Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Confessions of Second Life Purple-haired Pixel Hill Proprietor Harrie Skjellerup

If you've spent much time around live music in Second Life, you've probably spied the purple locks of Harrie Skjellerup around the grid. The long time Second Life resident is an tireless live music supporter, ardent promoter, talented venue owner and active listener - or more succinctly, a music addict, as she calls herself.

Harrie is the proprietor of Pixel Hill, a three-stage entertainment and live music venue nestled on an ocean side slope of mainland sim Strayling and she's also the organizing and promotion engine behind The ORIGINALS, a successful original music venture with POL Arida. Pixel Hill has hosted some of the best talent in Second Life, tediously hand picked by Harrie herself over the course of the last two years.

I thought we'd talk to this live music veteran and get her insights about live music, being a venue owner and what's next.

Q: You just had your third rez day this month (belated congratulations!) What brought you into Second Life? Have you spent any time in virtual worlds other than Second Life?
Thank you, 3yrs, it seems so old yet so young at the same time and has flown by.

Curiosity brought me into SL. Being an internet junkie, I guess i was looking for something more from surfing the net, music forums, myspace and the like, something more interactive, more immersive, I just didn’t know what. I had read a bit about SL, but I didn't really understand what it was, and my computer and net connection just weren’t up to it and I sort of forgot about it. Sometime late in 2006, I remember a friend commenting on some article they had read about it, being a gamer they didn't think it sounded all that great as it had no obvious goal, but my interested was piqued again and this time I signed up and Harrie arrived on the grid.

I have never been a gamer, and I had never spent any time in other virtual worlds, video/computer games never really held any interest for me. SL seemed to offer more, much more. Since joining SL I have che
cked out some of the newer virtual worlds such as Metaplace (I do believe we all had a big tomato fight there, lol) for the great ‘Rockin The MetaVerse tour’, Twinity and ActiveWorlds Europe, definitely have a lot of potential as another platform for live music, but for me personally they don’t have the appeal that SL does.
Q: Have you always been, as you describe yourself, a music addict? If there was no music, what other things would interest you in world?
Yes music has played an important role in my life ever since I was a small child, I remember saving my pocket money to buy 7” vinyl singles, U2 ‘3’ and Adam and The Ants ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ were some
of the first I ever had. I grew up always listening to music and I am still growing up and always listening to music. Live shows have always been a big thing for me, and living in Dublin (RL) where there has always been such a rich live music scene I would go to a serious number of gigs a month when able to. SL live music fills in the RL gig gaps for me!

Gosh, I don’t really know what else I would do, as I've always been involved in music in some form or other since my 1st month on the grid. I guess event planning of some kind and I would like to use SL as a way to learn some languages or at least improve on the ones I am already familiar with. Help ne
wbies again… I don’t know, the possibilities in SL are endless!

Q: You've attended hundreds of live performances in Second Life. Do you remember the first live gig you attended? Are there one or two performances that stand out in your mind as particularly memorable or even infamous?
Ooh, I knew you’d ask me that, lol! I don’t know if it was the first gig I went to but the first one I remember was Dann Numbers (aka Dann Russo in RL
). I was floored by this guy, how someone in pixel form could have so much stage presence, his music was great and right up my alley too, By the end of the show I was well and truely hooked and 3yrs on I am still one of Dann’s biggest fans and think he is a genuine talent who one day I hope to see play live in RL! He is also one of a handful of SL musicians I tell (or bring) new musicians to go and check out if they want to know how to connect with their audiences as Dann has that one down pat!

Memorable performances, hmmm… yes quiet a few. The first time I ever heard guitarist Didier Soyuz (we’ve been friends since my1st week in SL) ) perform live, OMG the man is amazing! Early in Dec 06, Stunning! A few months later I recall we were discussing how he could mix things up a bit, put more energy into his sets. He said he had few old songs that might help do that, and one night at The Cherry (now long gone) venue he played a song called ‘Free your Heart’ for me and it was like nothing I had ever heard him play before, but it was exactly what we had been talking about, it took his music to another whole level and 3yrs on I still never tire of hearing him play that song,never tire of hearing him play, he made me look at guitar music in a whole new light!

The SecondFest festival back in the summer of 07, StrangeFates (I used to be a virtual guitarist in a rock band, lol)
were on the line up for the SL performers stage on Chill Island and there was uproar (ok maybe not uproar, but definitely a lot of unhappy people) because the SL performers felt like we were being hidden away from the main festival area and the RL acts, so we all got together and basically campaigned for better coverage and a better sim, as this was a big event being sponsored by The Guardian newspaper and Intel (RL). We started to do our own promo in and out of world for the SL stage and in the end it was a fantastic weekend. The SL performer’s sim was packed the whole time and it was kinda cool to say we were on the line up with the likes of The Pet Shop Boys and some other well known RL acts. On the last night I remember Fizik TP’d us backstage to the ‘VIP’ area to watch the PSB’s set, it was all very real in a virtual way and serious fun dancing at the side of the stage, especially later when Doubledown Tandino and Dj Jenns were asked to Dj sets for the afterparty!

