MANCHESTER, NH — It was only a few weeks ago when I first began talking with Events United about their sister company, Studio Lab, and the potential to write a story about their community space in New Hampshire.
But this was before the virus had landed and before the restaurants turned to take-out only, the toilet paper shortages had become real, and before we were all standing six feet apart. By the time I was able to finally (virtually) chat with Ben Davis, who is the director of Studio Lab, his entire industry and our entire country had been shaken like a snow globe.
At first, as large gatherings were discouraged and musicians and clients began canceling their upcoming shows with Events United, there was a sense of somber heaviness, the uneasy feeling of bracing for the unknown. But, as Ben gave me a tour of Studio Lab’s incredible space in Derry, he told me that by the next morning, that feeling had been replaced with an enthusiastic drive to make it work – to pivot.
Just as my husband who works as a therapist now sees clients virtually on the couch in our basement, and teachers around the country are virtually monitoring their students and fielding a constant stream of questions and anxieties from newly minted homeschooling parents – businesses like Studio Lab and Events United are pivoting. Hard.
Just a few days after the depressing reality of cancelled shows happened, Studio Labs & Events United hosted one of the largest live streaming events in the history of the industry. On St. Patrick’s Day, the Drop Kick Murphy’s performed their annual free concert from Studio Lab in a streaming event that brought in approximately 10 million viewers and united a country for a moment of community and happy distraction in a week of palpable anxiety and uncertainty.
The event was history in the making, bringing an interactive concert experience to a population at a very tenuous moment. Sure, it was a perfect storm of a captive audience, St. Patrick’s Day, and a big name band needing a way to continue their free concert tradition, but in the end, as the viewers piled up and the comment thread was nothing but positive, it became pretty clear that Studio Labs was a part of something special.
“We could be seeing the beginning of a whole new normal for the industry,” said Ben.
Though Ben and his team don’t anticipate quite that perfect storm to happen again, it does give them an idea of what is possible and it’s encouraging.
Studio Lab is not only a venue for live streaming concerts, it can be a functional space for streaming or recording keynote addresses, conferences, and corporate events. Many churches have turned to their unique space for filming services for their congregations in this time of social distancing.
While virtually maneuvering through the sleekly designed conference room and the organic, calm atmosphere in their open coworking space, a place where creative professionals can collaborate, Ben gave me some of the history of Studio Lab, how the former NH 1 building was purchased by Events United with the intent to be a creative hub for New Hampshire, something seriously lacking in the state. Tim Messina, owner of Events United, is passionate about the potential that exists when a variety of creative people can collaborate in the same space.
On the wall in their community area, Ben highlights the large flat screen TV that is rolling clips of their members’ projects. In the same room, there is an Xbox console, and nearby, a subway tile-lined coffee and snack area, all of which highlights the intended nature of the lab, community.
Creatives and community members can choose what level they would like, whether that would be the rights to one of their hot desks or an actual office space, studio space and gear rental, conference room rentals, and more.
As the tour continues, Ben shows me the studio where the Dropkick Murphy’s played and where many other bands, church services, and events are recorded or livestreamed. It has the feel of peeking inside NASA, with the line of consoles and monitors, lighting up and blinking. The studio has an LED wall on the backstage, a 30-by-30-foot green screen and a 40-by-40 white infinity wall. The options are wide and varied for what they can produce, ranging from commercials to concerts.
Beyond the studios, the entire building is beautifully and meticulously designed and decorated to encourage a relaxed, organic community experience, from the dressing room with its couch and two bathrooms, large bulb-lit mirrors at two vanities, right down to even the stunning public bathroom with hardwood and beautiful fixtures. Other spaces include a high-end podcast studio, a recording studio, two small isolation booths, a state-of-the-art pre-visualization room where color correction and previews of how the studio performances will look.
At the moment, much of what they are doing will require adhering to the guidelines put out by the government in this state of emergency, but they are open to helping out anyone who suddenly finds themselves without a means to do their job – be that preach a sermon, host a conference, or lead any type of group remotely.
When our virtual interview and tour was over, I sat and looked over the notes I’d taken. Beside the word document on my laptop were open tabs from news sources: the surge of blips and status updates about the coronavirus, the latest instructions for our state and communities, the social distancing guidelines.
The stark difference between the positive and negative on my screen was glaring and it struck me how upbeat and encouraged Ben had been throughout our conversation.
Even in a time when the world feels like a snow globe and we’re all still adjusting, he was excited to share what they can offer. It could be that he was still riding the high of the successful Dropkick Murphy’s concert and the subsequent media boost, but hearing the enthusiasm in this project, in the space that Studio Lab has created, I think otherwise. I think it speaks to the power of creative collaboration and in its ability to build a strong community, one that can pivot, together.