On a balmy Tuesday in late April, my photography buddy Peterson Worrell and I rolled down to Tybee to be rare additional attendees for a House Show For One filming.
Produced by Volition Studios in Savannah, House Show For One is a video series that films bands in their own homes, producing an intimate look into musicians' personal space and giving the public a high-quality sample of the band's sound.
Inspired by online video series like NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, Devin Smith began the House Show For One series with his own twist. To set the series apart, Smith decided to film the music videos in the artists' home or practice space, instead of in a recording studio or public space.
While standing in the back of a converted basement that doubles as a hangout and practice space for The Sound Experiment, it becomes immediately clear this show is not for me, or Peterson. We can hear the instruments just fine. We're standing only five feet from their amplifiers. But the PA system Smith has brought doesn't have external speakers. The sound, and most noticeably the vocal microphone, all runs into his headphones.
I get the feeling I am invading a concert I wasn't invited to, although I was.
"I loved Savannah and the Savannah music scene," Smith said. "There's so much talent here. It was obvious to do something with local people. I wanted to do something at the artists' place. Then I figured, we loved house shows in Savannah.
"House Show For One was simply, I go to their house, they play a show just for me and then I record it, and then share with everyone else. But it's for me first," he added with a laugh.
The beauty of this DIY video series is the exposure it gives the participants, and the community as a whole. Promotion of any kind can be expensive and takes time. House Show For One essentially gives Savannah musicians a chance to get free exposure. They can share the video with their fans or send it to promoters. It's a great opportunity that could lead to gigs and help grow a fanbase.
"If I was charging what it's actually worth to do these, I couldn't do these as often as I'd like to," Smith said. "I do charge for things, but things I want to do, like this, it's just fun. I like it. It's what I want to be doing.
"I don't really want to be anywhere else. It's not technically work at that point. It's like hanging out with the band."
The high level of audio and video quality in the series is all produced by Smith. For The Sound Experiment, a five-piece band, Smith had just about as much electronic equipment in the room as the band. He brings his own lights, microphones, PA and camera. He runs his own lines, does his own setup and then takes posed, still photos to run with the videos. It's a large operation for the one-man production team.
Smith works as a video and audio technician during the day, filming advertising videos. He studied film and television production at SCAD. After close to a decade in Savannah, he's honed his craft by simply doing it. The video series also gives him the chance to perfect his mixing and recording skills.
"It's fun, too!" Smith said. "People jam. You get to hear their practices. You get to see the band dynamic. It's fun to see people together in groups. Collaboration is so much about communication and you'll see things you won't see on stage. But then you get to see their habitat, where they do their songwriting and hang out.
"It's a pretty simple concept. But I've been able to practice my recording, my mixing. I've gotten a lot quicker at certain things. "
Volition Studios was built around the series. In the early days, Smith recorded his old band General Oglethorpe and the Panhandlers - a project that featured several Savannah musicians, but was mostly Smith and COEDS frontwoman Anna Chandler - but not much else.
Now, Smith is expanding. Last year, his new indie-rock band, Garden Giant, recorded their debut album at the home studio. (Read my review online at dosavannah.com).
Another brand-new Savannah band, Rude Dude and the Creek Freaks, are in the middle of recording their debut album with Smith. I've caught several live shows and have to put in a quick promo here. This young garage/psych-rock band is really good, and I am guessing their debut album will be as well.
In the beginning, Smith was reaching out to bands himself, but now through word of mouth and a digital footprint, bands are hitting him up, which has also led to work with musicians outside of the video series.
The Savannah music community is consistently enriched by the work of so many highly talented musicians. But for the handful of musicians who record in home studios and do their own promotion, people like Smith add another layer to the community that brings a tremendous amount of value to the scene as a whole.
After the show
Tragically, a day after filming The Sound Experiment's House Show For One episode, the house on Tybee where it was filmed burned down. According to the Savannah Morning News, no one was injured in the fire, but high winds and ammunition stored in the house made the fire hard to control.
The Sound Experiment and Lulu The Giant guitarist Alex Bazemore, who lived with his family in the house, lost his amplifier, six guitars, a banjo and mandolin. Drummer Timmy Brown lost his new drum kit.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the families recover. As of May 8, the fund had reached the midway point of a $30,000 goal. Donate at gofundme.com/bazemore-family-recovery-fund.
Joshua Peacock is a freelance writer in Savannah. He studied playwriting and music at the University of Iowa. Contact him at email@example.com.
To see all the House Show For One videos, go to ofmyownvolition.com/houseshowforone.