Where did you get the idea for The Unsigned Arch?
I studied music production at a school called Point Blank in London, but when I finished I realised that London was full. Music is available everywhere now online and I’m from the North East (this is my hometown and where I belong), so I decided to come back. I started working with some musicians and realised that there is so much talent in the North. These guys are amazing and I felt that they deserve the same kind of opportunities that you might get down South. The issue isn't a lack of talent, but that opportunities don't arise in the North East for whatever reason and I wanted to help. I thought let’s get an online show for the North East for unsigned, up-and-coming acts. Get them on stage, get them to perform their own stuff and get that out. There have been similar projects in other parts of the world and I thought it was absolutely perfect. It’s like a megaphone for the region.
Why do you think it’s so important?
The thing with modern music and the internet is that you've got to really fight hard to find your place in that world. It’s easier online in some way, but it’s also harder in others. The access to music is fantastic, but you find that the audience doesn't grow – there are just smaller audiences for more people. Audiences become more niche. We found that North East bands have their audience, they have followers who are passionate (not just about the region and its music, but also those bands that they follow), but they were very niche to those bands. Our plan was to get those bands on stage in a central location, allow them to meet and mix with their fans, and find some new talents.
It sounds like there is something for everyone?
Yes absolutely. There's obviously something in it for the bands, but the fans get to talk to the bands too. It doesn’t stop after we’ve filmed either. The whole thing is a continuous online process, so we’re talking to the acts online and we’re hoping that the fans will get engaged too. Everyone can talk about what's going on. What happens then is that everyone builds a profile for everyone else. It's a community effort.
What appeals to you about working online?
It's the access and the immediacy of it. We're doing a Kickstarter campaign at the moment and you immediately get a feel for whether people are in to it or not. As soon as it goes online and you start telling people that you're looking for funding to produce a high-quality professional show, you immediately get to know if people are up for that, before anyone has pledged. Within 24 hours Twitter was going mad which was great and people were signing up on Facebook. We had loads of bands signing up on the website which was exactly what we wanted – people being engaged and interested. But I suppose the communication aspect of the internet is the most important thing. When you’re online you’re one step closer to the show, the bands and the people you follow (and adore in some cases). It’s that closer connection that we’re really aiming for.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Kickstarter campaign?
The Unsigned Arch is a professional show. We have seven team members and they’re all professionals and though it isn’t expensive to run, there are costs involved to get to a standard that we think people (especially the bands) deserve. You can do this for free but there are costs involved if you want to step it up a gear. We’ve not asking for huge amounts of money here, only £6,600, which I think is very achievable. I’m the producer on the show and I also have a co-producer, we’re not taking any payment for this, but the videographers and the sound engineers deserve to be compensated just as much as the bands deserve to be on the show. We’re raising for that. We’re raising money to be able to edit the show and to make the sound spot on. You can get evidence on the quality we’re trying to achieve in the first episode and it indicates where that money will go. But there are also some exclusive perks for anybody who wants to back us financially – things that will tempt people to help us out. I think it’s the best way of funding something like this on a community level rather than going to private investors who would demand certain things of the show that are unrealistic. If you start going down that route you get demands on the show that are unnecessary and distract from the bands and the music. This is for the people of the North East so we thought let’s go to them and they can decide if this is good enough.
Where are you based?
We’re in the top room of the Cluny Studios. The owner Tony Davis is our main sound engineer and he’s in charge of the sound stuff. I’ve been working with him for a few years now and he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s done a really good job. On our video side we have a professional videographer from the region who travels all around Europe doing film shoots. We’ve got a talented team involved.
Was the Ouseburn the natural choice for where you wanted to hold this?
Absolutely, I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘cultural quarter of Newcastle’ and I couldn’t agree more with that. There’s the fun-loving side of it with all the pubs, but there’s plenty of studios too. Artists congregate there and live music happens there, so it’s absolutely natural. Bands immediately know where the Ouseburn is, they know what the deal is and they know what the atmosphere will be like. It’s an absolutely perfect spot for it.
Who can get involved in the programme?
Anybody can get involved. We purposely entered into this saying that we wouldn’t have a fixed genre because it would immediately wipe out a section of the community. Absolutely anybody can perform. I’ve seen people busking on Northumberland Street who were very individual and very talented and I’ve given them my card, because as long as it is good quality we’re happy to have you on the show. If you’re interested in getting involved communicate with us on Facebook or Twitter. Everything that is posted on the website is either myself or my co-producer Courtney, so you’re talking directly with the producers. Bands can sign up on the website and there’s an audience sign up online too. We’re very limited on space because it is a recording studio rather than a live gig, but if you want to come along then we’d love to have people in the audience. The thing about this is that it has got to be transparent. I could fill this space every month with friends but then nobody really knows what’s going on. We’re hoping that people who aren’t involved in the show can come and listen to great music for a few hours and then go away and say to others, ‘Look this is genuinely happening, it’s not a fob off, we saw an episode and we can’t wait for you to see it’.
How often do you film?
The shoots are monthly, but during the shoots we have four to five bands come on and every band performs two songs. Each song then becomes its own three to four minute episode and we release one episode each week. But we also put up an interview with the band and some more information about them every day that week. Each week there is a new performer and a new song. As each band records two songs, they get more than one week each and basically come away with two high-quality music videos at the end of it. We’ve actually had a lot of bands come to us and say we’ve got an EP release coming up and could we time our release with that and that’s absolutely no problem. We’re here to help these guys. If delaying a particular episode is what’s needed then that’s no problem.
What are you hoping to achieve?
We entered into this in order to build up the music community. If fan groups are moving freely between artists, discovering more performers and discovering more music, then that will be a job well done. If you can increase the individual fan groups of these bands, because they’re intermingling and finding out about new material, then I think that is a worthy goal. At the moment we’re concentrating on the Kickstarter, but that’s just to fund the first year. Over that year we’re planning to expand to allow more people to enjoy the live element of it – live gigs, concerts and maybe even getting involved in some festivals.
Where did the name come from?
The arch is central feature of the studio that we film in. I’d had the idea for a long time, but when I first walked into that studio and saw the arch I realised we’d found our theme. We film in a big, beautiful room and at one end there is a huge stone arch. It’s the perfect background for this. The other great thing about the theme, being under an arch, is that you can take that arch anywhere. We actually have a cardboard arch. We want to take it out to gigs and allow people to perform under the arch. Also symbolically for the North East, it’s absolutely perfect.
The Unsigned Arch