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Doug Usher Recording FoCoMX Drive and Jive-Photo by Backstage Flash

The Wizard Behind the Virtual Curtain

By: Natalie Scarlett, Huckleberry Literary

There’s been a lot of talk about how artists are adapting their work to transmit to folks sheltering-in-place: dancers making videos outdoors, musicians holding concerts in living rooms, actors reading scripts via Zoom. But little notice has been paid to the production side of this fundamental shift in live performance. The music itself, in some ways, has remained constant but the producers who capture, edit, and transmit have been overlooked. Doug Usher is the man behind the curtain supporting art and artistry as a filmmaker, director, and producer and working as a freelance livestreamer currently.

Via ‘s work with Trebuchet Company

Doug Usher is the founder and Creative Director of VIA , a Fort Collins-based creative studio. In the earliest days of the shutdown he saw the writing on the wall and ordered specialized equipment (now sold out for months) to enable high quality streaming of live performance. For Doug, streaming isn’t just about making the at-home viewer a passive “fly on the wall” but rather engaging them in an augmented way that is enhanced by the virtual experience. “Without a live audience you do miss that venue energy, the non-verbal feedback loop between performer and audience. I’ve got to use the tools of creative livestreaming, like live editing or song-requests to name a few, to engage the viewer and provide some of that agency to them,” says Doug explaining one of the many ways he is available to support artists as a creative producer.

This ingenuity, and technical know-how gleaned from 10 years working in LA on over one hundred film projects and in TV studios, means Doug helps performers find the right medium for their message. When Julie Sutter, Community Manager at The Music District, programmed an 100 % virtual event called “Stay Home: A Rent Party,” Doug was toggling between all the recorded footage and various live-streams to bring the evening of interviews, music, and conversation together.

Julie says, ““What was particularly valuable about working with Doug on the Neighbor to Neighbor livestream was his ability to translate my vision for the event into something that could ACTUALLY WORK, technically speaking. I tend to be overambitious in scope and under-informed in terms of … realism? And Doug not only listened, he offered ideas to make mine even better — then delivered on them, seemingly without even breaking a sweat.” She also mentioned the often overlooked pragmatic consideration: Doug’s the guy with the gear. Finally, according to Julie he is “very very organized and unflappable.”  In August, the album was released! You can buy the cover songs by Fort Collins musicians from the event as a fund raiser for Neighbor to Neighbor.

Inspired by a 1990s PBS show called “Dinner and a Movie,” Doug conceived of a song swap collaboration and realized “Home But Not Alone” with 105.5 The Colorado Sound. Alt-folk trio, Whippoorwill, wrote and performed a song live throughout the evening with lyrical input from the audience which was subsequently the most viewed NPR live event that week. Musician and songwriter for Whippoorwill, Alysia Kraft, says The “Home but Not Alone” experience was our first livestream and certainly our first time co-writing a song live with the help of a virtual audience… not to mention, our first direct collaboration with NPR. It’s the type of thing I would have agreed to jump into remotely ONLY by knowing that Doug was at the helm, driving and calibrating and coordinating all parties and moving parts. Doug’s creativity and professionalism ride side-by-side in all that I’ve seen him do, which makes working with him both very exciting and solidly reassuring.”

Creative and engaged streaming of events isn’t ever going to replace the electricity of a concert, play, or dance performance but Doug sees the current necessity as an opportunity. He’s dusted off some old skills from TV, using a switcher to toggle between feeds and edit footage live for “FoCoMX Drive and Jive” broadcast concerts at the Holiday Twin Drive-In.

The Hollow performs as part of the FoCoMX Drive & Jive – Photo by Backstage Flash

“I don’t want to say that everything can be taken virtual but lots can be enhanced,” says Doug, citing all the folks who’ve always been housebound who now can participate through virtual live events. “It is becoming a critical part of the future. Even when things go “back to normal,” whatever that means, virtual live events are here to stay. No matter what you’re doing there’s a way you can supplement it or enhance it. I just want to do anything I can to let artists keep making art,” Doug says. Even if this means inventing a new medium of transmission for engaged streaming as we go, Doug Usher is up for the challenge.  (See Doug’s work and Colorado musical performances from the FoCoMX Drive & Jive on NPR Music)

FoCoMX Drive & Jive – Photo of Gasoline Lollipops by Backstage Flash

This article is part of a series of highlights about our Fort Collins artists and creatives making a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Thank you for supporting local artists, musicians, creative small businesses and Downtown Fort Collins!

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