Chevy shines its high beams on local bands and musicians

If you watch late-night TV over the next several weeks, chances are good the sounds of local bands will come into your den, bedroom or wherever you watch the tube.

This week, the Kansas City-area Chevy dealers launched the local version of the Chevy Music Showcase, a series of two-minute documentaries on local bands that also serve as sponsorship commercials for Chevy. The first documentary, featuring the band Maps for Travelers, was scheduled to air twice Wednesday night. It will be rebroadcast tonight and Friday.

R.L. Brooks, who plays guitar and trumpet in Maps for Travelers, said the process was smooth and the results were impressive.

“(We) were pleased with how everything went,” he said. “It was cool to see how well they portrayed the band and the scene.”

All eight documentaries were co-directed by Tommy Smeltzer, a Los-Angeles based director and producer, and Kevin Muir, a veteran music-video director and producer. Smeltzer came to the series through his sister, Dot Rhyne, who started the project in Oklahoma City in 2010.

“There’s an entertainment district in Oklahoma City called Bricktown, and Chevy had a sponsorship in the district,” Smeltzer said. “The idea behind the music showcase was to create this association between Bricktown, Chevy and the local music scene as a way of getting Chevy to reach a market — the local music scene — that wasn’t necessarily responsive to traditional marketing and media.”

Rhyne has since started the promotion and marketing company Brand Talkers and taken the music showcase further. The company just finished the third season in Oklahoma City and the first in St. Louis. Kansas City has become its third market. The showcase is a win-win for all involved, Smeltzer said.

“Not many local, original bands or artists can afford to produce and air a commercial on local TV, but Chevy can,” he said. “Basically, Chevy has donated part of the production and media budgets to this project, which helps the local artists because it puts them in front of a new audience. And the upside for Chevy is the association it gets with the artists and the local music community.”

The eight Kansas City documentaries were filmed at four music venues: the Riot Room, RecordBar, Czar Bar and Knuckleheads. Each session featured two bands. One band arrived first and shot its live performances. Then the second band arrived and both bands took a lunch break and sat down for a roundtable discussion. After that, the second band recorded its live music. The discussions were mostly free-form, Smeltzer said.

“We threw out a topic or two, but the idea was for us to stay out of the way of the natural flow of the conversation,” he said. “It’s a lot better than a standard Q&A.”

Brooks and his band were at the Riot Room, paired with Making Movies.

“(The discussion) just ebbed and flowed like a hangout session between two hard-working groups of musicians with different pasts wanting to achieve the same goal,” Brooks said.

Another of those sessions paired David Burchfield and the Great Stop with the Silver Maggies at Knuckleheads.

“We had a discussion between both bands about our influences, our goals and dreams, the state of the industry,” said Patrick Deveny, guitarist and vocalist in the Silver Maggies. “There was a quick one-on-one with each band member. They shot a live video of two of our songs with three high-def cameras — multiple takes with nonvocal tracks to be used as bed music — and a load-out shot of me putting an amp into a Chevy Volt. And we got Gates catered for lunch.”

The documentaries feature some music and some of the discussions. Another bonus for the bands: Their entire performance will be on YouTube.

Smeltzer lauded Chevy and the local dealers — the people paying for the series — for taking a risk and for keeping the Chevy in the background.

“It’s a big deal for them to make a move like this,” he said. “It’s very forward-thinking and a real change of pace for them to finance a broadcast product that is not a typical commercial, that keeps the commercial message and the branding to a minimum. They get a logo and a name mention at the front and back. And they give us a car to shoot each day, but they even allow us to pick the car.”

The eight bands were selected from a list of more than four dozen solicited from venue owners and people involved in the local scene, through some trolling on the Internet and by referrals among bands, Smeltzer said. The only real criteria: Everyone is writing original music; and everyone is more than a part-time weekend band, or “hobbyist,” he said.

If Kansas City gives the showcase a big response — on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media — Smeltzer said, eight more bands will be chosen for a second season.

“We’ll do things continuously on (social media),” he said. “That will be primarily how Chevy measures the response. But we’re hoping to come back for another year.”