Mark McDermott

Taking down the walls

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Saint Rocke owner Alan Sanford at the controls of iRocke. Photo by Mark McDermott

   

Saint Rocke makes history as the first music venue to stream its shows live worldwide via the Internet 

by Mark McDermott 

Next Tuesday night, Saint Rocke will close its doors to the public and tear down its walls to the world.
The Hermosa Beach music venue is doing something that owner Allen Sanford believes has never been done by a club: streaming its shows live in high definition video and high fidelity audio across the world via the Internet.
“Nobody has ever done it,” Sanford said. “The only people who have done anything like it are U2, who just did it in a stadium, and the Foo Fighters. But nobody on a venue-level has done it – only at the concert level.”
Saint Rocke has been beta testing its streaming system – which includes five high definition cameras and a separate mixing station – for a month now. But Tuesday’s show is the official launch of what Sanford has dubbed iRocke, and what he believes will eventually become an essential part of the music business.
“I have a venue that is exactly the same as any other venue,” he said. “Our sound might be better and our venue might look nicer, but essentially it’s the same, because we have four walls. So how can we no longer be limited by four walls? How do you turn a 300 capacity room into a stadium? The only way to do that is to take away my walls. Next Tuesday we will have 100,000 people watching the show online.” 

Unwritten Law performing and being filmed on high definition streaming video at Saint Rocke. Photo by Justin Miller

It will indeed be a big show: concert behemoth Live Nation has allowed one of its bands – whose identity will remain a mystery until showtime next Tuesday – to play Saint Rocke.
“The band that is playing is touring and playing minimum 1,200 capacity rooms,” Sanford said. “They don’t play any room smaller than that. We are a tiny venue when it comes to this stuff.”
Part of the reason Sanford has launched iRocke is to entice bigger bands to the venue, giving them the ability to reach a global audience from the comfort and intimacy of a small club. But he also hopes iRocke will give less well-known bands greater exposure.
“There are two components – one is certainly getting larger artists who would not normally play the room,” Sanford said. “But the other is providing emerging artists with the tools to do what they wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to do. Because part of why Saint Rocke was born is to provide smaller artists a venue to play that is not a bar or club but a real stage to be able to show them at their best. This is just a tool to show how good they are to the world – that is just as important to me as getting the big artists.”
The streamed shows are, at least at this point, free of charge. They can be viewed via Saint Rocke’s website (www.saintrocke.com) or on Justin.tv (the broadband video streaming site is partnering with the venue). Saint Rocke also offers an archive of past streamed shows. It is, in a sense, an unusual business model: a music venue giving away its content. Of course, this is part of the evolving nature of the music industry and the media industry in general.
“The whole world has changed in regard to content,” Sanford said. “It used to be content was king and you guarded it super heavily…With the Internet now, what you are seeing is a different approach, which is you want to get your content out continuously everywhere on everything in sight.”
For Saint Rocke, this certainly makes business sense insofar as it increases the venue’s profile and brand name. Saint Rocke could very well become a nationally or even internationally known venue if its live streams find large audiences, which, in the long run, is likely to boost ticket sales. But Sanford readily admits that his investment in what is at this point a cutting-edge technology is more “an intuitive leap” than a bottom-line financial decision.
“It’s wild, man,” said Sanford, who at 32 has become one of the more successful young entrepreneurs in the South Bay, launching both the Union Cattle Company and Saint Rocke with his brother Jed and a small group of friends. “I have no business plan for this. I have no monetization plan. I have a feel for it, but there is something about being the first to do something. There is something about being a pioneer for something. That is what we want to be: the first ones that have ever done this.”
Part of Sanford’s gamble is that this is indeed where the future lies: one day in the very near future live music streamed via the Internet into your home will be a regular staple of any music lover’s diet.
“You know, do you pay $150 to Ticketmaster for concert tickets or spend $3 – or right now, nothing, since it’s free – to see an artist online and in high definition with really good audio on your home system?” Sanford said. “It is almost a toss-up: what would I rather do, stay in the comfort of my own home or go out?”
It’s also part of the trend known as convergence: the blending of the Internet and television. Another local company, Havoc.tv, is also treading in this territory, launching the first on-demand, interactive music and video television channel and inhabiting a multi-platform entertainment universe that includes the Internet and cell phones. Havoc.tv, naturally, is also an unofficial partner of Saint Rocke, featuring many of the same artists and actual video from the venue.
“We are definitely of the mindset that these new mediums are the only way to go,” said Matt Muir, Havoc.tv’s co-founder and executive vice president of music. “As television and the Internet integrate, it’s only a matter of time when people watching TV will get what they want when they want it. And it’s the same when it comes to music – the ability to see a live band or listen to a song or watch a music video will be seamless as the line between the Internet and television blends, i.e., convergence. So it’s pretty neat that already I could watch a show at Saint Rocke without leaving my couch by streaming an Ethernet line in my 46-inch flat screen if happens to be sold out…Beer in hand, right? That’s pretty nice.”
These new technologies are also part of a newly emerging entertainment universe in which major music labels exert less control. It has frequently been described as the end of the music industry, but it could also be a rebirth: a band doesn’t necessarily need a corporation behind it to get its music heard far and wide. This could also, Muir notes, be a golden age for music consumers.
“I think in this day and age, with album sales and the recording industry being in the dumpster, the bands that are developing or blowing up are finding a lot of different vehicles to get their music heard,” he said. “More and more we are seeing YouTube, Facebook, Reverb Nation and all these great online communities where bands or artists can post a live performance and have that virally shared throughout the entire web. And if you are a huge fan of, say, Sublime, and you live in Indonesia, you may not have the ability to see bands that are kind of like Sublime, for instance Pepper or Slightly Stoopid or Rebelution…but you could still watch live performances and you are sitting in Japan or Indonesia. It’s pretty mind-blowing – it’s on the Internet, and it’s free.”
What Saint Rocke is doing takes this to another level – it’s not a grainy YouTube clip but a clear window directly to a show. Sanford said it fits the mission that Saint Rocke has had from the outset: his vision for the venue was that it would be artist-driven, and by providing a new avenue for producing high-quality video streams, both Saint Rocke and the artists themselves benefit.
“I’m hoping this opens up a whole new avenue and that really good artists who deserve to be seen are able to be seen,” Sanford said. “Of course, it’s good for Saint Rocke – for our brand – but I think what our brand stands for is being as beneficial for the artists as it is for Saint Rocke.”
Aside from larger-scope ambitions, Sanford’s mission is also something more concrete and definitively local. He hopes to help bring back a vibrant live local music scene to the South Bay. He said he looks to bygone days when venues such as the Strand in Redondo Beach fostered a rich musical community as inspiration. He also said that he learned from watching former Café Boogaloo owner Steve Roberts slowly build his brand over the course of more than a decade, realizing that some nights you have to lose money in order to build a name that stands for good music.
“I think music has been gone from the South Bay for so long that it’s been a slow comeback,” he said. “The amount of music that I think Saint Rocke has fostered has been unbelievably successful…and what I kind of take as a tribute, even though it’s competition to me, is looking around and seeing all the bars and other places that are doing live music now. I think we are helping bring rock back to the South Bay.” ER
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