Live Music Taking the Stage at Heartwood

Bob McPeek has been involved with music most of his life. He created Mirror Image Recording Studios in 1977. Although he sold it 20 years later to begin a “real job” as a research psychologist, he was always involved with music in some way with the studio.

After retiring in 2014, Bob bought Mirror Image again, but this time, he and business partner Hoch Shitama also identified a local need for musicians wanting a quality sound recording environment in a live performance venue with video production capabilities.

“When you record music in a studio, it is a controlled environment. When you take your music to a live venue, it can be an abandoned warehouse or an old car dealership where acoustics and the sound experience just isn’t ideal,” McPeek said. “We wanted to create a space where musicians could showcase their music live with quality studio equipment.”

McPeek and founders were also motivated by the changing nature of how people acquire music and how it may adversely affect the musicians’ livelihoods. People consume music via streaming services which greatly reduces the income generated for musicians.

“The old days of going to the record store and listening to an artist or group’s entire album are gone,” McPeek said. “Spotify pays a fraction of a cent for each play of a song, so you will need to have millions of downloads to make any kind of money. That means for musicians to spread their music and generate income, they use live shows and quality video production that is shared via social networks and YouTube.”

With these issues in mind, McPeek and Shitama, along with partners Paul Pavelka and Dave Melosh, created the vision for the Heartwood Soundstage, which was founded in 2017. Located off Main Street and Sixth Avenue, the Heartwood Soundstage is a live performance space that lives inside a full-service audio and video production facility. In addition, Heartwood provides a web music streaming portal for musicians or bands.

“We created Heartwood not only for the opportunity of the artist to have a quality venue for musicians where music sounds great but so that the experience connects the artist with the audience,” McPeek said. “Then we can take that experience and film it with quality video that, in turn, allows artists and their fans to share that with others.”

When a musician or musical group books to play at Heartwood, they receive a quality sound experience as well as an array of stage microphones and a stage monitoring system which affords each musician complete control over every mix element. A musician or band receives a high-end multitrack recording of their performance, synced to a multi-camera video production. They also have access to post-production.

In the era of YouTube, a musician or band increasingly needs quality video production of their music. Musicians who perform at Heartwood have access to a unique and cost-effective means to create a high-quality video in front of an audience. The staff at Heartwood is extremely experienced and can begin recorded playback of the performance within minutes of the end of the concert. Streaming the performance via the web can potentially bring in another revenue source, McPeek said.

The staff sound, light, and video crew at Heartwood all have many years of experience with stage and studio work. For this experience, Heartwood charges the musicians or musical groups a fee, but those acts also have the ability to bring in their fans and supporters who pay a small ticket fee which can go toward covering the cost of the booking.

“The people who designed and built Heartwood are musicians, too,” McPeek said. “We know all too well the occasional challenges presented by some performance venues. We also believe there are still enough music lovers who will pay a little more to support great music if they can hear the music in its purest form in a beautiful environment. We have artists who can even make a profit off our shows. Our location provides them this type of opportunity.”

Heartwood has hosted musical acts that span all genres, including jazz, country, punk, classic rock and folk music. They have also hosted poetry readings and even held a film festival. National bands and musicians like Idylwild and Ricky Kendall have performed there as have popular local artists.

What makes Heartwood so special and unique is the people behind it, McPeek said. Since they have such a complicated business that require such specialized skills, their staff is so dedicated to what they do.

“We’re a startup with so many moving parts like the production studio, recording, live shows, creative service and even a bar we operate during shows,” McPeek said. “The people who work here who are so committed to music and to Heartwood. They have a real love and appreciation of producing quality music and a great concert and experience. The fees that the musicians pay help us compensate these hard workers for what they do.”

McPeek also credits the local Gainesville community in supporting the mission of Heartwood. They have various levels of producer sponsorships whether its annually or to support a particular artist. There is also a Sustaining Membership program, which allows people to pay a monthly fee to support Heartwood.

“We have had such an awesome response from the community both in supporting the work of our venue as well as attending our varied performances,” McPeek said. “It has allowed us to do a lot more with the facility.”

By Tracy Wright

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