Published on 27 August 2020

Aarron Symonds.JPG

Aarron Symonds is one half of A2Z Live Entertainment; a live music performance business he started with friend Zach Russell over a decade ago.

“When we first started playing music together, he was Zach and I am Aarron, so we thought it would be fun if we said we were A2Z and that that offer anything music. So that's where A2Z came from.

“When we were doing live gigs, the venue sometimes provided a PA system with stage panels and I thought we could probably be supplying this as part of our services. So I expanded my business and got some production gear such as lighting and PA systems, to be able to offer that service to clients when I'm offering the live performances as well,” Aarron said.

Cue COVID, exit live music

Following a successful year in business, COVID meant Aarron had to pivot his business.

As the live music scene and events started going quiet, he saw this as an opportunity to amp things up by diversifying his service and equipment offering. 

“I had some sound gear and stuff already, so it was the camera production side of the business that I had to expand into, buying a few cameras and bits of gear,” Aaron recalls.

There are now three legs to Aarron’s business. The first is A2Z Entertainment which includes live music and entertainment, and then there is equipment and marquee hire for events, and finally we have video production as well.

Lights, cameras, action

What are the elements, such as hardware, software, lighting, and sound required to make great video?

Aarron has an A and B camera in his studio, to allow filming at different angles, with a monitor to see social media comments and the feed, running from a computer via OBS (Open Broadcast Studios).

The sound is run through a Soundcraft Ui24 mixer, using two SM7Bs which are standard broadcasting microphones, popular for podcast production.

Anyone who has experience recording video will know when replayed and listening back to it, the sound contains echoes, known in the business as early reflections.

Aarron has tried to eliminate these early reflections in the studio using soft furnishings.

“If I clap, the sound just dies off straight away. That is sort of what you want in terms of sound in your studio,” Aarron advises. 

He says the easiest way to achieve that is with furniture.

“Big furniture helps absorb the sound, so couches, floor rugs, curtains and we've got is a ceiling cloud which is insulation I've wrapped in movers' blankets that has been framed it and stuck it to the ceiling to help with the sound quality,” he explains.

When it comes to the microphone, Aarron admits the model he uses could be overkill, even for someone considering podcasts and doing a lot of broadcasting work.

“While the SM7Bs are top quality for audio and are super, super flat, you can get away with the old Shure SM58 which is basically a vocal microphone that still sounds great as well.

“If you're getting a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, you usually get a RØDE mic or something that sits on top to give that next level clarity to your audio,” Aarron recommends.

Lighting is a critical element for video, and Aarron has three functional lights as well as some more for aesthetic purposes to warm up the frame of his videos.

The main lights in the studio are a key light, which is positioned in front of the subject matter being filmed.

Aarron explains it creates some contrast and textures from the camera viewing angle.

“A typical studio setup will have a three-way lighting set up.

“Then another one of the main lights would backlight the subject, so they can be distinguished from the background.

“And then you have a big strong light that's sort of on an angle, usually 90 degrees up and 90 degrees to the side and finally you have a fill light, which is just filling in any shadows that your key light's creating,” Aarron demonstrates.

In the home office context, Aarron explains simple hacks can make a big difference to the quality of the video.

 “If you've only got a smartphone try sitting by a window and have it shoot light from one side. Maybe even put a lamp behind you or something like that, just experiment with it.

“You can really get some good results with things around the house to achieve those three points of light,” he encourages.

Wired For Sound

Aarron uses Open Broadcast Studios (OBS) software to splice, stitch and edit scenes easily and cost-effectively.

“You want to have good high-quality images, videos, animations and logos. You can place them wherever you want, to create the visual elements you want to see on a laptop or a computer,” Aarron explains.

Aarron uses a GH5S camera for the main shot, which is typically your best lens and your best camera to capture a really sharp, wide image. A second B camera captures the side angle for perspective.

If using a smartphone, Aarron suggests setting up two devices in a similar style on tripods, and link back to the OBS software which can be purchased as a one-off payment of approx. $20. This allows you to connect your phone and to also use it as a webcam.

The Elgato Stream Deck remote control system allows Aarron to manage the different camera angles with the touch of a button.

If you do have a DSLR, Aarron advises a capture card is required.

“Most people are getting the Elgato Cam Link 4K but there are other cheaper options. If you used to do photography and you have got a camera that has a HDMI, it can become a very high-quality camera for your streams,” he says.

Pivoting through the quietude of COVID     

With no events, no live music and nothing to perform at, Aarron knew he had to pivot significantly through COVID for his business to move forward.

“I was a bit sceptical about COVID even really affecting my business. I was in a bit of denial, then I started to have a few cancellations come through and then, nothing…it was just dead.

“I thought it would blow over in a month, max.

“We had a fantastic year prior and the momentum was really building, and I was going to put all this money into our business,” Aarron recounts.

While he now owned all the assets needed for events, without any bookings due to social distancing requirements, Aarron needed to look to other income streams.

“We had all this downtime and because I know a lot of really good performers around Central Queensland, I thought it would be really cool if we did some high quality performances and streamed them via Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms.

I put up a little PayPal link when I was doing these live sessions…in the hope that if I could make a couple hundred bucks a week doing it, it will be something,” Aarron says.

The COVID downtime was also a good opportunity for Aarron to refocus on building meaningful business relationships with different people; saying this was not for any end game, but rather for the love of playing music with different personalities.

“Obviously, we all need to make money at the end of the day, but I think for me, that was important to basically build those relationships. So that was the main goal for doing the whole live sessions,” he says.

From livestreaming, Aarron expanded his business into video production, educating himself in shooting angles, framing, and editing.

Find the gap     

The world is changing, and not just because of COVID. Many of us have found ourselves realising we need to either look at how our skills are transferable to new areas, or how we need to train in different skills so that we can continue to contribute to the workforce moving forward.

Aarron took his skills, the equipment he invested in, and taught himself the skills gap. He then went out and secured work, including producing an awareness video on the Fatal Five for Road Safety Week for Queensland Police.

So where to from here for A2Z Entertainment?

Aarron says while this depends on social gathering restrictions, he will continue to grow the video production arm of the business.

“The live music and that kind of festive feel seems to still be a pretty high priority for people.

“Video is the most requested and I'm getting a few different businesses who are wanting to have some short form videos to post on social media, which can be quite a powerful tool.

“Short form videos are 30 seconds to probably a minute max, would probably be my main focus for the foreseeable future. And then obviously, gigs on the weekends, as well as weddings,” he muses. 

Pop-up opportunity

Aarron has offered to set up a pop-up recording studio at the SmartHub on Tuesday 8 September from 10am offering four people to have a 30 second video made by Aarron for $20.

Aarron says the pop-up studio is also an opportunity to view all the equipment he uses and understand how it can be used to produce content.

“I can also do a little bit of coaching on how to do it yourself because it's quite easy once you've done it a few times, so this could be a good learning experience as well,” he suggests.

Aarron Symonds is one of the founders of Rockhampton-based business A2Z Entertainment, offering live music performance and equipment hire for events as well as video production for business.

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The SmartHub is currently offering free membership now (usually $50 a month or more depending on level of membership). If you would like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, contact us via the following channels:

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