Ahead of the premiere of our first Shaking Through session as UK media partners with Ava Luna, Brian McTear the executive director of Weathervane Music took some time to talk about the history, ethos and ambitions for the sessions.
For those who aren't familiar with Shaking Through, could you briefly sum up what it's all about?
Shaking Through is a documentary series created by the non-profit, Weathervane Music, in Philadelphia. Each year, we select 10 emerging artists and bring them to Philadelphia to record one new song, start to finish, in two days. These artists are usually chosen with the help of guest curators, who may be established musicians, music journalists, radio programmers, or others who are highly-respected in the music community. The recording process is documented in video, along with interviews with the crew, curator, and musicians, and made into short, documentary-style episodes. Additionally, all audio - everything from the basic raw tracks to final mastered mixes - is shared with the audience so they can remix the song themselves.
How did the Shaking Through sessions come about?
Shaking Through is the first project of Weathervane Music, intended to achieve our mission of creating community, opportunity and resources to advance the careers of musicians, while supporting a healthier music ecosystem. Today’s musicians are in a better position to self-release and self-promote than they have been in the past, but the reality is that for most bands there is no other option. Industry support comes only after a band has done a huge amount of work building the foundation of it’s career. It’s incumbent upon the artist to figure it out entirely on their own - logistically, technically and financially - and many talented artists never reach their full potential, particularly in their recordings. We really hope Shaking Through proves to be a successful community-funded solution to this problem.
There are obviously a lot of session videos out there in various forms, what in your eyes makes Weathervane special?
We describe our Shaking Through videos as episodes because they differ from the session videos commonly seen around the Web. As you know, a session video generally involves a band coming into a studio (or the backseat of a cab, or walking down the sidewalk) and playing a live version of a song/songs they’ve recently released on an album. These projects take a couple of hours to record and don't require a ton of editing. As for-profit entities, session sites may try to book the biggest and/or most trending bands they possibly can, in order to drive as much traffic as possible to their site and eventually monetize that traffic. Sessions are great and we love the folks who run those sites because they share our passion for music and supporting artists. We are all on the same team, but as a nonprofit, the difference is that we are mission-driven. Through community funding, grants, partnerships, and sponsorships, we can support the artists who deserve this type of opportunity and attention, but do not have the resources to break through the noise.
Shaking Through is a web series, each episode of which involves an artist hand-selected by a respected curator (who sometimes plays on the track and/or produces the track). The artist is welcomed into a high-end studio and is given the opportunity to record a brand new, album-quality song with a team of experienced engineers over the space of two full days. More than just a new song from a great band, however, it's the idea of a more established artist or music industry vet working through a nonprofit organization to provide opportunity and resources to an emerging artist. To us, our mission is everything. Traffic is secondary.
It's also about giving the audience a window into the creation process to bring them closer to the band and to give this new song deeper meaning in the mind of the listener... meaning that comes through seeing and understanding the process that went into creating it. We bring in the best filmmakers around to shoot roughly 15- 20 hours of video per camera for each episode, both in the studio and in the field, which is then lovingly and painstakingly edited by our team. Each episode takes hundreds of hours of effort to complete between the audio, video, and text, and must then be promoted.
Shaking Through gives emerging artists the type of intense, collaborative studio experience that only the most established artists have these days. It’s a beautiful thing to watch happen, and it feels incredible to be a part of something that, time and time again, is transformational for everyone involved."
Here is Port St. Willow's Shaking Through Session, curated by The Antlers
What makes a good 'Shaking Through' artist?
The ideal Shaking Through artist is one who has put a good deal of work in themselves up to this point - someone who is self-sufficient and motivated. They are in it for the long-haul and want to make a career out of music. While they can still be described as an “emerging artist,” the quality of their songs and aesthetic should be undeniable. Equally important, they must be willing to put the work in to best take advantage of what the Shaking Through experience offers them. We work so hard and put so many hours of our time into each episode that we will only work with artists who are also willing to seize this opportunity to really advance their careers.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
We have had so many proud moments... sometimes they come in the form of the little things... watching one band member say to another, “We’re really doing this... this is real now. We can do this!” … or watching the result of collaborations between amazing musicians unfold before our eyes. Other times it is the bigger things, like the chain reaction you see when someone like a young Sharon Van Etten comes through the door and somehow quickly goes on to make new industry connections and achieve critical acclaim. In the end, it makes us proud to know that we are making a real difference in the careers of these artists, and making the audience feel invested in the process.
What is the scene like in Philadelphia and how has this shaped the direction of Weathervane?
To say that the Philadelphia scene is flourishing would be an understatement; it is booming. More kids finish school, now, and stay here in the city. Numerous show spaces have popped up, from galleries and outdoor venues to top-notch venues like Johnny Brendas and Union Transfer. The underground scene is also booming with house shows and warehouse shows... it seems as though music is everywhere in Philly these days, and strangely, all of it is really good.
We love Philadelphia and hope to play a significant role in its continued growth as a music town. We want to expose people from around the world to Philadelphia and bring great artists here to see for themselves. We will also continue to support the talented artists that call this city home.
Which acts from Philadelphia should we be checking out at the moment?
To name just a few: Purling Hiss, Arc in Round, Arches, Lushlife, Hezekiah Jones, DRGN KING, Vacationer (half Philly, we forgive them) and of course, Dr. Dog, The War on Drugs, and Kurt Vile... but you already knew those, didn’t you!
Where would you see Weathervane in 5 years?
In terms of Shaking Through, we will continue to work with amazing artists and curators and grow our Shaking Through roster. We hope to build a larger community of fans and supporters and offer them more great music and insight into the recording process, the people behind it and all the fun stuff that goes into it, like techniques, recording gear and instruments. We are also very excited about the number of people around the world who are downloading and remixing the raw audio and mix-stems from Shaking Through sessions and will expand this aspect, featuring the best remixes in our blog, newsletters, and social media. We hope to find more ways to include better known DJ's and remixers in this process as well.
Beyond Shaking Through, in five years time we plan also to have a thriving event series that can provide our artists further opportunities to be seen and heard. We see Shaking Through as the entry point into the Weathervane family and want to provide community, opportunity, and resources to these artists in new ways with additional programs in the near future. It all will come down to funding and support from the community, for which we continue to strive and have made significant progress thus far.