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Spotlight with musician and concert series director Carson Becke

Spencer Hewson, April 1, 2021

Do you miss going to concerts? Immersing yourself in the musical experience? Well, you’ll love this week’s Spotlight feature. Carson Becke is a classically trained musician growing his business and using Pagecloud to bring the concert to you.

Our past Spotlight features have highlighted designers and branding specialists, creators that are experienced with Pagecloud. This week we interviewed a different type of artist. Carson Becke is the co-director of the Pontiac Enchanté concert series. Carson has a PhD in Musicology and has performed around the world. We were lucky enough to sit down with him and learn about the concert series, how it is adapting during the pandemic and how Pagecloud is helping it thrive.

Carson, thank you for joining us. Could you start with giving us your background and tell us about yourself?

I'm a classical musician, primarily a classical pianist, but I've got quite a few different strings to my bow, I guess, is the expression! I run my own concert series and operate as a freelance musician. Running the concert series and working with various combinations of musicians are my two primary branches of work.

What’s the name of the concert series?

The concert series is called Pontiac Enchanté. We run it out of the Venturing Hills concert studio, which is located on Venturing Hills Farm in Quebec. 

What makes that location so special?

It's a special place for me personally, because it is actually my parents’ farm. It's not quite where I grew up, but it is where my parents have lived for the past 12 years. I can't think of a more beautiful place on the planet, the farm is located on this really beautiful corner up against the escarpment, which is the very edge of the Gatineau Park. When you look away from the farmhouse, you see flat farm fields as if you were in the middle of Southern Ontario. Then you turn around and there are these gigantic cliffs, with these really dramatic peaks. There are some really rare Eastern red cedar forests behind the farm, one of the only forests like that in Quebec. It's just a magical setting.

That sounds beautiful. How long have you been running the concert series from this special spot?

We started doing concerts in a very informal sense in 2009. When we moved to the farm, it was still just a horse farm. My sister Ray runs the equestrian business, which happens in the stables on the bottom half of the barn. When we moved there, there was this gigantic space on the top half of the barn that was previously used as a hayloft. One of the first things that we learned about farming when we arrived was that the worst thing you can do is store your hay in the same barn as your horses because hay is highly combustible. The last thing you want is a massive barn fire that kills animals and destroys your buildings. We quickly moved all the hay out of the upper hay lofts into a separate building, then we were left with this gigantic open space with kind of nothing to do with it. My dad, my uncle, and guests finished the space off and just kind of made it into a multipurpose room with no real plan, just a space that could be used for large family gatherings or whatever.

We had a piano up there, I think my parents put the piano there so that I wouldn't annoy them in the house anymore! Then we thought, ‘Okay, well, why don't we just like, have a little concert and have some people over?’ That first informal concert was a big success, so we decided to try something a little bit more formal. We had a summer festival in 2009, which in hindsight, was total chaos, because none of us knew what we were doing at all.

From that summer on we started to learn little by little. From 2009 until around 2017, it was a loosely run series. We would organize concert by concert and there wasn't any long term planning to it. Then in 2017, my brother Tate, and I decided that we would like to take it to the next level. We formalized it, and turned it into a year round series. We were running between 10 and 12 concerts per year.

"This new model working is all thanks to what we do on Pagecloud, we couldn't actually have done any of this without the flexibility of the Pagecloud platform."

You touched on it right there, so I have to ask, how has this global pandemic affected the concert series?

Hugely, although I'm happy to say not entirely negatively. Initially, it was scary because all kinds of public events were being cancelled. I remember getting a phone call in March, from somebody who was booked to come from Iceland, to perform for us in April, saying, ‘I'm not going to be able to come’ and I was like, ‘wow, but April is a long way away.’ Little did I know that it was going to be at least a year or longer before we could do anything like we had been doing. We were kind of in free-fall. We thought, ‘alright, well, let's just kind of wait this out and see what happens’. Then it became clear in the summertime that this pandemic was not a short term thing, it was going to last for a while. I was looking at two options: we're either just going to close up shop and hope to open at some point in the future, or, let's figure this out, and let's be creative and see what we can do to kind of keep business going.

I truly believe that what we do is special, it's unique in the region, it's just too special to not keep it going. We decided that we would come up with two plans last summer, one of which was the best case scenario plan, in which we might be able to bring audiences back to the farm in September, which we actually were able to do for one concert in September 2020. The second plan we built was a hybrid model, which was not fully reliant on people being there physically. We started purchasing equipment, and gathering knowledge for how to do live stream concerts. Basically, the plan was that we would broadcast our concerts. In the best case scenario of this hybrid plan, we would have people watching in person and watching remotely. In the worst case scenario, we would only have people watching remotely. It turned out that that was the way we had to go. 

While we were unsure of this new model, it's been great! We’ve had incredible viewership for every concert since September, we've had upwards of 100 different screens watching at any given point. Our audience has broadened, it used to be restricted because we're in a geographical place, our audience was mainly coming from Ottawa, or from neighbouring towns, we've now got audiences watching in Great Britain, in Germany and all across Canada. Depending on where the artists are from to, people will tune in from different places. We really made our reach global. 

