By Maitland Shaheen
Photo by Dean Watson
Tucked behind the corner of Bank Street and Fifth Avenue sits a quaint church with strikingly blue doors. On the main floor is a typical chapel; in the basement is a bohemian space brimming with recording equipment, colourful mod furniture, and a mini fridge crammed with craft beer. Hidden in the basement of 2 Monk Street is Gallery Recording Studios, run by local musician and producer Dean Watson. An Ottawa music veteran, Watson is a quietly talented figure whose expertise in record production drives a new and upcoming project in the local music community—the Shot in the Dark sessions.
Shot in the Dark is a collaborative group effort that feeds on the talent of local musicians, bands, filmmakers, and photographers, all tied together by Dean Watson and his partner in the project, Jonathan Kischel. Kischel, a local videographer and president of the digital production company JustPixl, completes the film aspect of the endeavour. Together, and with the contributions of dozens of local musicians, they’ve created a unique and innovative project with a high quality output—it’s hard to believe it is so small-scale.
Starting in 2004, Gallery Recording Studios has been producing records and music videos for all kinds of local artists. Shot in the Dark, its most unique and extensive project yet, began with a simple yet hopeful idea by Watson and Kischel. It materialized last year and quickly grew to become an all-consuming and wildly successful series for them both.
Introduced only a few years ago, the pair’s mutual interest in the arts became a central factor of their future business relationship. Watson had previous experience with a similar project called Crowded Room, a live concert video shot for The Split.
“People just loved it,” he said. “It got a lot of traction from the band.” Due to lack of sponsors, however, the project didn’t continue. “It fizzled out but I kept the idea going.”
Watson’s creative idea resurfaced once he met Kischel, whose experience in multidisciplinary video brought the project’s visual aspirations to life.
“Over the years we chatted about this idea of having a live music series,” said Kischel. “The fall of last year, we were fed up with just talking and decided to just do it and try it out. The first one was a leap of faith.”
“Fortunately,” said Watson, “it took off.”
Through the producer’s knowledge of Ottawa’s music network, bands quickly jumped on board for the experiment, and before too long the first session was filmed.
“Before the first session was even released, the second was already shot,” Kischel said.
Since then each session has attracted more artists and a wider audience.
The series’ success can, in part, be attributed to ground-level connection to the local music market. The videos provide accessible and high quality content for up and coming bands in need of a digital repertoire.
“It’s really filling a niche in town,” Kischel explained. “To get into bigger festivals, a lot of bands are judged off of their live videos. Bands need a higher quality piece other than just a cellphone in a crowd. This fills that middle ground. As the artists grow, we hope they trust us to come back for recording and music videos when they have bigger budgets.”
The videos follow a specific style, using clever lighting, foggy haze, and a subdued set to focus on the artists of the moment. All other musicians from the session also appear in the background of each video as audience members.
“We want a band to jam together like they’re practicing with all the artists from a session around them, listening and part of their crowd,” Kischel said. “It builds off the community of the Ottawa music scene.”
The simplistic, intimate aesthetic of the videos produce content that is both familiar but high-quality, creating a versatile style that can be applied to any type of music. The series boasts an impressive variety of musical genres, including but not limited to the work of folk, rock, soul, and hip-hop artists. They have aspirations to expand even further.
“It’s a bit of everything,” Kischel said, and that’s the goal. “Introducing people to what is in Ottawa . . . We want to become a hub.”
The pair hopes to work with classical musicians in the future, as well as hip-hop and spoken word artists.
“We’re tying to cater to anyone who’s making art in the city,” said Watson, who hopes the project can be a local resource for both artists and music lovers in Ottawa.
Not only do the sessions provide varied content for viewers, but its collaborative, community-based nature has brought together members of the local music scene in a supportive and innovative environment.
“After the first video we realized this isn’t just a shoot, it’s a networking event,” Watson said. “A bunch of these guys connected, set up gigs together, went to each other’s gigs . . . which was a really cool side effect.”
The project is mainly artist-funded, but has attracted the resources of Irene’s Pub and Collective Arts Brewery, who provide their local food and beer to production days.
“We’re trying to build the community around it,” Kischel said. “Moving forward, we’re hoping to get more sponsors on board. Just kind of building as we go and with the artists.”
As for the future, Shot in the Dark is set for a more expansive and larger scale production. Session five will be the last shot at the Gallery location, with a realization that the project has “outgrown” its current space. Watson said they’re looking for a bigger venue for the sixth session. The pair also hopes to partner with more local companies to help fund the project.
With the Shot in the Dark sessions being only over a year old, it’s clear the project has an optimistic future. Watson said the pair was “caught off guard” from musicians’ interest in the project, and is still adjusting to the growing number of musicians and production assistants involved.
The project has already outdone the pair’s expectation of their hopeful idea, but the future of the series looks positive. More than anything, the series proves the versatility and camaraderie of the Ottawa music community,connecting people to produce so mething incomparably creative. •