Another show that will always hold special memories for me was Dec last year, it was Pixel Hill’s first birthday and I was a bit down in the dumps and had decided not to do anything to celebrate, but some people had a different idea. Dres Forder (no longer in SL, but such a talent and very m
uch missed) got together with a few others and threw a surprise party for Pixel Hill, they decorated The Jester Inn, listed the event in search and sent out notices themselves and basically told me to shut up and just be there…the line up was fab, Dres, POL, Phemie, Blindboy, Zorch all played and I was totally blown away! Who had ever heard of a bunch of musicians throwing a surprise birthday party for a venue!

Ooh, another show I cant leave out was a special RFL event organized by 2 SL legends Nomad Rovio and Spence Wilder last year, called ‘Ride for Relay’…they built a replica of the London underground, we h
ad LU uniforms to wear and Spence went up and down the train busking for tips! It was one of the most fun events I have ever attended, they ran 2 shows in the one day, both a few hours long and it was such an honour to be able to help out. Just thinking about how much fun we all had that day makes my face hurt from laughing and so much L$ were donated! RFL is such a great thing in SL and I have been very fortunate to be asked the last 2yrs to help as music host for the event finale, but then I would do anything to help Bourque Rau out as she is one of the many great unsung heroes of SL live music, between all the work she does for the music side of the RFL finale and the Investment gigs series she ran earlier this year.

And the last one that I must mention was getting to attend a preview of a certain Grace McDunnoughs Musimmersion this summer, without doubt one of the most creative and special things I have experienced in SL all put together by one very talented musician!

Q: Your multi-stage venue Pixel Hill is about two celebrate a two-year anniversary. Why did you decide to open your own venue? Are you planning any major changes to the stages?
My 1st year in SL was spent involved in the music scene from many different perspectives. On stage with Strangefates, we did shows at many of the well known venues as well as some lesser known ones. I was always paying attention to what was going on at events and how they are being run and unfortunately a lot were badly run and poorly organized events. But some places were great and I learned a lot and certain venue owners (and musicians) really gave me the encouragement I needed to go for it, others where not so enthusiastic. I have
also helped Didier Soyuz with his solo shows from the start in Dec 06, booking, hosting etc. and got to know first hand how difficult it was for an original musician and instrumentalist at that, to get gigs and how badly a musician that was not mainstream would on occasion be treated by venue owners and I was fed up with attitudes like that. I also went to as many shows a night as I could (and still do) and was fed up with how little effort some people put into the events, the way I see it, ever show should be an ‘event’!

As a result I got to see first hand wh
at I thought people were doing right in regard to venues and running shows but mostly what I thought people were doing wrong, the main thing being that too many venues thought it was all about them and cared little for the performers and making sure everything was ok for them. Didier always promised me that one day he’d build me my own venue so I could do it the right way and in September 07, we bought the first plot for Pixel Hill, he started building and come December 07, Pixel Hill was ready to go and I’ve pretty much been doing it my own way since, I think it kinda works as we are still going strong 2yrs on! I am often asked by people starting up venues for advice I will always do my best to help them out, I don’t see it as a competition as it all about the getting great music out to the masses!

There are no real plans to make any changes (with
a venue one is constantly tweaking, changing and rearranging things anyway), though I would like to use the 3rd stage at The Gallery more often. And I would like to have more shows than I currently do, but my RL work situation doesn’t allow me the time I used to have. I also have this thing about Pixel Hill, that I only have shows when I can be there to host them. I don’t have staff or a set amount of hours per week/month that must be filled with live music and I don’t ever want that as I feel it is too hard to maintain a high standard of quality that results in both venues and musicians becoming overstretched. It is my venue and I want to enjoy it and want everyone that comes there to enjoy it too. I have some of the best friends one could wish for and I am so lucky that they help me out when we have big events (they are all very aware of how crappy my computer is at times) and I am indebted to them and all the great regulars at Pixel Hill for their never ending support and encouragement to keep doing what I do!

I have such great memories of the many musicians that played their first proper booking at Pixel Hill, they are always very special shows and there have been quite a few in the past 2 years and most all of them still p
lay regularly for me. I have always tried to ensure that Pixel Hill remains an environment that encourages people to take chances with their music and just go for it, as the Pixel Hill audience know to never expect the ordinary and from encores that last an hour, to last minute sessions, new songs, surprise dual streaming, one just never knows what is going to happen and so much unexpected great music has happened!

We are rather limited on Pixel Hill as it is a mainland venue, if it was financially possible I would like to move it to a private island, but would worry that might lose its intimacy. One thing I hear from people most often about Pixel Hill is that the venues have a special atmosphere and intimacy to them and not just because they can only hold 40 avs, as The Jester Inn is a huge build with 3 levels and should be cold and unfriendly but it is quite the opposite and that is important to me. Just because something is virtual doesn’t mean it can’t feel real.

Q: The ORIGINALS have been going strong now since 2008 with an ambitious all original artists production every month. What does it take to pull it together?
A lot! Lol! Pretty much 3 weeks of non stop work for each showcase.

