Like many of you, I am sick of hearing and reading the phrase “In these are uncertain times.” But somewhere between media–bred fear tactics and reality, the truth is there.
By now, Do Savannah readers should know about the Quarantine Concert Series happening at the Tybee Island Theater and (mainly) online. We’ve been following Michael Gaster and his team of dedicated individuals throughout the past couple of months. Do Savannah contributor Laura Pleasants caught up with Gaster recently via email to get the scoop on how they operate.
Do: How many concerts have you done to date?
Gastor: “Our first performance was with Jason Bible on March 21, (and) our 29th event (was) this last Sunday, May 24, with Nathan Sheppard.”
Do: How many more do you plan on doing?
Gaster: “As long as we have the space to accommodate the production standards I have set, the onstage talent, the support from the viewers and can afford the time and expenses, the shows will go on!”
Do: Has it been financially successful?
Gaster: “Having a fair amount of experience running a business (Gastor started his first production company in 1999) I set this project up where everything is based on a percentage and is forced to operate in the ’black.’ Now, does that mean we are making any significant amount of money and getting paid what we normally would? Not even close.
It is interesting as there are some events that do surprisingly well and others that do surprisingly not so well. It's been a bit of an eye-opening experience to see the amount of people who tune in, comment, ’like,’ etc. and don't financially support what we're doing, but... we're keeping the music alive, and staying on top of our craft(s).“
Do: It seems as though a lot of prep work goes into each event. Do you pay yourself and the crew?
Gaster: “First, yes, a lot of prep work! This project is close to, if not a full-time job for (Director) Eric (Darling) and I, with (Media Head) Charissa (Murray) and Brad working almost every day to some capacity as well. Our companies (MG+A and E3) have left 80% of the money put in our budgets in the ’pot’ and mostly shifted bits here and there over to ’crafty’ to make things a little nicer on site for the crew and the performers (who doesn't like snacks and drinks or the occasional nice meal?).”
Do: Do you also pay the artists?
Gaster: “Yes, the performers are the first to get paid, again, everything is percentage-based and every event has ’something’ put into it (thanks to those who contribute to the series) whether or not the event specifically generates any income (’ticket’ sales or specific contributions). One thing that has been cool (and very helpful) is several performers asked to just re-invest what would be their take back into the project, this helps future performers the most.”
Do: Or is it all donation based?
Do: Do you have a high or low overhead?
Gaster: “Equipment costs from both E3 and MG+A aside, and strictly looking at this from a cost of doing business perspective, it would be considered high if this were a standalone project using the resources we have. Again, fortunately this was launched from a well-equipped organization having project management tools, professional accounting software, a legal entity, counsel, insurance, etc. all in place that I was able to roll into creating this concert series as organized as it is and as quickly as we did without too many (comparatively speaking) costs up front.
But let us not forget the venue, the Tybee Post Theater, which provides in addition to the stage, the power, Internet, trash bags, paper towels, water, etc. that gets used every time we are in the building, and they too receive a percentage set aside from each dollar we bring in.“
Do: You’re advertising on the radio. Tell me about that. Has that helped?
Gaster: “This is actually kind of cool, as it shows the music community binding together! 105.3, I-95 and whoever else (I think WRUU have given us some airtime) have all done it on their own, I had no idea until after the fact that the stations were promoting our events!”
Do: Would you consider doing a real live event in tandem with a live stream now that you all are set up for it?
Gaster: “Absolutely! There have been talks about doing a Quarantine Concerts Festival even where we feature past performers together with a live audience, the venue we would need to work out some details, or we would have to bring in a truck for the broadcast portion. Right now, our control room is in the lobby of the Post Theater so that wouldn't work so well with people coming in and out.
We are totally open to doing shows at other venues, just there is an expense of packing up, moving to a venue, setting up, tearing down etc. At the Post, it’s nice that we are able to hit the power and walk away, come back in, turn it on and do it again.“
Do: What has been the most challenging aspect of the series to date?
Gaster: “At first, sorting out issues with Internet stuff and keeping our streams up, but we were able to sort those issues out fairly quickly. I'll say it's finding performers who fit the bill and can pull all of their band mates together at the same time. Oh yeah, that, and getting the contributions/sponsorships where they need to be so this project can realistically be sustained without compromise! It really is a great series and would be nice when other paying events/projects call, we could just say, ’sorry we have a Quarantine Concert that day.’”
Do: Top 3 favorite performances thus far?
Gaster: “Oh this is tough, as the shows have been so diverse; many with unique aspects that made them really stand out like the DJ Serch show with the visual graphics blended in with Jamie from Stardust Pixxies dancing and Eric's creative punching on the video and crazy camera work; then the Andrew Sovine improv show with AJ doing a live painting (which you can hear him paint in the music as I had a mic on him). I know I have watched the Bero Bero show at least a dozen times, and Voodoo Soup was non-stop badassery, Jason Bible's performance, and damn, Isaac Smith's may have brought a tear to my eye; I could name something about each performance that could make them a favorite.”
Do: What’s your criteria to inviting bands and musical individuals?
Gaster: “A lot of it begins with what original material the group has, and how they present themselves live, and of course, the general sound of their material and musicianship of the band, their following, and professionalism.”
Do: What’s your background in live sound?
Gaster: “I started working for a regional sound company when I was 14 in 1991, went from not knowing anything to working my way behind the consoles in months; in 1995 went on the road with an 18-piece corporate show band (which is a freakishly fascinating story), came back to Savannah to be the production manager and technical director for the Savannah Civic Center in 1996, (then) left there in 1998 to work as the audio specialist for a regional company designing audio systems; started my first company in 1999 providing audio and lighting services for both live and installed applications; partnered up with another area business in 2010 after the recession and now (since 2014) doing the same (plus staging and other related services) under my current banner Michael Gaster + Associates. My niche within the live audio world is actually in orchestral sound, doing most of my work with the Charleston and Hilton Head Symphonies as well with a few other regional orchestras.”
Do: What do you think makes your series stand apart from some of the other online concert series?
Gaster: “Quality! the video, the audio, the creative camera work, it's hard to compare. Its live! no cuts, no retakes, you get the mistakes.
One thing I would like to add here, is it seems most people are watching our shows on their phones; please, hook up to a nice set of speakers or some headphones. These shows are meant to be listened to on a decent system, and re-watch either from our website (www.quarantineconcerts.org) or from our Vimeo page for the best quality. After the shows are over, we put the high-quality version up to replace the (lower quality) live stream.“
Do: Have you watched others that are similar to yours (I’m speaking about outside Savannah as well)
Gaster: “Yes, I have watched others in Atlanta, Hilton Head Island, North Carolina, places unknown and some here locally; I am surprised at various things they do or should I say – don't do – that would make a difference for the viewer. Often Eric, Charissa, Brad and I will share videos we come across and see if there is anything to learn, which there always is, but I believe we're doing the absolute best with the resources we have.”