“I was developing two podcast series featuring live performances by musicians, comedians, poets, novelists, and playwrights as an independent producer at Dubway Studios in Manhattan. I chose this studio because the owner, Al Houghton, whom I met in a film collective, kindly offered me a discount during the start-up phase.
Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers in front of an ATS sound panel as a reprinted watercolor by Robyn Jordan Photo credit: Liam Liu, courtesy of Kindred Spirits Media
After I recorded the first pilot, which featured the political work and performances of social justice artists, I was about to start pitching the series to distributors. At the last minute, I attended a friend’s house concert for her debut album release party. Low and behold, Stelth Ulvang, a member of the band The Lumineers, showed up. He had just gotten off the plane from Uganda where he was playing at a three-city music festival to prevent the spread of HIV. Upon deplaning, he saw a friend’s post on social media to attend a house concert in Brooklyn, and decided to come by and play. He knocked the walls down with his energy, guitar, voice, and storytelling. The experience of seeing a world-class musician play in such an intimate space inspired me to move the podcast from the studio into my living room in Brooklyn, NY.
From being an advocacy campaign strategist, I knew of the power and history of political organizing in living rooms as well as having people with first-hand experience give testimony to decision-makers. The visual appeal was also important for video distribution. So, on the spot, I invited Stelth to be on the show and to do it in my living room along with a panel of key stakeholders. He said yes, and I was on deadline to convert my living room into a recording studio, recruit a team, and produce a pilot episode in two and a half months when he would be back in NYC.
After meeting with 5 sound engineers, 3 contractors, and a family friend who has built two of his own homes, I designed the sound panel placement and a friend helped me pick the colors. Because the project emphasized the intimacy of the living room concept, I wanted the sound panels to blend in with the room. I reprinted two pieces by “day job artists” Clover Vail and Robyn Jordan as two ATS sound panels. Both pieces were originally 4 inches by 6 inches. The watercolor by Robyn Jordan is a custom sound panel at 3 feet by 4 feet. My fantastic contractor Chris Smiley, who was recommended by Al Houghton, expertly hung the batik for the ‘stage’ over an ATS sound panel because getting it out of the original frame to scan and reprint proved to be too difficult.
Photo credit: Jacob Snavely, courtesy of Kindred Spirits Media
It’s important to note that ATS has an in-house graphic design team to process such custom print sound panels. I started the process with a competitor that outsources such work, and due to their delays and lack of responsiveness to finalize the custom prints, I had to reschedule a testing date with 7 artists (as a pilot run for the second podcast series “The Day Job Artist”) and 5 team members with just two week’s notice. That’s a miracle by New York City standards. Having no trust in this company, I had to start the entire process over with ATS that quickly responded to my tight deadline and at a lower cost. (Thank you ATS!)
Because I live in a 90-year old building with varying materials for the walls and ceiling, it proved to be an open question if this was all going to work. Chris had deep concerns of the ceiling falling down, and I would respond, “Chris, this is going to work; it’s for democracy!” By the end, I had him on the pro-democracy bandwagon. In sum, there are 30 sound panels with 20 hanging from the ceiling across wires fastened with home-made ‘turnbuckles,’ also expertly created by Chris, including blood from his hands and done over Thanksgiving week. (Thanks Chris!) I also had 150-pound sound proof windows installed in the living room and in the adjacent kitchen.
The room sounds absolutely fantastic! When I heard the sound engineer Rick Kwan’s first music mixes from our test day, I nearly cried. Even listening to music from speakers in the room sounds amazing. When I show prospective guests and listeners the images of the space, I get a universal, “wow, that’s your living room?!” With the labor, materials, windows, and sound panels, the total cost was approximately $13,000. As the designer, project manager, and contractor assistant, my fee has been, ahem, delayed until I get funding and distribution.
Photo credit: Jess Duda, courtesy of Kindred Spirits Media
Check out the results for yourself. Here is the pilot episode of “In My Living Room” featuring Stelth Ulvang performing and discussing how music helped prevent HIV in Uganda along with a panel of activists, volunteers, and policy makers. The project features the social justice work of artists to inspire their fans to get involved in the political process. You can follow the show on social media @InMyLivingRm for updates.
The second series titled, “The Day Job Artist” celebrates those who work by day and create by night and features original performances of comedy, music, theater, and literature. At the end, I ask “What’s your day job?” The forthcoming website will feature best practices and wellness content for emerging artists to manage their careers with emotional, physical, and financial success. Here is the pilot (under a previous working title “Day Job”) with musician Aba Kiser. Please follow The Day Job Artist on social media @thedayjobartist for updates.”
Jess Duda is the creator and host of “In My Living Room” and “The Day Job Artist.” You can follow her @jessduda on Twitter and @jessicadudanyc on Instagram.