Having converted what was a top-floor meeting room in Manchester into a flourishing, forward-thinking livestream recording space, independent music label, Scruff of the Neck joined forces with Twitch to pioneer digital live sets with local artists amid the COVID-19 pandemic, enlisting the technical infrastructure and expertise of Blackmagic Design to capture the action.
Described as a ‘groundbreaking, forward-thinking partnership’ which supports the creative production of regular broadcasts, Scruff of the Neck labelheads turned to Blackmagic Design to broadcast live performances, interviews and features as part of an official Twitch partnership with ATEM Mini Extreme and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K as part of a multicamera setup.
Each live show is a three-hour stream hosted by BBC Radio One’s Abbie McCarthy and Radio X’s Jack Wood, featuring band interviews and live performances. At the time of writing, over 55 shows with 160 hours of content have been produced by the label, resulting in seven million views since mid-January. Featured artists include Yonaka, The Slow Readers Club, Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Lottery Winners and Larkins.
“We spotlight well established acts in their own right as well as those playing their first ever live show,” revealed Scruff of the Neck Head of Live, Chris Brearley. “We’re fortunate to be partnered with Twitch and have their support to help promote our streams to not only our own audiences but the existing Twitch community, meaning we have a strong viewership and can create a platform for music discovery for even the freshest of artists.”
Having rescheduled show after show, Scruff of the Neck sought an opportunity to bring the gig experience into people’s homes during lockdown, and Twitch, he said, felt like the perfect platform to do this. “Thankfully, everything fell into place mid-January. We broadcast 10 livestreams over the course of two weeks to kick things off,” he recalled. “Since then, we’ve been doing two shows a week. By July, we’ll go down to one show a week, as hopefully, live shows return to the masses.”
According to Brearley, versatility and ease of use of Twitch were vital components for making this venture work. “The music community on Twitch is growing. We’re grateful to be working alongside them to bring live music to the platform on a regular basis,” he explained. “We are developing a format that provides new music with a nod to what Twitch has always been a leader of in the gaming world – realtime fan interactivity.”
To this end, the channel relies on a mixed package of cameras from Blackmagic Design, including the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 and Micro Studio Camera 4K. A series of Blackmagic Micro Converters are used to bridge the SDI cameras and ATEM hardware while the ATEM Mini Extreme’s multiview output is displayed on a SmartView 4K.
“Blackmagic Design were one of the first companies we reached out to when we were spec’ing our setup, which we built from scratch – converting what was our meeting room on the top floor of Scruff of the Neck HQ into a livestream recording space,” he noted. “Blackmagic Design were kind enough to offer their advice and expertise to get the most out of our budget. They’ve been amazing not only helping us design but recommending the right equipment.”
Striving to provide a space to pay artists to perform and produce art to an audience, albeit limited and virtual, it is the production quality which stands head and shoulders above typical livestream channels, DIY DJ sets and artist-led Instagram live sessions.
“Thankfully, we’re in a position to provide artists with a platform and space for them to grow, taking a captive online audience and hopefully giving them enough access to the artists’ live set and personaility to become a true fan,” reported Brearley. What’s more, everything is set up in house. “Our studio is set up to host to a range of artists. What we aspire to create is a space none too dissimilar to a space BBC Radio One’s Live Lounge or Later… with Jools Holland,” he outlined.
“We’ll of course make changes to accomodate the artist’s needs. However, the set has an identity which allows performing artists to turn up and play, while everything else is taken care of. Thankfully, we haven’t had to cancel a single broadcast due to the various COVID-19 safety measures taken, thanks in part to the agility of the crew and preparation.”
The biggest challenge in establishing the studio’s streaming capabilities has been operating while adhering to COVID-19 regulations. This included working with a smaller production team to limit the number of bodies in the room at any given time. “We’ve put together a small team, setting up and operating in a COVID-19 secure environment. The crew operates socially distanced, with mandatory facemasks and sanitisation, with COVID-19 procedure and risk assessments, declarations for track and trace, and we have made sure every base is covered and everyone is comfortable and safe to work.”
Brearley attributes the success of the operation to his hardworking production team, who come from a live music and touring background. “They each bring their own level of expertise,” he said, when reading out an impressive crew sheet which sees Tour Manager/FOH Sound and Lighting Engineer, Callum Yates; Touring Sound Engineer, Alex Walters and Head of Artist Liaison, Joe Drake join forces to curate live experiences for music fans in lockdown.
“There are an awful lot of people who have built their lives and social lives around live music. It’s an escape and release, not only for performing artists, but for those that attend shows, in person or virtually,” said Brearley. “There are a lot of artists who may not have had the platform or resources to showcase their talent amid the COVID-19 crisis, so if we can help facilitate that, we’ve succeeded.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to the initiative, Brearley doesn’t envisage the return of gigs making this form of broadcasting redundant. “The plan for the tail end of this year is to form a hybrid operation, where we provide a livestream setup in a range of venues, giving global fans the opportunity to jump in and feel part of a gig, even when fans are allowed back into spaces,” he concluded. “There’s certainly a place for the two when shows can return to the masses.”
This article originally appeared in issue #263 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: Blackmagic Design