightwave] has supplied lighting floor packages for several Haken tours I have worked on and I regularly freelance for them,” Bonner said. “Henry is really chilled and easy to get on with, not to mention genuinely loves what he does and always goes above and beyond. It made it a no-brainer to bring Lightwave aboard.”
The PM was quick to compliment O2 Forum’s Technical Manager, John Pinner, who was “helpful and accommodating”, throughout the whole process, as well as the venue for its impressive in-house equipment – from the lights to the audio system. “We were making use of their L-Acoustics K2 system, which during lockdown had been tuned by Tool’s System Engineer, Liam Halpin – hence, it sounded so great.” As well as his general PM duties, Bonner also oversaw the audio delivery. While he handled the presentation side of the show with a Yamaha QL1, FOH accommodated space for the band’s engineers. One engineer mixed for both Trash Boat and As Everything Unfold on an Allen & Heath SQ5, as did Sleep Token’s engineer, while Hot Milk’s mix was controlled by a DiGiCo SD11. “It was quite cosy,” laughed Bonner.
The team also supplied a Shure Axient Digital system for mics. “As this show needed a broadcast split, it made what would have been a relatively simple four-band line-up somewhat more complicated,” he stated. “There is also no room in the wings for rolling risers. Our solution was using the house three-way split with one feed going to the audio truck out back then repatching the house tails on stage to each of the band’s racks as we went along.”
Bonner praised the O2 Forum’s in-house FOH Audio Engineer, Ed Thomas and Monitor Engineer, Eleonora Romano who handled the lion’s share of the patch work. “Although none of the bands had particularly high channel counts, with such a short turnaround, things could have become complicated quite quickly. Thankfully everyone was on it.”
Continuing the conversation backstage was Lightwave Productions’ Henry Clarke. “We provided some equipment for last year’s online version of the awards although that was very much on a dry hire basis, whereas this year Adam explained that he wanted us to come in to design the show,” he began.
This project had come during a very busy time for Lightwave that, like most of the industry, has been in overdrive since being given the green light to reopen. “Like most, we’re struggling to hire people right now as people are still working on other jobs and nervous to get back into the industry – but all you can do is keep cracking on,” Clarke said.
Focusing on the HMAs, Clarke outlined the brief he’d been given for the design. “One of the main concerns was to make sure it looks great on camera as well as live. It’s always a balance with this type of show as cameramen always want loads of front light while bands don’t. It’s a bit of a compromise.”
Like Bonner, Clarke was impressed with the venue’s house rig, which includes Robe Spiiders, Robin 150s and MegaPointes. The team at Lightwave then supplemented additional fixtures that aligned the house rig with Robe Spiiders and 150s alongside Claypaky Mythos and SQM Q7 strobes.
For Sleep Token’s headline set, the supplier provided additional Robe LEDWash 600s for their floor package. “With the house rig, Lightwave’s additional fixtures and Sleep Token’s floor package, we had around 150 moving lights – which is quite a lot for a stage of this size,” enthused Bonner.
The venue also supplied its in-house Avolites Sapphire Touch, with Lightwave bringing in an additional MA Lighting grandMA2 for Sleep Token’s LD. Manning the console during the build and show was Sam Parry. After Clarke sent a rough CAD drawing of the show, Parry began mocking up looks, then came in the day before the show to pull all the pieces together. “This venue has a remarkably lovely set up in the sky,” Parry said. “We’ve even got Ayrton Diablos, which we are using as front light to ensure the camera crew have the cleanest light for the broadcast.”
Having just come off several TV and film shoots, Parry explained that he was more than familiar with the type of conversations he needed to have with the camera crew for this type of shoot. “Steven, who is overseeing the camera, and I spoke prior to the show; I gave him the numbers I was working with and from there, he was able to go out on stage and set his white balance,” he explained.
Having been involved with several livestreams during the past 18 months, Parry shared his thoughts on hybrid events such as the HMAs, where the online and in-person audience were given equal priority. “We are seeing more of an evolution than a revolution,” he explained. “Thankfully, we are now doing real shows again, but there are an awful lot more cameras involved now. There were many people through lockdown that thought we all might make the jump to virtual worlds and VR headsets, and although huge strides were made, people still want to experience the real world. For those unable to come to some of these events or afford a ticket, it’s great we have more of these streaming options.”
