JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
All right. The music video has come a long way since the days when MTV was pretty much the only place to see your favorite artists. Today, of course, we go online for that sort of thing and one website in particular is often credited with helping to reinvent the music video, the French site, Blogotheque, is famous for what it calls takeaway shows. They're original, impromptu videos of musicians from across the U.S. and Europe as they play live in unlikely places.
Christopher Werth sat in on one of Blogotheque's video shoots and he sent us this profile.
CHRISTOPHER WERTH, BYLINE: We're on a busy, dimly lit street in Paris and the sun has just set over the city when a group of musicians spills out of a corner bar tuning their instruments. Cameraman Colin Solal Cardo follows close behind.
COLIN SOLAL CARDO: We were inside the bar and we got kicked out, so now we're in front of the bar in the streets and we're going to perform right in the streets. The night is falling in Paris and cars everywhere and it's total chaos, but I think it's going to be great. OK, guys. Let's be sure that we have no one in the frame that is not a member. Thank you.
WERTH: The band in this takeaway show is the American group, San Fermin, on tour with its debut album. And Solal Cardo says this is a typical Blogotheque shoot. The videos are filmed in one take, there's no overall plan, no lighting crew or fancy setups. The philosophy of the website is to put bands in unusual environments, often without their usual instruments and see what happens.
For example, San Fermin's frontman, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, has been handed a small toy piano in lieu of his full-size keyboard.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ELLIS LUDWIG-LEONE: You know, what's exciting about it is, like, you write these songs, you practice as a band, then you just do the same thing over and over and over again, and for something like this, you're actually going to be called upon as a musician to make adjustments in time. It's refreshing in a way. I haven't had to think this sort of actively and creatively about our live setup since we started touring.
CHRISTOPHE ABRIC: The purpose is to get them out the comfort zone, to tell them, OK, you've done a record, you've got a way of playing your music live, but why don't we try and find a way to be the most sincere we can be.
WERTH: That's Christophe Abric, a one-time music journalist who started Blogotheque a decade ago and began filming bands in 2006. All of the videos are archived online and include big name groups such as REM and Wilco. Abric says one enduring draw of the takeaway shows is not just watching musicians play live, but watching them play live in Paris.
ABRIC: There is something amazing in the strength of Paris. The thing behind the takeaway shows is connect the music and the city and see what happens when you mix them. We want the city to be there in the sound. If you have kids shouting, if you have birds all around, it's part of the whole environment and you have to have that.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, WOMAN SINGING AND HORN BLOWING)
WERTH: At the San Fermin shoot in Paris, someone passing by starts to sing, a car horn blares. The question is, how do you actually record music in the middle of all this noise?
ABRIC: What I'm going to do, I'm going to wire it here, so when you play the violin I can get the violin, and when you sing I can get you singing.
WERTH: To capture every note and voice, Blogotheque sound engineer, Francois Clos, fits small, wireless mics on to every band member, each recorded on a separate track and mixed afterwards. Clos says although video is a visual medium, sound quality is the most important element here. And since I'm a radio guy, I should say he's totally right about that.
FRANCOIS CLOS: The challenge is always to know how many mics you need, where you put the mike to preserve a song with sound quite real but which is post produced and not real at all, you know. But outside anything can happen, so you shouldn't record musicians if you don't think about how to record them. They're here to show that they can play music and if there's a crappy sound it's going to be like, omffff.
WERTH: Instead, each musician in the finished San Fermin video can be heard loud and clear, even as lead singer Rae Cassidy walks through traffic and sings and the camera twists and turns around the band.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RAE CASSIDY: (Singing) (Unintelligible) like they're only (unintelligible) here to pick me up (unintelligible).
WERTH: Today, you can see San Fermin on a number of websites and there are scores more offering impromptu sessions with bands. And that's created a problem, says Blogotheque's founder, Christophe Abric. He says musicians now show up knowing exactly what to expect.
ABRIC: The landscape totally, completely changed since we began the takeaway shows. When we started, everything we were doing was experimental and new. And now we're in a completely different world where anybody can do a beautiful video and suddenly, when we're filming a band, we were the sixth person of the day filming that band and so you're, like, oh my God, we're not something new.
And with Blogotheque now, we're one of the requirements in a promo tour of a band. That's not what we wanted to be. We made the takeaway shows to break the routine and one day we became the routine. So all we do, we break the routine we created.
WERTH: Last year Abric's team made a video of the French rock band Phoenix outside of the Palace of Versailles, filmed with a flying drone. And Blogotheque is venturing outside Paris, filming performers everywhere from the North African Desert to the muddy banks of the Ohio River, and back here to San Fermin playing a Chinese Restaurant in Paris.
Look around, you just might see a band walking down your street and a camera following close behind. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Werth.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LYDEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.