Video business keeps music online, in front of audiences
Kathy Wittman feels like apologizing.
The filmmaker and videographer is busier than ever — “I haven’t gotten more than five hours sleep in months,” she says. But she’s busy at a time when her colleagues and clients can’t work at all.
Not the way they prefer, that is. That’s why Kathy Wittman is so important.
The founder of Ball Square Films specializes in photographing, filming and creating videos for musicians. It’s what she loves: “Particularly early music,” she says, “and opera premieres.”
Without live performances, Wittman’s work fills the void. Video streams, livestreams, archival footage — that’s the only way her clients can reach audiences.
“I’m slammed, but I’m balancing that with the deep pain felt for my colleagues,” she says. “You can’t complain when someone else is worried about rent or mortgage.
“Everyone is out of their comfort zone. Organizations are anxious to stay alive. The artists are anxious. Audiences want artists to make it to the other side.
“I have so many friends struggling,” she says. “I know a brilliant tenor, nominated for a Grammy, now driving for UPS.”
Wittman, who lives in Jamaica Plain, counts as clients some of the area’s most dynamic musical groups. Boston Early Music Festival. Boston Baroque. Cappella Clausura. Blue Heron. A Far Cry. Odyssey Opera, Chorus pro Musica, and White Snake Projects. It’s a long list.
“Companies want to keep engaged, keep making music,” she says. “One of the first things they say is, ‘Can we create something we can share, or pull something out of the archive? Let’s call Kathy.’ ”
A little planning has helped some do it better than others.
“I’ve told my clients that there’s no way to layer music to make real music,” she says. “The ones that have invested in their archiving are doing better now: Boston Baroque, the Criers, Blue Heron, Boston Early Music Festival.”
Wittman has just finished work on BEMF’s Thanksgiving weekend opera marathon, an extravaganza of Orpheus-themed works by Charpentier, Monteverdi and Campra.
“The marathon was ingenious,” she says. “Kathy Fay (BEMF director) did such a nice intro to it all, and the players are being paid. The weekend has always been important to me, and this year it really was something special.”
Wittman does feel that the proliferation of video outreach will have a lasting impact, even after live performances can return.
“It provides a little extra,” she says. “A lot of companies are moving beyond a subscription model, toward a membership model. When audiences are buying into membership, they want to go behind the scenes.”
That means video of composers talking about their works. Of artists discussing their approach. Of directors reaching out for support. For now, that’s done with archival footage, performances recorded in safe situations, and live-streamed concerts. Everyone takes a different approach.
“Livestream is not really my thing — I like to work with things from the bank,” Wittman says. “But some groups want it. For Cerise Jacobs (director of White Snake Projects), live is extremely important. She wants to see technical glitches, to have artists slip up. For Scott Metcalfe (artistic director of Blue Heron), not everything is acceptable.
“But people seem to be appreciating the outreach, being able to be so close to the musicians. And the talk-backs are more important now — it’s a real shift. I used to joke about being careful of the stampede after a concert, when the talk-backs start. Now when the talk-backs start, double the normal are logging in.”
For the time being, groups need to improvise — most with no budget. Wittman reminds everyone that production of streaming musical content can get done without excessive funds.
“You don’t have to spend a lot,” she says. “It’s not about how many cameras, it’s about staying true to a shared purpose. Finding a way to share the things that bring you together.
“We can’t wait to get back to making music together. We want to remember what we’re here for, to help these companies stay alive so we can get back to it.”
Keith Powers covers music and the arts for Gannett New England, Opera News and Leonore Overture. Follow @PowersKeith; email to firstname.lastname@example.org.