Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Pip Andersen
Take an early morning stroll along Exeter’s quayside and, if you’re lucky, you may just stumble upon one of Exeter’s most successful digital ventures.
Samuel Jones, is one of 70 locations around the globe, and one of just two in the UK, to host the Sony music owned BalconyTV sessions. The New York based company, lists Exeter in their top three global locations.
We caught up with the husband and wife team of Matt & Kate Calder, who, with support from Visit Exeter, are helping to keep the city’s music scene, well and truly on the map.
Guys, it’s great to be here with you, on both a personal and professional level; I’m a big fan of BalconyTV. I know that music sessions in Exeter are currently listed as some of the most watched, globally, so let’s start with a little background as to how you got to this point Matt.
So I’m a musician and have been since before my teenage years. I was eight or nine when I started playing guitar and percussion, so music is very definitely in my blood. I’ve been in bands throughout my life, playing predominantly in the West Country.
I’d been aware of BalconyTV for quite a few years and had always wanted to feature my various projects, but never had the opportunity; the only other UK Balcony is in London. And then one day, all of a sudden, the penny just dropped and it dropped just at the right moment.
I decided to start my own Balcony sessions up; I could get other artists in, have a fantastic time filming them and create an opportunity for me to get on the balcony myself. As it happened, that latter idea was completely eclipsed & I forgot all about that really; it became about the artists, local and national. We’ve had some incredible bands perform here.
You had Hunter and the Bear play here during their recent tour. To be attracting that calibre of artist is fantastic.
We did indeed. We also had Lau here recently who I’m a big fan of and are a very big folk name, and of course Joss Stone was lovely. I think that BalconyTV has become one of those bucket list things that artists like to do on the ladder of self-promotion. It has a big global impact, because not only is it shown in the city & country in which it’s filmed, but also in around 70 Balcony locations around the world.
It’s a big deal; show views can view from a few hundred to 100,000 which one of our shows had and which is just great. To be able to provide that kind of platform for artists is a really great thing.
And it goes back to you seeing an opportunity and making it happen.
For sure. I know a team tried to get Balcony off the ground in Totnes. They had a great location lined up at The Steam Packet Inn, but there’s a lot of work involved and it didn’t quite happen.
So what would you say is the main element that has made Exeter BalconyTV so successful and well established?
I think that it’s a combination of our commitment and availability; we film twice a month with two bands every time. My knowledge of audio work has been a very important thing as well and I can take the audio home to mix and master it. In the digital domain, that’s something that’s really important because artists know they’re getting a professional sound. I think that’s probably how we’ve managed to attract such great artists; they know that they’re going to get a decent show with us. I’m a bit of a perfectionist as well and I want to get it right; I’m quite self-critical when it comes to getting the sound right and it’s important that I nail it every time.
And I think that that’s the difference; going that extra mile separates you from everyone else.
Exactly! There’s a huge amount of effort that goes into each session; just getting all the recording equipment here twice a month is hard enough. You can’t just film from camera, as you won’t get a high enough standard of audio from mastering afterward; we throw everything at it.
We use a small, digital interface box which has 16 input, so we can cater for large bands if we want to, a laptop, a good quality camera and great mics, kindly provided by Rode; essentially that’s it, equipment wise. But what it does, is allow us to film and master to the standard our artists now expect from us.
So guys what’s it like working together as a husband and wife team?
I think that’s another reason that it works so well; because we are such a small team. I would imagine trying to choreograph a big team of four, five or six people, could be a real pain. I know some Balconies struggle with that, so I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping it small.
Fantastic! So let’s then jump into talking about challenges in setting up here. What was the biggest one you faced in taking an idea from scratch and getting it up and running?
Well, we weren’t short of artists applying to play. I think the biggest challenge was finding the right venue to play in. Samuel Jones here on the quay is fantastic but, because we use up valuable customer space, especially in the summer, they want us finished by 11 am in the morning. That’s understandable, but it’s been a challenge getting artists here at 9 am in the morning to film. To be honest though, we’ve been amazed at how they’ve been prepared to do that because, as rule of thumb, they just don’t get up at 7 or 8 am in the morning like the rest of us.