Also part of the visual team was Live Video Operator, Mark Smith. At his workstation in the wings of stage right, he walked TPi through methods in which he was ensuring content was streamed onto the rear LED wall. “We’ve got an outdoor Unilumin 3.9mm LED screen, so it’s really good quality,” he explained. “We are running all the content via a Barco E2 switcher, which has been really great to work with – it’s much smarter than me,” he chuckled.
As well as streaming the logos of both the bands and the awards on the rear LED screen, content was also streamed to the IMAG projectors set up in the venue, as well as out to the broadcast vans out back. As one of the many from the live events workforce that had to take up a delivery job during lockdown, Smith enthused about how great it was to be back working on shows again, having just got off site at this year’s All Points East.
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Off the back of the loading dock of the O2 Forum, TPi encountered several vans and a tour bus, all of which collectively created a makeshift studio for this extensive broadcast offering. Explaining the intricate setup was Charlie Ryan of Static. Having started as a passion project, Ryan’s goal for Static was to recording the live performances of up-and-coming bands.
Over the years, Static has carved out a niche, working with bands on the alternative side of the industry, with acts including While She Sleeps as well as working with the HMAs since its inception. Although in recent times Static has also been involved in some bigger acts including a behind the scenes shoot with David Guetta. “It’s mad to see how far we’ve come,” he recalled. “The first year we were involved, we were doing a simple multi-camera shoot and now we have a 40-person crew working on the HMAs from the crew working in the venue to those involved in the stream.”
Although having been involved in many live shoots, this was one of Static’s first true ventures into a streamed event. To aid in the process, Static brought in Sound Credit TV to provide the hardware and crew to make the broadcast possible.
Representing Sound Credit TV in the broadcast van and handling the live video directing of each of the performances was James Light. With a plethora of Blackmagic Switchers and cameras, Light explained how this project differed from the work he usually did on behalf of the company. “Sound Credit often does a lot of financial webcasting in the corporate market,” he explained, adding that he is no stranger to the live events world, having just come off Green Man Festival.
In total, Light dealt with five camera feeds coming in from the performance. He then produced a cut that was sent to another OB truck, which was streaming the feed to The Heavy Network’s Twitch channel.
With this being one of the most ambitious projects Static had ever been involved in, Ryan gave his final thoughts on this year’s HMAs. “Last year working with the team at AfterLive Music was such a positive experience, it was a no-brainer to jump on board this year. Although this is a huge step up, worlds apart from the scale of our last venture together, being surrounded by such talented people certainly made it a smooth experience for all involved. Roll on the next one!”
With our interviews done, TPi headed up to the venue’s balcony to watch the festivities unfold. From the amusing hosting of Alex Baker during the ceremony to the atmospheric antics of the mysterious Sleep Token, it certainly was a night of celebration for the return to live events and alternative music from around the world.
Although televised award shows are nothing new, with events such as the BRITs and the MOBOs two of many examples, this year’s HMAs seemed to have a mission of achieving something special for all, no matter if you were watching at home or in the pit.
As some may know, sadly the stream was scuppered by Twitch’s community guidelines, due to an outfit worn by guest vocalist, Milkie Way from Wargasm – a damn shame as the show truly represented the connectivity that live music can create with the correct infrastructure in place. “We’re really proud of the Heavy Music Awards this year,” concluded Pritchard. “It felt like a big step forward with a bigger audience and production along with 1.4m votes, which is a significant increase on 2020. We’re incredibly thankful that the rock and metal community has continued to back the HMAs in such numbers and look forward to letting the world know what we have up our sleeve for 2022!”
In terms of what the future might hold for these types of events, both Adam Bonner and Tegan Desporte can see potential in the format. “I feel that there is still an awful lot of apprehension in the industry,” Bonner said. “A few people on the industry side are still working out how they can monetise elements like streaming and how it will work alongside live, but it’s just going to take a few more companies to decide to take the risk. It’s going to take some time, but it is giving artists an invaluable way to connect with their fans.”
Desporte added: “For me, it all comes down to the importance of accessibility. There are so many people out there that due to personal, physical or financial reasons, are unable to go to live events. That said, if they can spend £5, why shouldn’t they be able to enjoy a high-quality live experience? It’s all about creating memories and moments for people, no matter where they are. That is exactly what we are trying to do with AfterLive Music – so, watch this space.”
This article originally appeared in issue #265 of TPi, which you can read here.