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VOL. 126 | NO. 19 | Friday, January 28, 2011

Spreading the Gospel

Live From Memphis celebrates decade of promoting local music

By Aisling Maki

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Live From Memphis celebrates 10 years of promoting, supporting and showcasing Memphis music, film, art and culture with a Friday open house and free party at its studio at 1 S. Main St.

Live from Memphis is celebrating its 10th anniversary. From left are Edward Valibus, Sarah Fleming, Brad Phelan, Chris McCoy and Christopher Reyes. (Photos: Lance Murphey)

What began a decade ago as a grassroots project involving co-founders Christopher Reyes and Sam Lee capturing live recordings of local musicians at different venues across town has grown into a respected multimedia business that produces a website, broadcast programming, documentaries, several web series and live events – all centered on Memphis artists.

LFM has collaborated with everyone from ArtsMemphis and the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau to MTV’s new media department.

With Reyes still at the helm, LFM now employs four additional staff members: creative director Sarah Fleming; video producer and graphic animator Brad Phelan; writer, filmmaker, producer and editor Edward Valibus Phillips; and writer Chris Scott McCoy.

“Most of us have professional backgrounds in video production, graphic design and multimedia. Those are the main tools that we use,” said Fleming, who holds an M.A. in communications from the University of Memphis.

When she first joined the team about six years ago, around the same time the business incorporated, LFM was primarily an online music resource and promotional tool for artists.

“It grew from there,” Fleming said. “There were surveys with the local music community asking them what they needed in terms of support. A lot of them needed artists and filmmakers to get videos made and to help with graphic design for posters and CD covers. We started building this database that was originally geared toward musicians, but it naturally developed into this network of music, film and art.”

LFM now boasts the largest Internet archive of Memphis music, film and art.

Zac Ives, co-founder of Memphis-based Goner Records, said the city is “unbelievably lucky to have people like Christopher and Sarah. Their role has been vital for a long time, much longer than they’ve gotten credit for,” he said.

“Honestly, they were supporting this community when there wasn’t any funding coming from anywhere. They were doing it all themselves. So it’s nice to see that over the last couple of years they’ve actually gotten some funding to help do the things they’ve been doing for a long time just purely out of love for their community and love for what they do.”

Despite staying busy, it largely remained a labor of love.

“Christopher and I referred to Live From Memphis as our full-time hobby because we were a very small business and we weren’t doing that great,” Fleming said.

But the tide began to turn when ArtsMemphis, in the midst of its own rebranding campaign, approached LFM to partner in an effort to engage a younger audience through interactive media, and ArtsMemphis TV was born.

From left are Chris McCoy, Edward Valibus, Christopher Reyes, Sarah Fleming and Brad Phelan.

Produced, directed and edited by LFM, the webisodes showcased local artists of every genre, from opera to ballet to hip hop and spoken-word poetry.

“That was a turning point for us,” Fleming said. “ArtsMemphis was just amazing in terms of stepping up to the plate and having an open mindedness to see that sort of vision.”

Opportunity came knocking again in the form of the Memphis Convention and Visitor Bureau, which asked LFM to partner for a Web series called Flipside Memphis.

The series of short documentaries showcasing the city’s vibrant cultural community was created as an accompaniment to filmmaker Craig Brewer’s $5 cover, a fictional MTV Web series chronicling the lives of Memphis musicians, portrayed by a cast of actual Memphis musicians.

LFM has also teamed with the Center City Commission on a number of projects, including its Get Down! video series, Downtown Alley Jams series, and a projection art series.

“I see Live From Memphis as a connector to a segment of creative people that I wouldn’t normally think about going to or wouldn’t know how to get in touch with,” said Leslie Gower, vice president of marketing and communication for the CCC. “They have such good relationships with both the corporate side and the creative side that they’re immediately the first people who come to mind when we’re considering how to get out of the box with an idea. They take projects to the next level, infuse them with the creativity that comes from all of the different forms of art and expression in Memphis, and carry them into a corporate environment like ours to sort of elevate some of our programs.”

Gower said that what makes the LFM team unique is its capacity to marry creativity with strong business acumen.

“They have a real business sense about them, and they look at the programs they do for us very strategically,” she said. “It’s not just about making an event cool, but let’s make it appeal to this audience that we’re trying to reach out to.”

Fleming said working with the larger, more established organizations has provided LFM with “a lot of validity and it’s allowed us to show the rest of the world what a cool place Memphis is, and that’s what we’ve always wanted to do.”

LFM celebrates its 10th anniversary Friday evening at 7 with a free open house and party at its studio at 1 S. Main St.

The celebration will include an awards ceremony; the WTF Memphis (Working Together For Memphis) Awards, which will honor organizations, businesses and individuals who’ve demonstrated strong support for the Memphis cultural community.

The event will also feature free food and drinks, a photo booth, a raffle that includes a custom-made 10th anniversary LFM skateboard, and live music provided by local DJs.

“We’ll start crunkin’ it up after 10,” said Fleming.

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