And of course, there’s the added element of filming outside on a Balcony with a host of factors outside of your control going on around you.
For sure but then with all the swan and boat action, going on around us, it makes for a fantastic view, which is great as a platform for promoting Exeter.
So part of the success of Balcony and, I guess, the vision for the company as a whole is the location.
Absolutely. I wouldn’t say we had the best view; some of the views around the world are incredible. The Delhi Balcony with a view of the city is just mind-boggling. Mont Blanc is amazing too. It is a fabulous location here though and it’s always changing. We even had a naked person cycle past in one session; that was in the middle of Hunter & the Bear’s first session with us actually. They somehow managed to hold it together and kept going though; I think it was Chris, the bass player who clocked it; you could see his face go as he rode past, but he kept going.
So tell me, what’s in the pipeline for Balcony TV?
It’s more of the same really. We’ve started getting some really great names coming down from Bristol and further afield. The fact that they’re prepared to drive down from London at 9h00 in the morning, is wonderful; crazy, but wonderful. So as far as artists are concerned, I think we’re probably booked up until August already; I’ve stopped taking bookings at the moment because it just gets a little crazy trying to get people in beyond that.
You clearly have so much passion for what you’re doing; it’s fantastic to see. Matt, you hit on the word commitment earlier and that’s so important in any project; I don’t think it matters what you’re engaged in, if you’re not 100% committed and you’re not putting your heart and soul into it, it’s not going to work.
It definitely helps to have a community behind us. The Balcony TV community is very cool; we have some great social media groups where we all get to gather and talk about it; the pitfalls and the pros and cons. It’s inspiring and helpful to see what other Balconies are going through.
So how big a part does the online world and social media play in Balcony’s success?
It’s massive; without it I just don’t think that it would have worked. When it was formed in 2006 we were in the days of MTV and the idea of a viral video was still quite a new thing. Digital platforms have revolutionised what is possible and are, without a doubt, essential.
Sony’s involvement must have had a big impact on the growth of the sessions, across the globe.
Absolutely and it’s even more of an incentive for us to keep the quality up. I think as well, that as artists come to find out that Sony is behind it, there’s another incentive for them to get involved. If it’s going to be seen by Sony’s A&R men, then that’s a big thing. I’m told that one of the acts that appeared here in Exeter; Wildwood Kin, was signed to Sony as a result of appearing here.
So head office in New York will pick a show every week and promote it through their social media networks; Exeter is one of the top three cities in the world that have had the most Editor’s Pick shows, which just goes to show the standard of musicians we’ve got in the area.
You’ve had some incredible sessions here; are you able to pick a favorite?
To be honest, there’s been something amazing with every session, but I think the show we just did with Lau, was up there with the best; there was something really quite intense and professional about their performance. It was a real treat for me to have had the chance to perform with Joss Stone for her session, and Hunter & the Bear were fantastic, as were Will and the People; they were just off the wall.
Bristol act Three Cane Whale, and local artists such as Tobias Ben Jacob and Dead Ground are also personal favourites.
It’s an incredible privilege being there, just feet away, filming. It inspires me to go home and write my own stuff; there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing others doing what you want to do.
And of course, you’re also getting the chance to go home and mix and master some incredible music.
Absolutely, I mean I’d never have had the opportunity to mix and master artists such as Joss Stone or Martha Tilston anywhere else. It’s an amazing privilege and one we plan to appreciate & continue for some time to come.
Matt & Kate, it’s been a pleasure to meet you both. Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to seeing some live sessions, very soon.
The next BalconyTV session will record on Saturday 3rd February. Head on down to Samuel Jones, on Exeter’s quayside, for an early breakfast and a 9am start to catch some incredible live music.