Not that many years ago, the only way to truly experience live music was to attend a show. Then MTV came along and put it in everyone’s living room, revolutionizing not only the music industry but pop culture as a whole.
With the advent of the internet, music was again revolutionized. People can download songs and videos at the touch of a button.
Here in the Piedmont Triad, that revolution is at full power, thanks in large part to the Dot Matrix Project. If you’re a fan of the local music scene, then you may have already heard about it. You may even have downloaded one of their music videos without even knowing it. And if you haven’t heard of the Dot Matrix Project, you soon will.
The Dot Matrix Project is the brainchild of Sean Coon, who recognized an opportunity to highlight the wealth of music talent in the region in a way that no one else here had previously done, or even thought of.
When he’s not toiling away as a professional web designer, technical consultant and blogger, Coon is hard at work bringing together various elements of the artistic scene in an endeavor that makes everyone look and sound good.
At heart, the Dot Matrix Project is an artistic collective that encompasses filmmakers (or videographers), photographers, sound engineers and computer technicians, each of them working toward the same goal – to capture the live concert experience.
For the last several months, Coon’s Dot Matrix Project has been hosting live shows at the Green Burro in Greensboro. But these aren’t just any concerts; they’re being recorded (audio and video), with a music video and a live album resulting.
The most recent event at the Green Burro, held late last month, featured performances by Citified and Dawn Chorus. Neither band had participated in a Dot Matrix event before, but both were certainly inclined to ride the tide.
(Disclosure: When covering this story, I had no idea that fellow YES! Weekly scribe Amy Kingsley was a member of Dawn Chorus, one of the bands performing that night. Nor, for that matter, was Kingsley aware that I would be writing a cover story about the Dot Matrix Project… so I guess that makes us even!)
“We want to hand-pick the shows and special events we play, and make each show close to home count,” says Chris Jackson of Citified. “We’re always looking for different ways to promote the band, and it just seemed like a really good idea. Stuff like this, you can’t pass it up.”
Citified recently released its second album, The Meeting After the Meeting, which the band has been promoting throughout the summer. “The CDs have sold very well at our live shows,” says Jackson, “but a little slower on the website, so we thought a music video that could be broadcast on the website, or on YouTube, would be a good idea. It’s something we’ve never done before and thought would give people an idea of what we’re about.”
Adds Frank Kane, also of Citified: “It looks like this could be the beginning of something cool for Greensboro.”
In an era when many popular musical acts are completely pre-packaged by record companies and their publicity machines, often seemingly with no apparent thought toward the audience’s wants, Jackson and Kane liked the idea of having a direct hand in how their music is presented.
“It’s been easy and it’s been fun,” says Kane. “Everyone’s very laid-back and very cool and receptive to ideas. That’s exactly the atmosphere you want to work in.”
“Besides, it sounded like fun to make our own music video,” adds Jackson.
And, although it may sound corny, the concept of artists supporting other artists has added an extra layer of good vibrations to the endeavor. “I feel that Sean is onto something really special here,” says Jackson. “I can’t see this not being a good experience for everyone.”
The one rhetorical question that continues to pop up surrounding the Dot Matrix Project is why somebody didn’t think of it sooner.
In some places, the competition is so intense that a cooperative might not hold together, but this region seems to take a friendlier, more laid-back approach to collaboration – one in which every participant involved gets a chance to shine: The musicians, the filmmakers, the photographers, the technicians… each is an important component.
That’s one of the reasons that the Dot Matrix Project seemed like such a good idea to Coon and the other participants.
Tanya Peterson, of Lillyspad Photography, is a veritable virtuoso of the camera – specializing in portraits, weddings, “all sorts of different pets” and the occasional bar mitzvah. She enjoys them all, but she also enjoys “breaking up the monotony” and snapping away for the Dot Matrix Project.
“I love live music,” she says. “There’s absolutely nothing else like it, and I’ll try to take any opportunity to work a live show.”
Peterson calls herself a “candid shooter” and particularly revels in capturing the live music experience: The audience, the tech work, the behind-the-scenes…. “You won’t know where I’m coming from,” she says, “but I’ll get you.”
In fact, Peterson even captured the sight of this reporter’s hands (in full close-up) scribbling notes during an interview with one of the musicians. And I never saw her coming.
On the other hand, and behind another camera, photographer Stephen Charles tends to aim his lens at the bands performing, all the better to recreate the energy and intensity of musicians at full throttle.
