“The great thing about my job is that every day is totally different,” says CreativeLive Executive Producer Finn McKenty. “I have a short attention span, so I love having my hand in so many different things.”
In promoting CreativeLive, McKenty spends the average day collaborating with ad designers, booking and scheduling instructors, and, at the moment, building a vocal booth in the office’s studio. A longtime freelance writer and former marketing production coordinator for Abercrombie & Fitch, he’s been with CreativeLive for about a year.
CreativeLive, started in 2010, is an alternative to formal educational experiences. More specifically, it’s a distance learning service focused on do-it-yourself projects related to music, art, photography, and entrepreneurialism.
The company operates through its website, which hosts numerous live-streamed or downloadable courses taught by professionals in their respective fields.
Award-winning photographer Chase Jarvis and tech consultant Craig Swanson built CreativeLive out of an interest in broadcasting photography classes. The two arranged to do so from Jarvis’ own studio. Consequently, they reached an unexpectedly immense audience.
“They ended up getting tens of thousands of people watching,” says McKenty. “It kind of snowballed from there.”
Bolstered by a $23 million funding boost — which includes investments made by venture capital firms also in association with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pandora — the company is now expanding its scope.
At Austin’s South by Southwest — the massive, annual gathering of music and film festivals and conferences — Jarvis conducted more than 20 live interviews with fellow entrepreneurs, artists, and creators. He met with House of Cards Executive Producer Dana Brunetti, Circa CEO and co-founder Matt Galligan, actress Kristin Chenoweth, and Internet sensation Lil Bub and her owner, among others, with each interview having taken place from the backseat of an Uber taxi.
Originally based in Seattle, CreativeLive opened a second office in San Francisco in June, which more than doubled the company’s staff; there are now 85 employees between the two locations.
“As far as I know, we’re holding steady at this head count for the time being,” says McKenty.
CreativeLive now reaches enough users to generate more than one million viewed hours of content every month.
The average course spans two or three days, seven hours per day. And despite the fact that courses are often set during the week and run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., there has been no shortage of interest. The typical viewer tunes in for just over three hours at a time, according to McKenty. Some courses have been particularly popular.
In February, McKenty — who helped launch CreativeLive’s Music and Audio channel — invited Converge guitarist and renowned engineer Kurt Ballou to host a two-day course on recording techniques. CreativeLive teamed up with similar tutorial producers Gear Gods to broadcast the course from Ballou’s own GodCity Studios in Salem, Mass., and Ballou brought more than 10,000 live viewers. Enough to, as McKenty notes, fill a stadium.
McKenty hopes to have Ballou return for a future course.
“He might seem intimidating because he is a giant person and plays in a big band, but he’s a really sweet, almost gentle guy and very, very well-prepared,” says McKenty.
CreativeLive’s courses span a wide array of material related to creative projects. Viewers can learn the basics of using recording technology like ProTools, but they can also explore web design, Photoshop, and tips for growing a business. Currently, courses are categorized among five channels: Photo and Video, Art and Design, Music and Audio, Maker and Craft — which covers everything from scrapbooking to home decorating — and Business and Money. The site has featured more than 500 courses to date.
New York-based producer Jesse Cannon taught two of them.
A frequent speaker on college campuses, Cannon also authored 2013’s Get More Fans: The DIY Guide to the New Music Business, a comprehensive collection of advice drawing from his near-20 years of experience in the industry. The same level of expertise informed the content of his courses on mixing and mastering.
“The music business and recording overlap a lot,” says Cannon. “So much of it is about your attitude towards the creative process, and I am very into the idea that you should be extremely open-minded.”
Cannon stresses the importance of respecting another’s creative vision, attributing his initial involvement in music production to an experience in which a stubborn engineer insisted on adding reverb effects to his old punk band’s snare drum sound.
“You need to adapt every bit of marketing or production around the tastes of the people involved,” says Cannon.
CreativeLive’s courses have been fairly well-received. McKenty encourages viewers to provide feedback through Facebook and Twitter, and, during lectures, instructors like Cannon respond to questions posted on the Internet. Present audience members are able to interact as well.
Viewer Cameron Heck says the ability to communicate with his instructor was his favorite aspect of CreativeLive’s courses. Heck, an amateur engineer for local bands, viewed courses on guitar recording, drum production, and mastering.
“I would describe the CreativeLive experience as being immersive and fairly intense,” says Heck. “I’d say it’s about as hands-on as one can be without spending one-on-one time with an engineer.”
Learning experiences may be mutual. Cannon received many thankful and supportive letters from viewers, but beyond that, preparation for his courses required a great deal of research, which in turn gave him a deeper understanding of his craft.
“I went back and read books on recording that I haven’t read in 18 years,” says Cannon. “It made me think about a lot of things that I hadn’t in years, and subsequently my mixes got better.”
Additional courses are forthcoming, and McKenty is currently in communication with future participants: Dillinger Escape Plan producer Steve Evetts, Periphery drummer Matt Halpern, and producer Eyal Levi of Audiohammer Studios. And that’s from merely one channel.
CreativeLive is an ambitious endeavor run by equally ambitious individuals.
“My goal is to make CreativeLive’s Music and Audio channel the number one place in the world for DIY musicians to learn how to make music,” says McKenty.
McKenty adds that although recording school has its value, CreativeLive’s “real world” teaching is unmatched.
“Our whole thing is bringing in the world’s best to show you exactly how they do what they do,” says McKenty.
By Anthony Glaser