Although it’s technically housed in a warehouse in Berry Hill, Skyville Live is pretty much on cloud nine these days. In November, the live-streaming concert series picked up three Midsouth Regional Emmy nominations and confirmed Grammy-nominated artists Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Allman and blues great Taj Mahal for their next installment, set for Friday (Dec. 11).
Wally Wilson created Skyville Live after setting up some shows at the Basement with new acts he was developing. When those gigs outgrew the small space, he relocated the series to the Skyville property and streamed a 2014 concert by The Mavericks. With a much stronger viewer turnout than he anticipated, he decided to expand on the idea. As the series continued, stars like Gladys Knight and Kris Kristofferson signed on, as did Jason Isbell, Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride and more. Past performances are archived on SkyvilleLive.com. The upcoming concert will be streamed there, as well as Skyville.USAToday.com.
While the music is obviously a key part of the series, so is the storytelling between songs. Taking a cue from their high-profile talent, Wilson and Nic Dugger (who handles the technical components of the show) share their own Skyville Live story with MusicRow.
MusicRow: One of your Emmy nominations for Skyville Live is in the audio category. Do you approach audio on this show differently than you might on a TV show?
Wilson: This is a television show for all intents and purposes. As a matter of fact, as we move through this process, we will be utilizing television as well as the internet space. It’s recorded exactly like every other television show. And I will humbly, or not so humbly, say that we believe our sound is far superior to most things we see on television. We’re head and hands above.
We approach this the way you would making a record. On the day before our show, we record rehearsals in ProTools and we get back out there and suss out what it sounds like, and take great pains with it. Mills Logan [who shares the audio Emmy nomination with Duggar and Wilson] and the crew work their butts off on this, way into the night and the day before, to get this great sound.
It surprises me that most big awards shows don’t do that, or don’t have that kind of sound, because we’re doing exactly what they’re doing. Now, I will say that they have a lot of music and set changes that we don’t necessarily have. We have a stationary band, but in general, our sound is tremendous. I guess I’m the most proud of that, because I’m a music guy.
The HD video makes the show seem very intimate and immediate. What does that bring out in the show?
Dugger: High-definition television production is not anything new. But delivering it at a quality level, via a web stream, is fairly new. There’s been hi-def streaming for years, but varying levels of quality. Something that we want to make sure of is that when people watch this, it’s as if they’re sitting in this space. We want to bring them into our studio, bring them into our basement for this fun session.
So, what that means is, not only do the cameras have to be of excellent quality, but the lighting has to be of excellent quality. The set pieces that Wally has had built have to look authentic. The staging placement and the arrangement of the musicians has to be pleasing to the eye. That way when you’re watching on your portable device, or your laptop, or hopefully your big-screen TV, you feel like you’re in that space. If the video quality doesn’t match the audio quality, we’re missing half of the story. Audio without video is just radio. But video without audio is just surveillance! (laughs) And we don’t want that either.
You’ve had incredible guests on the show. How do you present this concept to artists and managers?
Wilson: The formula that dawned on me after doing that first show is that if we book tremendous iconic talent, other artists will be drawn to that. For example, if we book Gladys Knight, then Martina McBride and Estelle want to play with Gladys and interact with her in a way that’s out of their comfort zone and in a new comfort zone. The same with Kris Kristofferson. Jason Isbell is a tremendous fan of his, and that was such a moving moment on that show – the passing of the torch from Kris to Jason. And Lady Antebellum was in the middle of that show, and then Brandy Clark. I say it’s like the Bill Gaither Homecoming meets Jools Holland. (laughs)
Dugger: The quality is an important part of this as well. Even though I’m thrilled to be on Wally’s team for this, we [Duggar’s company TNDV] do work outside of Skyville and we average 360-some-odd shows a year. Of all the meetings I sit through, I hear, “Cut the budget. How do we do it cheaper? How many corners can we cut?” That is just the trend: “How do we get content for cheap?”
What Wally has brought to the table is budget-conscious. We’re not throwing money around, but at the same time, we want to do it right. When we send a clip to an artist’s manager and say, “This is the level of quality we can present and that you should expect,” that has a much different reaction than “cheap, cheap, cheap, cut, cut, cut.” And the fact that we have a few of these under our belt, it’s very easy to say, “Look what we’ve done in the past. We want you to be a part of this.” When they see it, they know immediately that we’re not joking around.
You have a live audience, rather than a closed set. How does that affect the show?
Wilson: The artists know that at 7 Central, 8 Eastern, this is going out around the world. We literally have people in Japan, the Soviet Union, Lithuania, and Africa watching this show. That adds a piece of drama for the artist. The intangibles of that are very, very valuable.
Dugger: It’s unique. These are touring artists. Some of these artists have been on tour for years and years. They’re performed at awards shows, they’ve performed on television specials, but nothing intimate like this. They’re literally performing in someone’s lap at home who is tuning in because they love that artist and love that music. We can’t say it’s unscripted—we rehearse and we know what we’re going to do. But it’s a very natural and free-flowing event that is not stale or static. It has its own vibe to it, and it’s important that we step back and let it happen. So, if they deviate from the rundown a little bit, that’s OK. If they’re feeling the groove and want to do an extra chorus, go for it. We enjoy that part.
Watch Skyville Live’s YouTube channel here.
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