We're not charging ticket admission, we're not charging at all, actually. We've given a donation option to our viewers, and people tend to donate more than they would actually pay for the price of a ticket, so financially, this model has worked. It's proved to be a sustainable model. This new model working is all thanks to what we do on Pagecloud, we couldn't actually have done any of this without the flexibility of the Pagecloud platform. I built something on our site, at the end of last summer that I called the virtual concert hall. I stole the idea from the Berlin Philharmonic in Germany, which has actually been doing this kind of thing for years, they were way ahead of the rest of the industry. I thought it was a good idea to have a customized platform where people could go so that their virtual experience was somewhat related to the experience that they would have had if they had been there in person. We built this Pagecloud page, which allows us to put a YouTube viewer on the page. So although we use YouTube to broadcast the concert, all of our viewers watch on our Pagecloud site. The YouTube embed is surrounded by a background that is the actual concert space, so it gives people a sense of being in the concert hall. This is really important to us, our location is crucial to the experience we offer so having a virtual concert hall is the best solution when you can’t be there in person.

Can you talk a little bit about the process of designing on Pagecloud as you were transitioning to this new online model?

Using Pagecloud was really easy. I didn't have to go through much problem solving. I felt like I didn't have to work against the tool, I didn't have to try and find ways around any non-functionality, I just used the platform and was able to build the site exactly as I wanted it. There has not been a single tech problem. There's a lot of things that can go wrong with a live stream concert, and the last thing you need is for the actual webpage to not function, but that has never been a concern for us. Then for the donation platform that was a third party integration. Through a Pagecloud help article I read about donor-box as a useful donation platform. So I created an account, and then just plugged in the embed code right into the site. And it's worked flawlessly ever since. 

That's always our goal, to have the technology get out of the way and let you build exactly what you want.Do you know what's coming up next for you? What's coming up in the concert series?

Actually, we do. Thanks to another embed I’ve easily added to the site, I've been conducting a survey. We know this live stream model works, and it works so well that I don't want to abandon it post pandemic. I don't see this as a short term solution. I've also been really reticent to do anything that was just a short term solution, because if I'm going to invest time, energy, money and effort, I want to do it for something that is going to last and will add to the value of the business going forwards, not just to get us through the pandemic. From the survey data, I've gathered that people really enjoy the live stream. Especially seeing as our location is out of the city, and we're not unlike many classical concert series, a lot of our audience is older because classical music generally seems to appeal to that demographic. For some of them, they don't really like the idea of driving into the middle of the Pontiac, which is, half an hour from Ottawa, in the middle of a snowstorm in the winter. They see the streamed concert as a really good alternative, especially if the platform is smooth and easy, which we think it is thanks to Pagecloud. I definitely see us continuing to stream our concerts as part of the business. 

"Our Pagecloud site has been a game changer for our business."

You also are planning on building a new personal website, right?

Yeah, I'm in the process of that right now.

And what are the plans?

First of all, it is industry standard that you have a website if you're a self employed musician for a long time. I've had a website for years that served its purpose. But, I wasn't happy about the fact that I always had to contact my website builder if I wanted to make any changes to it. That included small details like if he made a spelling mistake or something, I had to write to him and ask him to fix one word and then wait two weeks before it gets fixed. That just wasn't working for me anymore. It's a fast business, especially now, opportunities come up and I want to be able to put something on my website, if I'm doing something in two weeks, I need to be able to advertise it today, not in a week's time, because time is essential. I decided that I wanted to have full control over my own web presence, hence why I asked that site to be taken down, and why I wanted to build my own site on Pagecloud. One of the most important aspects of the site that I'm building is a virtual or an online store, so that I can sell music that I've written in the form of PDF sheet music, sheet, I can also sell CDs, I want to be able to monetize my website. I've been using Gumroad. I found Gumroad to be a really useful platform for Ecommerce. It's also great that it's really easy to integrate into the Pagecloud platform. 

Is there anything that I didn't bring up or didn't ask about today that you would like to mention, in the blog post?

I don't have many platforms for comparison in terms of how Pagecloud compares to other website builders, but speaking to lots of colleagues who have websites on Wix or on Squarespace, I've noticed it's very easy to manage SEO with Pagecloud. I found that side of things to be pretty straightforward. I’ve heard colleagues complain about struggling with the platforms they use and I haven't felt that at all with Pagecloud. The platform seems to really take care of a lot of the background issues and lets the user focus on the design. I just can't overemphasize how user friendly the platform is. 

I also love the fact that it's a locally based company for us. One of the main things for Pontiac, going forwards, is going to be environmentalism. Basically making the angle of the series, ‘How can the classical music industry be a greener industry? What can we do to contribute to the global effort to protect the planet?’ The classical music industry hasn't really addressed that yet, And to me, that's a major issue. One of the key components there for me is, is working with what you have locally, rather than trying to go around the world to find something that you could easily find in your own neighbourhood. And so I really like the fact that Pagecloud is based here in Ottawa. It helps that you guys have such a great platform too!

Check out the Pontiac Enchanté Concert Series 

It was clear speaking with Carson how passionate he is about Pontiac Enchanté. He, like so many other small businesses during this pandemic, had to make difficult decisions to keep their passion and business alive. By taking advantage of the user friendly features Pagecloud offers Pontiac Enchanté has expanded its reach around the world and is continuing to host concerts.

The next concert stream will be April 25th. We may not be able to experience concerts in person, but thanks in part to Pagecloud, Pontiac Enchanté allows you to immerse yourself in the classical music experience.

What do you want to learn from our future spotlight features? Do you have a suggestion on who we should feature next? Send us your questions on Twitter, Instagram or reply in the comments! If you enjoyed this interview check out last week's Spotlight feature here

Written by

Spencer Hewson

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