The Loft Sessions Provides a Dynamic Platform to Showcase Music
We live in a time when YouTube reigns, when the measure of a song’s reach can be as much a matter of views as plays. With the power of the medium in mind, a year ago Berklee composition/film scoring major Evan Chapman hatched the idea to launch a video series to highlight up-and-coming Berklee student and alumni musicians, giving them a dynamic, social-media-friendly platform to share their work.
The first installment featured his friend and classmate, vocalist Vince Cannady, whose desire for more recognition sparked the whole idea in the first place. “He wasn’t able to get the exposure he wanted or find a platform to present his own original music so I thought it would be a cool idea to rearrange his music as well as some music that already existed,” recalls Chapman, an eighth-semester piano principal from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Recorded at the Loft at 939 Boylston Street (aptly spawning the name the Loft Sessions) in September 2012, the result was four videos: Chapman’s arrangements of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Use Somebody,” and two of Cannady’s originals featuring Cannady on vocals, Chapman on piano, and background singers, as well as a solo violin on one of Cannady’s originals and a string trio on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Since then, the project has amplified. This week's release of the first video of the fourth Loft Sessions marks the series’ largest production effort to date, featuring a full string section and choir, Chapman and others on piano, and three percussionists captured by seven cameras. But from start to finish, the sessions have remained Berklee-saturated productions, enlisting teams of student and alumni musicians, videographers, mixers, and engineers.
Watch the video of AJ Rafael's "Without You," the first release of the fall 2013 Loft Sessions.
The Loft Sessions has also been gaining traction in social media circles. Initially, Chapman shared the first Loft Session YouTube videos with his social media networks and the featured musicians did the same. Now, the Loft Sessions has its own dedicated YouTube channel and the social media sharing effort is more organized. The most popular video to date has garnered 18,000 views.
“The goal is to provide a solid foundation for up-and-coming artists, give them a platform to help boost promotion on their own pages, build their confidence, and give them the opportunity to perform with a full string section and choir,” says Chapman.
The Loft Sessions has grown in stages, from the complement of musicians to the production of the videos. The second series, the XMAS Sessions—featuring Chapman’s arrangements of four Christmas songs for Cannady, Jess Newham (now of Betty Who), Kelsey Worley, and Alex Kember—brought in a string quintet, background singers, and a cajón. A full choir conducted by student Leah Dennis added another layer to Cannady’s performance of “Silent Night.”
For the third session, which includes Chapman’s arrangements of four singer-songwriters’ songs, each accompanied by a full string section and choir, the production crew swelled to five cameras. The video featuring Sarah Walk’s “Still Frames” got play from radio stations and earned the highest number of views to date.
“It’s definitely building up a good name around the Berklee community,” Chapman says of the Loft Sessions. “We’re also trying to build it up outside the Berklee community.” With 300 subscribers, the Loft Sessions YouTube channel is still in a “very budding” phase, he notes.
The latest and fourth Loft Sessions series launches with a video of YouTube sensation and alumnus AJ Rafael, performing Chapman’s arrangement of his ballad “Without You.” Each subsequent video will be released a week apart: Chapman’s arrangements of alumna Shea Rose’s upbeat, percussion-heavy funk tune, “Jungle Fever”; student and slam poet Ethan Smith’s spoken word piece, “Hometown”; and alumnus Matt Rosewood’s hip-hop song, “Deluge,” which opens and closes with a 19th century classical string and choir treatment.
In addition to the recording sessions and promotion, the selection and arrangement process is something Chapman relishes. He solicits artists to send him a group of songs, selects his favorites, and begins sending drafts of his arrangements until he and the artists arrive at a mutually satisfactory product. “It’s a very collaborative effort all the way through,” he says.
While he’s at it, Chapman’s putting to use all the compositional tools he’s acquired at Berklee. “It’s makes the writing easier,” he says of his training. “It’s a bag of techniques I can use if I run into a tough spot.”
Once the music is agreed upon, the musicians begin their work. After separate rehearsals, the choir joins the musicians and lead vocalists for a dress rehearsal. Then, it’s showtime: four songs are recorded over a span of four hours. The compressed process is beneficial, Chapman says. “It makes it more organic. It keeps everyone fresh, no one’s tired.”
While Loft Sessions videos are polished and professionally produced, they also maintain that raw energy that appeals to the YouTube audience; and for a medium that boasts more then 1 billion users per month, that's a formula that clicks.
Watch a promo video of the fall 2013 Loft Sessions.