J Vega knows of a local band that was offered a plum gig: opening for The Wallflowers on their Pittsburgh tour date. The band was all set to play, when the manager of the Jakob Dylan-fronted group asked for one more thing: to see a video of them performing. They didn't have one and, because of that, lost their spot.
Music-industry types are requesting videos more frequently, says Vega. "It's not enough to have a decent-looking website and some tracks laid, down because digital editing makes it possible to sound good artificially," says Vega.
He ought to know: He's the owner and resident sound engineer of J Bird Studio, a recording studio he runs out of his Zelienople home. And while Vega searches out developed bands and hones their pre-existing skills, rather than using studio tricks, bands still sometimes have to prove it. So Vega launched J Bird Studio Presents (www.thejbirdstudio.com/videos), an online video series in which musicians play live in his sound room.
"The whole thing takes four hours and they have that requirement checked off," Vega says. The videos are raw, recorded with just an iPhone, but that's the point; they demonstrate that the band can deliver the sonic goods with just some instruments and amps.
Vega was previously the sound man for a similar video showcase, Echo Chamber, for the Pittsburgh music blog Draw Us Lines, but a few key contributors to the site moved away and it made sense to move the endeavor under the J Bird roof (literally).
So far, the series has featured Broken Fences, Grand Piano, Household Stories, Nevada Color and Netizen. A future installment will feature The Dressed Frets.
The videos are produced at no charge to the band and are not dependent on them recording tracks at J Bird (for which there is a fee). Vega has thus far approached all the bands, though he says he is open to performers coming to him. He warns that musicians have to be up to a certain standard to be featured. "There is a certain amount of quality control," he says. "I don't want 13-year-olds who rap calling me up wanting to do poop jokes."