Other Voices: turning a one-room TV show into a multimedia music festival

Behind the scenes at one of the most prestigious music festivals of the year, series producer Tina O’Reilly reveals what it takes to get the Other Voices show on the road

Highlights from the 14th edition of Other Voices from Dingle, Co. Kerry. Gas Coombes, Richard Hawley and Phillip King explain the success of the festival.

 

Every December for the past 14 years, Dingle is overrun with musicians and fans, who gather to soak up musical experiences at Other Voices, on the edge of Ireland and the Atlantic. The idea, at the start, was simple. Gather some great musicians, put them in an church with a small audience, film it and big things can, and will happen. Over those years, the RTÉ-broadcast show has featured performances from Amy Winehouse, The Frames, The National, Lisa Hannigan, John Grant and many, many more.

With hours to go last Friday until the first performances, Tina O’Reilly, the series producer, is down to the last bits of pre-production, after months of planning. “We’ve just got to make sure that everything we put in place runs to plan,” says O’Reilly. “There are still a few last-minute contracts to be signed for artists coming in to the church shows.”

O’Reilly is well used to the Other Voices cycle by now. This weekend’s event is the culmination of months spent securing funding, finding acts, looking for sponsors, budgeting, sorting legalities, hiring crew, organising schedules and everything in-between. O’Reilly will spend the next few days overseeing the production, the location shoots, and liaising with the 100 staff working in Dingle. In between, she attends as many of the shoots as possible, taking notes to be used when editing the show for broadcast.

Finite funding

Putting on Other Voices doesn’t get any easier with the passing years, especially in terms of funding, which is largely driven by the executive producer Philip King.

“Once we deliver the series to RTÉ, another starts almost immediately with Philip mainly starting the funding for the next season – which can take six to seven months. Each year we don’t know whether we have funding.”

This year, Other Voices brought additional sponsorship on board, something they hope to strengthen in the coming years.

“Other Voices is an unusual production in that all our events are free to the public so we need more stability in its production,” O’Reilly says.

Other Voices isn’t the only production that South Wind Blows, the company owned by Philip King, Nuala O’Connor and O’Reilly work on. Other productions have included the documentary John McGahern A Private World, the feature film Silence and the live concert Ceiliuradh at the Royal Albert Hall last year.

In fact, O’Reilly got her start in the business in 1996 as an outgoing DCU Communications student on a TG4 show called Sult that King and O’Connor’s previous production company Hummingbird Productions made.

“I rang around looking for work experience to different production companies to see if they needed a runner,” recounts O’Reilly. “I started the next week. I obviously proved myself and they took me back on.”

Expansion into a multimedia travelling festival

Other projects are always on the horizon, but Other Voices has become a much larger concern in recent years, having shown modular growth from those humble one-room beginnings to a sort of multimedia travelling festival, that is transmitted through TV, YouTube, live streams with online partners as well as live in the pubs of Dingle themselves over the weekend. There’s also the Other Voices podcast and regular updates via Instagram and Snapchat.

In addition to the 20 bands playing for the cameras including Jack Garratt, London rapper Little Simz, English singer Lapsley, Mahalia, Low and Glen Hansard, there is now a music trail with more 40 acts playing across Dingle, this paper’s own Jim Carroll presiding over Banter talks and this year, Ireland’s Edge, a conference on creativity and diaspora engagement.

“My role has changed from managing the production of a TV show to managing a whole festival. In the early years, it was a TV show being recorded in a church. Then we started recording sessions outside the church, then we added in live streaming, then the music trail and now, this year, there’s a conference on top of it.”

In recent years, Other Voices expanded filming to take in Derry, New York and London and this year, the team put on a stage at both Latitude Festival in the UK in July and Electric Picnic in September. These expansions are out of necessity. Other Voices know that a TV show is a harder thing to justify funding for, when it exists solely for terrestrial TV screens.

“It’s hard to pull in the viewers,” says O’Reilly. “We’re lucky we have the festival, the online social activity and that the profile is always growing so that we have the potential to grow the audience.”

“If you were to take it as a TV show only, it probably wouldn’t be viewed as a success. We’ve got a big online audience, our YouTube channel is watched more in the States than Ireland, in terms of percentages.”

That explains why Other Voices are talking to partners in Texas and Norway about bringing Other Voices even further afield in future.

O’Reilly says that the persistence and close-knit crew camaraderie has been a constant trait for the Other Voices team because they love the show.

“It’s such a big family atmosphere that come back together every year. Everyone is always happy to see each other again.”

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