By Tammy Scileppi
A group of music lovers took part in a mind-blowing listening experience that happened right here in Queens.
Microsessions, a revolutionary live music format first launched in Austin, Texas, branded the “Live Music Capital of The World,” debuted in New York City July 29 at Spaceworks. Its first showcase jump-started a quarterly residency at the popular LIC nonprofit, which provides affordable rehearsal and studio space for artists.
The audience heard a series of mini house concerts – four acts took place in four rooms in just under two hours – for the price of a movie ticket.
You and your friends will soon have an opportunity to find out what Microsessions is all about. The next Spaceworks showcase – a Halloween edition – is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 28. It’s a great way to meet new people — and everybody gets free beer. It even makes for a unique first-date experience.
Here’s how it works: Each act plays four 15-minute sets, or Microsessions, in a row — simultaneously. At the end of each act, audiences in each roomy listening unit (set up with chairs) move en masse to the next unit until everyone’s heard all four acts. Afterwards, you can enjoy a 20- to 30-minute set of your own choosing.
Think house concert on steroids.
That’s how Microsessions founder and producer Paul Schomer describes his innovative concept, which has also been called “curated ‘speed dating’ for new music discovery,” and “a sonic tapas bar of your next favorite bands” – because it’s quick and listeners get to experience a variety of genres, from rock to indie to jazz and R&B, while sampling face-melting music up close, offered in bite-size nuggets.
Schomer, a musician himself, said he believes Microsessions is “the purest way to discover new music – not just plugging in your favorite artists into Spotify, but actually sitting in front of a musician who is saying: ‘Here is my art. Do you like it?’”
The former NPR Music producer and SiriusXM music reviewer had been an on again, off again New Yorker for seven years. After moving to Austin in 2010, he hosted his first Microsessions showcase in February 2016, and has been hosting monthly since September.
“From the start, audiences and artists have really loved the format. It’s great for musicians because they get that undivided attention of smaller groups of fans, perfect for working on or introducing new material,” said Schomer, who often tells performers to “treat the audience groups like focus groups, gauge reaction, interact with them.”
Over 60 music fans attended last Friday’s showcase, including several local artists who are Spaceworks members, like solo R&B singer/songwriter Tan Brown, a Queens native, singing the most beautiful, ethereal vocals, as her corner studio darkened with the setting sun. Her final sets were lit only by the LIC street lights, beaming through the tall windows.
“Each audience had a different energy, which was the most interesting part,” she recalled.
Kwame Brandt-Pierce’s solo sounds of eclectic afro-electronica funk, created a moody vibe that everyone in the audience loved –- a perfect sonic follow-up to the previous room, where punk queens Ex-Girlfriends simply tore it up. Meanwhile, Brooklyn modern jazz trio Varmus-Jewell-Garcia provided a classy counterpoint with their no-nonsense jazz sets.
In between sets, everyone mixed, mingled, and drained three kegs of beer.
The buzz was nearly deafening.
Schomer’s Eureka moment happened a few years ago after a house concert in Austin. He said he liked the intimacy of house concerts – “up close and personal, with passionate artists, focused audiences” – but wondered how to get more people in on the experience.
“As I walked out to my car at the end of the night, I thought, ‘That was a nice, big house; what if the artists performed in other rooms? Then more people could listen if you put them in groups.’ By the time I got home, the idea for Microsessions was pretty much done,” he recalled.
This fast and exciting listening experience seems perfect for today’s hectic lifestyle, allowing folks who are overcommitted the chance to wind down with some cool music in a manageable time frame. “It’s great for people who require a sitter for the night – they’re not breaking the bank and I get them home in time for the evening news. But also for those who want to hit another club or event afterward and keep the party going,” Schomer noted.
“And Spaceworks was the perfect venue for Microsessions. Their staff was incredible leading up to, during, and after the event.”
Looking to the future, Schomer said he’s very excited about his plans to begin live streaming to the web – starting in September in Austin and in October in New York City. And, he believes Microsessions may have the potential to change how music will be presented in the future. So, stay tuned.
“A wonderful part of every showcase is when I see people standing with the artists at the end of a set or at the end of the night and engaging with them. And what music lover wouldn’t love that? Magic for the fans,” said Schomer, who insists he never gets tired of hearing people tell him how much fun they’ve had.