During the very first ORIGINALS event, POL Arida asked if id hold the next one at Pixel Hill I jumped at the chance. Since early 2008 Pixel Hill had been an original music venue, as in everyone that performs there had to play a few originals at the very least (with a few rare exceptions) and all original sets are always welcomed, I got a lot of stick for that at the time from people, but it was my venue and I wanted to support as much original music as I could, after all SL is about user created content and music is that too, right? Pixel Hill is also Didier’s home venue and when he was starting out a lot of venues would not book him because he only played original music and I never understood the logic behind that, so Pixel Hill was always going to be about original music. Let me just say that I have absolutely nothing whatsoever against covers at all (I mean have you heard PM Bookmite’s version of Born To Run, or Obeloinkment doing his Johnny Cash medley, now they are great cover versions performed by extremely talented musicians that are widely known for their original music, but they do the occasional cover because they want to, not because they have to), but getting a place to allow you to only play original music was still very much a rarity then, so bringing The ORIGINALS to Pixel Hill was the perfect match!

So The ORIGINALS started touring the grid, it came to Pixel Hill a few times, went to The Vibe, The Docks at Arctic Circle and then POL in a round about typical Pol way asked me to take it over and do something to make it even bigger, so I did.

Myself and POL talked a lot about where we both saw The ORIGINALS going and we seemed to be on the same page, so I picked a date and set about booking acts. We moved it to the weekend and went from 5 musicians to 10, the first of the bigger shows was held at Pixel Hill and it was a huge success, so much that the performers had difficulty getting into the sim and we had to set up 2 over flow venues! We knew that was the last time The ORIGINALS would take place on a mainland sim. Next step was getting it broadcast live on a radio station, and IndieSpectrum was the natural choice, as I had been helping Fox Reinsch on and off since he started the station and knew he was as enthusiastic about original music in SL as both myself and POL. Once all that was in place we just went for it!

The whole show takes a few weeks to organize, I have to make sure the whole team will be available (POL, Luka, Byrne, Natasja & of course Fox for the simulcast) and the line up has to work, we need to get the right mix of performers, and the best to really showcase just how good original music in SL is. Then there is organizing the venue, sometimes this is more difficult than the line up as we are asking a lot of the owners to basically let us come in and take over their venue completely, but so far this has worked really well. We also try to make sure that we go to a venue where we believe they really do support live music for the music. Then everything has to come together, so the week running up to the event is always a bit hectic but I love it! I get to work with the best musicians and the best venue owners and meet the best people.

Unfortunately some musicians still look at the ORIGINALS as nothing more than an open mic that they won’t get paid for so they don’t want to take part, but one thing The ORIGINALS is most definitely not is an open mic! We present 10 high calibre personally invited musicians that we believe are the cream of the crop to perform regarless of their ‘fillasimability’. Weekly I am inundated with requests from musicians that do want to participate and I am very conscious when organizing the line up that I keep it as varied as possible as it really is all about the music, and quality music at that. So each line up will always have acts that have played for us before and some making their ORIGINALS debut, regardless of how new or old they are to SL.

We do have plans for more simulcasts and a few ‘special’ showcases in the next few months to broaden the spectrum of music even further and if we pull it off I think they will be great shows. We will continue to do what we can to keep letting those not familiar with live music in SL know just how great the music is! After every event I get emails from people saying they listened in on ISR or joined SL (or even came back to SL) just to hear the show and how impressed they are with the standard of the music and will be back for more which is so encouraging, and also to see familiar faces arriving every month and staying the distance knowing they are in for an afternoon of seriously good music…, it really doesn’t get much better than that!

The ORIGINALS was a brave and ambitious move for POL to make and even braver of him to hand over the reins to me, but even now a year or so later it is fairly well established, there is no rest for the wicked and we still have a long long way to go with it!

In my last post, Raph Koster said that he believed the key to live performance in virtual worlds was to get people to show up, regardless of the venue. That's a first step, but getting people to come back is the key to longevity and growth and often the venue has a profound impact on experience.

I'll be asking more long time venue owners over the next few weeks to share their insights and experiences - and I hope you come back.

Peace, art and music ~ Grace

Grace McDunnough on Koinup
Phasing Grace
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Zak Claxton said...

Harrie is one of the highlights of the entire live music scene in SL. Not only is she on the short list of people who can be always be counted on to organize great shows, but more importantly her honest love of the music shines through in everything she does. It's been my honor to take part in shows for The ORIGINALS as well as playing at the Jester Inn on several occasions. If everyone in SL had the same commitment and drive as Harrie, we'd all be better off for it. I'm proud to call her my friend.

Pier said...

awesome piece and interview!
the keys to live performance in virtual worlds probably are many: venue hosting hundreds of people, more and more ways to interact (users to users and users to performer)
I'm looking with great interest at Livestream tools provided by Youtube and Livestream, where you can now stream in realtime the show with twits to your friends, and make it a great. Wondering when this interactivity will come in virtual worlds.....
These tools increase the word of mouth and increase the chance of others to know about the show.

I think that virtual worlds need a concrete web 2.0 and realtime web mood.....

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