By BROOKE WANSER
LabeLive, a Franklin-based production company, is upping the ante for the music production industry with their familial vibe and one-stop-shop mentality.
The company, which is providing services for this weekend’s Pilgrimage Cultural Festival, was started by Shaun Bennett and Josh Berry in 2013; they lured John Boyd away from his native New Zealand to be the company’s president and creative director.
Boyd, who resembles a calm version of Russell Crowe, was an artist who toured before taking the job with LabeLive. “As my kids started getting older, I just didn’t want to be on the road as much,” he said.
The company’s reputation is built upon word of mouth.
“We don’t build our business on the back of our artists’ names,” Boyd said.
LabeLive doesn’t have names of any of their clients on their website, but Boyd did say the company works with female pop artist Britt Nicole and hip-hop artist Lecrae.
LabeLive is the production company behind last week’s Van Morrison concert in Nashville, and is also providing all the video screens to Pilgrimage Festival for this weekend’s concert.
But the company, as Christian artist and longtime client Matthew West noted, is “more than lights and sound.”
Co-founder Shaun Bennett was an entrepreneur who started selling coupon books at age 15. He ended up in the music industry, playing guitar, keyboard, and providing back-up vocals as a touring artist with different bands. “I was always a musician and loved music. Everybody always said, you can never make a living being a musician.”
Bennett said he proved them wrong.
After ten years of touring with numerous bands, Bennett decided that, like Boyd, he wanted to come off the road and get into the entertainment industry. “Through touring on the road, I always gravitated to the production, the lights and the sound,” he said.
Bennett knew he had the connections to run a production company, if he could just get the equipment. “I talked to my good friend who was touring with me, I said, ‘Let’s go empty our bank accounts and go buy speakers and lights.’ And he said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
Bennett started his production company in 2012, and soon got in contact with Berry. “I talked to Josh on the phone for like an hour and a half, and we hit it off and became really good friends.” Bennett said Berry had his own company he’d begun in 2009 that was “sales-driven” and cemented by his connections with artists.
After several months of doing business together, Bennett said he joked, “Hey, we should all come off the road, merge companies, and do something interesting and new.” Berry agreed, and LabeLive was born in 2013.
“The goal is to not be like every other production company, but be focused around relationships and a ticket-buyer’s experience,” Bennett said. “When you label something, you brand it. We brand live events.”
Boyd said he came on board in 2014 when there were only 5 people working with the company. “Everyone in this company that was a part of starting it has been in the music industry for a long time,” Boyd said.
Boyd’s creative input became apparent immediately. “I heard Josh talking to an artist (Matthew West) and I was like, ‘what if you do this with the production?’ And that kind of just began this whole thing of bringing creative input and show direction into the tours.”
That direction falls largely into helping artists work on their tour performances, something Boyd said is often overlooked.
“With the decline of record sales and record companies, most artists would make 90 percent of their income from touring. We started realizing an artist would spend three to four months writing an album. Then they would spend a month or so recording the album. And they when it comes time to tour they would spend three days in rehearsal.”
Boyd’s solution was to give artists the proportional direction and space to fine-tune their music before touring.
West said he thinks he was LabeLive’s first official client; Berry was West’s tour manager and “right-hand man,” according to the award-winning artist.
“He’s always had a passion for the quality of the live show and the quality of production,” West said of Berry. “When it comes to the live touring side of my business … one of the reasons I love working with them, it’s sort of this holistic approach to diving in and working with the artist to create the best live experience overall.”
West said that includes song selection, creating special moments within the show, and stage layout. “I lean on guys like John Boyd to say, ‘Hey, what about this?’”
What sets LabeLive apart from the competition can be seen inside their studio, located inside an unassuming strip mall.
“There are lots of companies around town that have, you see our warehouse out back, all that equipment. They don’t have these kind of spaces,” Boyd said, referring to the uniquely designed rooms for artists to meet and record music.
One such space is a tiny tropical themed room, complete with a tiki bar. Rooms are themed around music; one has simple wall rendition of a Fender amp and a deconstructed piano Boyd said he made himself. A meeting room has an espresso machine and beer and cold brew coffee on tap. The property even has a rehearsal space, which West and his team exit from after his rehearsal before heading out on tour.
This is another aspect unique to LabeLive, which recently expanded into another part of the building. In addition to serving as a rehearsal space, Boyd said the room has been used to shoot music videos.
West said all the elements that LabeLive offers have made him stick with the company for the past four years.
“I’m sure there’s other production companies that help speak into the creative side. But a lot of it does come down to the personnel,” he said.
“They’ve got some unique people that see things from a different perspective, from a creative perspective.”