Is real-time performance curated by musicians the new smart TV?
Multimedia here & now: Redstar Union loves jazz
Redstar Union, a nine-month-old venture in Cambridge, Mass., isn’t easy to label. It’s a state-of-the-art multimedia production studio, capable of recording multitrack audio and HD video, and streaming to the internet in real time. It’s also an intimate performance space,
with superb sound and an elevated stage ringed by computer-controlled cameras and sophisticated lighting. And Redstar Union is home to creative people in technology and the arts, who gather to exchange ideas—and experiment.
Redstar is an innovator in the volatile space where information technology, entertainment, and consumer electronics converge. Its principles assume that the line between television and internet is fading, and the age of the smart TV is upon us. In this world, content is king, and Redstar Union is developing that content.
“We want to create, and experiment with, compelling high-quality media,” said Mike Young, Redstar Union’s Director of Marketing. “TV is available online, and there’s TiVo, Roku, AppleTV. . . ‘Viewing’ is becoming more diverse and fragmented, and content is becoming more diverse than ever.” Streaming a live performance, or later a video of it, is clearly a part of that. “High-quality live performance is such a passion point — and meeting the real-time demand for it will be key,” adds Young. Redstar plans to make its content available on any device, be it a mobile device or a big-screen television.
But technology is only part of the story. Redstar Union’s name implies bringing people together, done by hosting one-of-a-kind performances and conversations that mix and match artists and innovators from across genres or disciplines.
“This space is a hub for creative people to try something new. We’re pulling people together who don’t interact otherwise,” said Young. “One example was Jazz on the Rocks, putting rock singers together with a jazz quartet. Shows like that can lead to collaboration on other projects, or follow-up shows.”
Redstar looks to the Boston area for its event ideas, and they’ve come from all corners. Since the first event in March 2012, Redstar Union has presented comedy, drama, documentary film, and the “Mothers of Invention” series of conversations on creativity and innovation. But music is the main focus: rock, roots, and since September, jazz.
One such event was the recent show Jazz Heritage: An Evening with Living Legends, a gathering of five stalwarts of the Boston jazz scene, some of whom hadn’t played together in over 40 years. When Paul Broadnax took his place at the baby grand and opened with “Roll ‘Em Pete,” the sound and the setting combined to create an instantly memorable experience.
The Jazz Heritage group included Broadnax on piano and vocals, Billy Thompson on tenor and flute, drummer Harold Layne, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa, and vocalist Eula Lawrence. Among them, the band members have logged more than 175 years of playing jazz in Boston, but only occasionally working together.
Redstar events are actually proposed and organized by third parties, whom they call curators. Boston drummer Dave Brophy curated three jazz events this fall: “I propose an event idea, and if Redstar likes it, they give me a date and I put a band together. Each event is unique. It’s not something you’re going to hear anywhere else, and that’s something I want to keep going—putting together little dream groups, like the Jazz Heritage group.”
The musicians enjoy being part of a unique event, but there is a second motivation to participate, and that is the resulting video. “They get a copy of the edited show, and the rights to it, and they can put it on their websites or YouTube, whatever they want. They own their performance,” said Brophy. In the age of internet distribution and on-demand smart TV, a high-quality video can be as important to a musician as cutting an album was in years past.
Proposing and performing in one-of-a-kind events at Redstar presents opportunities to Boston’s jazz community, and having a video record of it is an added benefit. Access to Redstar’s facilities through conventional sponsorship or fundraising services like PledgeMusic are other possibilities.
Redstar also offers opportunities to build an audience. There is no way to predict how many people will watch high-quality video of distinctive events, viewed on-demand on any device, simply because it is not possible to measure something that hasn’t been done yet. And because it is not bound by conventional closing times, Redstar Union could become a contemporary version of the after-hours club, a place where musicians jam for an online audience not ready to call it a night.
Is Redstar Union a vision of “the future”? That’s probably too bold, but it is a future, one that considers how people consume media now, and will for some time. “We’re learning what it takes to make enjoyable short-form media,” said Young. “We’re a success when people can enjoy that whenever they want to view it. And we’re a success if we’re helping artists reach new audiences.” Time will tell if the jazz community counts itself among those audiences.
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