The Florida-based Off the Avenue Web series (offtheavenue.tv) has enjoyed impressively conspicuous national exposure this year. What began as a modest but ambitious, region-specific music series in late 2009 is now partnered with influential Chicago-based indie-music website Consequence of Sound and broadcasts in-studio sessions with a weighty cavalcade of bands including notables like Lucero, Man Man, Cursive, Heartless Bastards, Yacht and Hundred Waters. And it all happens out of a little studio in the Orlando exurb of Orange City.
North Avenue Studios was started by DeLand businessman Mark Shepard and was originally intended for Christian music rather than the mainstream music industry. "I started the business because of family," Shepard says. "My son-in-law, who's a worship leader of a church, and my boys are all musical [three of whom are in area band Roadkill Ghost Choir]."
Although the intent at first was niche, Shepard wanted to build it right and so enlisted the expertise of John Sayers, a highly credentialed Australian producer, recording engineer and studio designer. The result was an intimate, nicely designed and well-furnished professional recording facility.
Having already personally invested in video technology, Shepard held a central but latent belief in new technologies. But it wasn't until David Plakon entered the equation that it developed shape and motion. Plakon's curriculum vitae – which combines a digital arts degree from nearby Stetson University, years of band membership in Orlando's indie scene and the connections that entails – presented North Avenue with opportunity, even if it would take the studio in a fundamentally different direction. After discovering it in late 2009 when it was still embryonic, Plakon's involvement with North Avenue began with website work and quickly bloomed into an official, vested interest. Now, Plakon is part owner of the studio, handling strategy, management and even some engineering. And his indie sensibility now defines North Avenue's identity.
Although the studio has already been the most ascendant name among Orlando's indie musicians in the past couple years, it wasn't until this April that North Avenue's profile vaulted onto the national stage through a partnership between its Off the Avenue video series and tastemaker Consequence of Sound, forged after COS sponsored this year's Orange You Glad Music Festival.
"In the digital era, for websites like us, video's becoming increasingly important, not just because of advertising but because people like watching more than reading, or at least I guess some people do," says Consequence of Sound CEO Alex Young. "And we've been experimenting with video and video content – original programming – for a while. Obviously, the hardest part of that is having the equipment to put out the best possible product. The appeal of working with them is they already had a structure in place, and all they really wanted from us is to curate content. And we have a ton of connections from having been up and running for almost six years now, so it seemed like a perfect match."
About the results, he says, "We've always kind of had this special relationship with Florida, and so it's great that it worked out that way that our first real successful video series is set in Florida and kind of takes advantage of that Florida circuit."
The inspiration for Off the Avenue came from one of Plakon's idols, famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. "When he did From the Basement, I was just really inspired by how well put-together that whole series is," Plakon says of the television series filmed in the U.K. "I was like, 'Man, I have the studio here, we should at least try and do something like it.' So I was just, like, not only could it be just cool content but it could be a good way to market the studio, you know? It's a really low commitment for a band to come in here for two hours or three hours and just film something. That's the biggest thing for the studio, especially in a place like this in Orange City; you gotta get people to come see it and feel at home here, see that it's a nice place and nice people. And that's a really easy way as far as just getting bands in here."
Nearing its 100th episode mark, Off the Avenue now balances its original role of showcasing top indigenous talent with its new, high-profile platform for national buzz bands. But the idea behind the studio remains simple.
"The thing that we really wanted to do with this is create something where it's about the whole community in music," Shepard says. "Where it's like an all-for-one, one-for-all type thing to really create really good music."
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