Music, mud and memories is what this year’s Nelsonville music festival is all about, but for 27 media students, the festival provided much more than just that.
They got a taste of what it’s like to host a major live music event right in their own backyard. It’s an experience that few college students get the chance to participate in, and one that will allow them to add new skills and build a portfolio to help them achieve their goals.
The Nelsonville Music Festival, or NMF, is an annual three-day music festival featuring acts from the region as well as top headliners and Grammy-nominated acts. This year, the festival is back live in a beautiful new location in Buchtel, Ohio, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID.
Over the past eight years, Ohio State Media Director Josh Antonuccio and the WOUB Public Media team have partnered with NMF and Stewart Opera House to recruit more than 80 students to help work the festival and gain real-world experience producing live music and interviews. . Over the course of three days, students learned how to film each artist’s set, work on stage management, oversee relationships with artists, record performances, and generally learned about the subtleties of creating a live event.
“This partnership with NMF and Stewart Opera House creates an access point that allows students to have a real, tactile experience on site and see the high-pressure environment they may be working in,” explained Antonuccio. “They learn to work with different people and communicate directly with leaders and artists, manage and prepare the stage, research and perform technical direction – everything that is required to create a live music event. This experience provides students with resume-ready experience and learning opportunities as they work with established and up-and-coming artists and are given the opportunity to produce on multiple levels.”
Four stages were created for NMF to showcase various artists throughout the day and evening, with one stage, the Creekside Stage, specifically designed for Ohio students to learn and create their work on this stage.
“This is a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience outside of the classroom,” said Andy Walla, associate professor of studies in the School of Media and one of the faculty who helped work on the NMF. “What better way to get that experience than working at a live music festival. This experience is really unique for students, especially those who are going to work with multiple cameras, because it allows you to see the stress of the job live, and for many students, it’s a sink or swim moment. It’s a safe way to try this type of work in an educational environment and see if they want to pursue it.”
Although Walla has having previously worked with students to produce and direct video productions at NMF, and assisted with the NMF Virtual Festival last year, this was her first time working with a team of students on the Snowfork Sessions. She supervised 16 undergraduate students and one graduate student in a multi-camera production, directing them to the cameras and allowing them to take turns performing technical direction, switching cameras and live editing.
“Just learning how to set up and tear down and how to be prepared for the external obstacles that can come up during a live event is such valuable knowledge for these students,” Walla added. “Learning how to focus and navigate, why you’re shooting things on a multicamera, and how to communicate effectively through a headset are all great skills to have when you go into this industry, so you can give them a variety of things to learn and work on . it’s really good for them.”
However, their work is not finished after the end of the festival. Following the festival, Antonuccio, Walla and their students partnered with WOUB to distribute videos of numerous performances to the general public on WOUB’s platform through Snowfork Sessions, formerly known as Gladden House Sessions. Similar to NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts” and named after the venue where the festival takes place, the Snowfork Sessions are filmed live during the festival and then edited together in post-production to create a performance video. This year’s Snowfork Sessions consists of 14 episodes that will air on WOUB over the coming weeks.
“Participating in the Snowfork Sessions gave me experience in live video production that I didn’t think I could get in college,” said Dana Copeland, a junior media arts major at Columbus. “While some videos are scripted before shooting, other projects are just captured in the moment like live music. Snowfork gave me the opportunity to film performances without a script, which is a skill I hope to use in my future career.”
Since creating the series in 2014, Antonuccio and a team consisting of WOUB staff members Adam Rich and Emily Votau, students in the Scripps College of Communication, and other Ohio State faculty, have produced six seasons of sessions; over 90 episodes have garnered nearly three million views. In 2019, the series was nominated for a regional Emmy.
“Students can apply what they’ve learned to real-world projects, and those projects are then available to use as part of their own portfolio. Every student gets production credit, so if they apply for a job or internship, they already have experience working at a major music festival,” Antonuccio said. “It’s amazing to have that kind of experience when your work has a million views and is distributed across the country. Besides, it’s always nice to see the audience’s reaction and appeal.”
Seth Rhodes, a junior music production and recording major from Ashland, Ohio, found that over the course of three days, he learned new skills that he never thought possible so early in his career.
“Working with sound at the Nelsonville Music Fest was my first real experience with live music, and it taught me a lot of important things about the workflow of it all. I think it was a great first step into the live industry and the music was great as well,” Rhodes said. “I learned a lot from NMF, but I think the most important thing was how to work effectively under pressure. It can be stressful when a new band is forming and spending almost every hour to play your set, but by the end of the weekend, me and my classmates had learned it.”
In order to get the opportunity to work at the NMF, students had to sign up for one of two classes related to working at the festival. The former was overseen by Walla, focusing on multi-camera production and video editing, while the latter focused on audio production, stage management and event planning, as well as the areas of advertising and booking. The second session was made possible by the help of Lindsay Rudibeau, Director of Experiential Learning, and was designed to include an engaged experiential learning component that aligned with the festival schedule to provide an exclusive opportunity to learn both live event production and post-production.
“Experiential learning is most powerful when it takes place in an authentic environment, with real stakeholders in an interdisciplinary setting,” Rudibeau said. “Josh Antonuccio is adept at connecting students from various disciplines with the industry both in our home community of Southeast Ohio and with media giants across the country. Students certainly left the Snowfork Sessions with new skills, an expanded professional network, and great Bobcat stories. My team is excited to play a role in supporting this and many other transformative events in Ohio, especially those that partner with local treasures like the Nelsonville Music Festival.”
Valla added that several alumni who started their careers as NMF students have now gone on to work in the live events industry, some directly touring with bands, and that School of Media faculty hope that students who participated in NMF will one day be able to use their experience in the same way.