Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
Old Hats, New Markets
By Mike Gould
“And we can act like we come from out of this world...” - Safety Dance, Men Without Hats, 1982
I wear a bunch of hats these days; I am retired, except for my five different day jobs. And one of those hats/jobs is using lasers as art and entertainment modules. We do shows in museums, public spaces, and convention centers, and have built up a team of experts, a list of satisfied customers, and a metric van-load of road-cased laser projectors. By “we” I mean myself and my troupe of laseristas: we are Illuminatus, a group that was founded in the mid-seventies and is reaching a renaissance (see below) here in the technical vastness of the future.
But like any small business, we need cash flow and new worlds to conquer, or in this case, new markets in which to sell our services. Wearing my artist hat (a red beret), we’re talking to galleries and science/art museums – this is ongoing. Donning my commercial hat (a derby with steampunk goggles), we are starting to look at new places to shine: town festivals.
One way we’re doing this is by allying ourselves with a promoter who works with smaller towns to provide them with bands and general festivities. His name is Brian Major, his outfit is Major Productions, and he has gotten us a gig at the Saline Celtic Festival.
Celts/Renaissance/Society for Creative Anachronism and lasers? Well, yeah, but anachronism is one of our strengths: we’ve been doing lasers at steampunk conventions for years, and a lot of our projectors are built into vintage beer kegs, vacuum cleaners and lunch boxen. (I suffer from a debilitating case of artistic tendencies, which creeps into all aspects of my work.) So what the heck are we doing after dark at Saline’s Millpond Park in the middle of July?
Well, it comes down to playing to our strengths. We can’t compete with the established big laser companies who put on the megabuck rockstar spectaculars; they have way more equipment, capital, and general mojo than we possess. So we are carving out a niche using smaller, more specialized, laser rigs to do things the big guys haven’t thought of yet, in places they don’t go. I think we can safely claim to have gotten the world’s first Celtic Festival laser show gig.
What we have cooked up for the Celt Fest is an other example of multi-hatted-ness. We are presenting a 1/2 hour story called “The Quest For Mystic Fire – the Tale of Merton of Mortontown”. One of my hats is the ink-stained fedora I metaphorically wear when I write. I am figuratively wearing it right now, as a matter of fact, as I work my keyboard to create the deathless prose you see before you. Anyway, drawing upon my years of experience in songwriting/magazine column-izing/screenplay creation, I have banged out a 30-page script, and this forms the backbone of our story.
One of the other things we’re pioneering here is using laser-based animation as a stand-alone performance piece. Conventional laser shows are all about beams pooting out from the stage, creating a spectacular grid above a stage full of rockers. Ours is a sort of animated cartoon that tells a tale that is based on local events, in this case, the Celt Fest itself. The main characters in the story are all based on athletes competing in the park: caber tossers, hammer throwers, jousters, swordswomen, and even the sheep dogs that will be competing to, um, sheep the best or something.
The story also takes place in thinly-disguised nearby towns: Dexterium, Dromulus, Grand Harbor, etc.. And Millie the pond monster, which dwells in the park’s pond, is the pretzel-devouring villain of the piece. This all came about by our consigliere Steve Rich suggesting that the lasers can be considered “magic fire”, produced by a wizard. I ran with that idea (the only exercise I get), and the tale was born. Steve is another example of a multi-hatter: he is our lawyer, head roadie, and resident sketch artist.
Another hat that was worn in this project was my experience with Photoshop, which I use in my role as professional photographer. The imagery for the tale was produced by artists McCauley “Mac” Hart and Steve Rich. They sketched out around 100 drawings on their iPads (using a free app called “Inkflow”), and sent them to me as JPGs which I cleaned up in Photoshop, and then dumped into my new laser control software, which is called Pangolin Beyond.
Getting all the above working called on me to don my Mac consultant hat (a propeller beanie) and get things working on my various Macs and PC laptops. Beyond only works in Windows, alas, so I have been getting my chops together in that arena. I run VMware Fusion, which enables me to run Windows 7 Ultimate on my Mac; I do my development work here then move the files to my Asus laptop to control the lasers.
The show also features a commissioned music soundtrack by Ken Kozora, which incorporates a mind-buckling array of synthesized and natural instruments, and sound effects. Ken is a composer, trumpet player, and multi-instrumentalist, and he created the sound track, Music for Lasers, for my museum laser exhibit, L is for Laser.
So it all comes down to determining what we have to sell, where are the markets that are likely to buy it, and how do we become the best of the bunch, the go-to guys, the ones who make the sales and keep the cash flowing. We’re getting there. Many hats make more biz.
The Saline Celtic Fest runs July 10-11 at Saline’s Millpond Park.
For more info, go to: http://www.salineceltic.org
Mike Gould juggles hats, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.