It all started with an idea… We were part of Frome FM, a local community radio station, and we wanted to produce a radio programme that featured live music and musicians with higher quality production than simply setting up a single studio microphone. So our first live music show (we called it the Frome FM Live Lounge) was born.
Somehow we crammed singer/songwriters and sometimes small bands into the limited space that we had available and brought in additional recording equipment. The show went out live and for a while that was as good as it got.
But our ambition was bigger than that, so we started to experiment with having a camera in the studio so that the audience could see the performance as well as hear it. We’d seen live performances broadcast from radio stations on the BBC – they called it visual radio. We’d all grown up with live music TV shows, like The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Tube, but that was old school and we were in the internet age, so we looked at live streaming to Facebook. This made us realise that we needed a better set, so we put up black backdrops and added stage lighting.
And all of that was fine – as long as the band consisted of two or three people max. So we moved the whole set out of the main studio into a slightly larger space that was normally used as the radio station’s reception area. That meant that we had to move out tables, sofas, filing cabinets and re-organise our tech each time we did a show. We’d start the transformation at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, rehearse the show at 7pm, go live at 9pm and finish putting it all back together by 2.00am …ready for the breakfast show on the radio. It was a lot of work, but it meant we could have more musicians and . . . drum kits! The show gradually evolved and became Soundcheck.
Then one day we realised that our dream was outgrowing the radio station.
Frome FM, wanted to down size but we needed as much space as possible for the show. So, when they moved out, we decided it was time to go indie, which meant leasing the studio for Soundcheck and re-organising the space for dedicated live performance use. We put in more cameras, enabling us to choose any of 5 different camera angles; we added more lights and a lighting gantry; we expanded the performance space even further. The new independent production company would need a name, so since we were producing Soundcheck as a visual radio production we decided to call the new company Visual Radio Arts Ltd.
Visual Radio Arts is the way we intend to bring live music performance back to the screen. But instead of old style TV it would be on iPads, mobile phones and computers. And whilst TV is regional or at best national, the internet is global. Soundcheck could be The Old Grey Whistle Test for the 21st century, giving bands the opportunity to perform to bigger audiences than they could ever hope for in local venues, offering fans everywhere the chance to experience a live set, not just a pre recorded MTV style 3 minute video and building a new army of Bob Harrises, Jo Whileys and Anne Nightingales.
Our brand of visual radio is still evolving, allowing us to take on more and more ambitious productions. Our radio programmes that used to attract 100 listeners, now attract between 2000 and 8000 Facebook viewers.
That’s our story so far – but there’s plenty more to come.