“I enjoy working with different techniques, and I’ve enjoyed working with the other photographers and filmmakers,” he says. “It’s really quite unique… and Sean is the ringmaster who brought us all together.”
The presence of filmmakers and photographers doesn’t appear to diminish the performance, or lessen the audience’s enthusiasm or appreciation. The Dot Matrix team members expertly – and stealthily – weave in and out of the crowd, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible while also recording once-in-a-lifetime documents of the performances.
Photographer Michael Dunn had worked with Coon on the ConvergeSouth music festival last year and admitted it may not have been his finest hour behind the camera.
“It was,” he says dryly, “an eye-opening experience.”
That’s precisely why he wanted to take another crack at it. Coon also confessed that ConvergeSouth wasn’t quite his pinnacle either. “Quite frankly, I’d never tried anything like it ever before,” he says, so he sympathized with and liked Dunn’s attitude – to do it again, and do it better.
“After a show, I put the camera down for a couple of days,” Dunn relates with a laugh. “I don’t even want to look at my camera. I’m lucky if I can use ten percent of the photos.”
That’s because he’s shooting so quickly to capture that one, defining split-second shot that captures the experience. “One in ten,” he muses, “but that one makes it all worthwhile.”
“This is still very much a learning experience,” Coon says. But, he says, they’re having an awful lot of fun learning. “I love the music and I love putting this stuff together. It’s very hard and it’s very time-consuming, but we are having a great time. We’re turning out professional-quality albums and music videos, and we’re showcasing the talents of the artistic community here in the area. That’s really what it’s all about.”
Growing up in Montclair, NJ, Coon has always loved music. He may be reluctant to admit to some of the bands that he loved as a kid – a situation with which this writer can easily identify – but he does admit that his own musical aspirations didn’t go very far.
“I played in the orchestra in school when I was a kid,” he recalls with a laugh, “and my coolness quotient went way down!”
Nevertheless, he’s always had an appreciation for all genres of music and the live music experience. He also knows his way around computers. Those two loves would eventually converge and blossom into what has become the Dot Matrix Project.
When Coon began dating actress/singer Molly McGinn, he met and befriended many of her musician friends, and the pieces of the Dot Matrix puzzle began to fall into place.
Coon loves music. “I’m always listening to and digging new stuff,” he says. But he doesn’t always love the music industry, and he wanted to showcase the region’s music scene, which has often been neglected once it ventures beyond state lines (or fails to make the “American Idol” audition).
Sean’s brother Andy frequently works with All Aces Media, the independent, Greensboro-based production team that made Dogs of Chinatown last year, so Sean was also acquainted with the region’s burgeoning filmmaking scene.
There was talent. There was ambition. But there weren’t always opportunities. So, Sean created one of his own – and brought into it a group of people who shared in the vision.
“The whole idea is to get the music out there and to draw an eye to what we’re doing here,” he says. “If we can bring a focus to the cultural side – to the diversity that we have here – and see what comes of it, that would be great. It’s all about making a real music scene, and working to understand all the different communities involved, then going from there to build a social network.”
Examples of the project’s work will soon be seen on the big screen at the Carousel Cinemas on Battleground Ave., where trailers and music videos will run before the main feature on some screens.
“We were looking for a crossover incentive,” Coon says, “and that’s pretty damned incentizing!
“There are a lot of bands that don’t get this kind of concentrated promotion,” he continues.
And Coon would like to spread that promotion around. He’s already discussing a possible gallery exhibition of the still photos taken at Dot Matrix events. Live albums, music videos, still photographs. All clear indicators of the level of talent at work (and at play) in the region. Promoting the project is good, Coon attests, and promoting the participants is even better.
The technical aspects of producing a music video or a live album, Coon knows about. But there’s more to learn, such as “studying copyright issues – which has not been my favorite thing to do,” Coon says, “but it’s all a part of the process. It’s always growing and changing, and we’ve got to build the community around it. It all ties together.”
The next Dot Matrix Project event will be held July 31 at the Green Burro, and will feature Possum Jenkins and Tom Beardslee. On Aug. 28, the Raving Knaves and Project Tritium are on the bill. And if you don’t make the live shows, you can see the music videos or listen to the albums… literally hours after the shows take place.
For more information about the Dot Matrix Project, or to see examples of the work being done there, see dotmatrixproject.com. To comment on this story e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.