Last week, local acoustic trio Rustic Remedy performed a mid-afternoon set on a small, man-made beach next to the Morgan Creek Grill at the Isle of Palms Marina. As they played, Becca Finley and her production crew maneuvered silently around them, filming the band, checking equalizers, and posting up on laptops under a nearby tent. Rustic Remedy was one of four bands performing songs with a camera in front of them and the Intercoastal waterway behind them for an internationally broadcast show called Balcony TV.
For the last two years, Finley, a Louisiana native who lived in Texas for years before settling in Charleston, has run the monthly, online magazine The Music Initiative, which started as a periodical and has evolved into a multimedia project. The Music Initiative delivers goodies to local music fans, including Balcony TV and the popular Holy City Eclectic Evenings concert series. Holy City Eclectic Evenings is broadcast locally on Comcast Channel 2.
Over the last several months, Finley and her board of directors have taken a video-heavy detour, keeping the magazine going while becoming the Charleston arm of Balcony TV, a video music series that has sprung up in cities all over the world. Recent episodes from Morgan Creek's balcony stage include Americana band Shatterdog, indie pop songwriter John Thomas, local folk-pop act Satellite Rodeo, and singer/guitarists Thomas "T" Champagne, Barb Carbon, and Tyler Boone. Morgan Creek's music director Rene Russell has assisted Finley and her crew with booking and production along the way.
Finley's posse is a larger-than-one-might-expect group of dedicated college and post-college videographers, writers, graphic designers, and editors. They all work for free, as does Finley. On Aug. 15, to more clearly delineate all of the programs under The Music Initiative umbrella, the magazine will relaunch as Found Music Magazine — 180 pages covering music scenes across the world, many of which are Balcony TV outposts.
Not long ago, Finley noticed Balcony TV's growing popularity, so she contacted Austin, Texas-based Balcony TV co-producer Barbara Rappaport (of Make & Model Media) about starting it in Charleston. They launched it after a successful showcase at Austin's South by Southwest in March.
"Each city does it differently," Finley explains. "But the concept is a band, a balcony, audio, and video. Very simple, not overproduced, just playing live. Since artists have to come all the way out [to Isle of Palms] to play, we decided to have them play six songs. Four songs go on a DVD that we give the artist, the fifth is strictly an audio recording, and the sixth is the Balcony TV track, which goes online on Tuesdays and Fridays. There is also an interview with the band for 'Behind the Balcony' on our YouTube channel."
While only two local artists are spotlighted each week, filming in groups of four allows Finley and her team to stockpile footage of artists' performances and interviews. After a break, filming will resume on IOP until the end of November and will pick back up in February. The Music Initiative and Balcony TV will embark on a tour of Europe with various European contingents next summer.
In addition to hosting the weekly Holy City Eclectic Evenings, a listening-room style video series produced locally by The Music Initiative, Finley and her fanatics are also launching the New Sound Showdown, a national band competition whose 25 top winners will play next year's showcase at South by Southwest. The top five will play a showcase at the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala., in May, the top two will accompany The Music Initiative and Balcony TV teams on their European balcony tour. The winner will perform a benefit concert at Lollapalooza.
Finley's goal is to encourage and educate young musicians. "With Eclectic Evenings, we wanted artists to sit and play to 25 people in a room, to work on their performance without their audience drunk or ignoring them," Finley says. "The New Sound Showdown is a call to any type of musicians. They have to play originals, and they have to have lyrics, but that's it."
The competition will go through nine rounds, like a boot camp for artists with industry people and established bands taking them through the ins and outs of being a professional musician. The Music Initiative hopes to get at least 8,000 bands to enter.
As if all of these pursuits weren't doing enough to encourage young talent, Finley and Champagne (her boyfriend) are also spearheading the Musicians Health Initiative, a proposed health insurance program for Charleston musicians. Both Finley and Champagne hail from Texas, and they were inspired by Austin's celebrated program.
Finley and her crew believe that artists in general aren't supported in the right way. "I grew up around music, I studied opera, and I watched musicians as they age," Finley says. "They get worn down by the road, and there is no payoff, unless they make it big. It's about supporting them, mentally and physically, because if we don't give them support, we don't get joy from their performance."