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Altar TV promotes emerging bands

Former performer creates video music channel

Published: Monday, September 19, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09


Emily Bastaroli

Founders of Altar TV, (from left to right) Phil Atkins, Alex Drizos, Brad Fombelle, Chad Calcagno (in front, glasses), Brandon Snyder and Jordan Tomb work together to create content for the Pittsburgh-based high definition musical channel.

Through 14 years of playing music all over the country, Alex Drizos became acutely aware that emerging bands – no matter how talented they were – needed to generate publicity, or a buzz, to succeed.

As his own performing career wound down, he returned to Pittsburgh and worked behind the scenes and in promotions for bands like Punchline and The Composure, but was often frustrated by the lack of vehicles to get word out on these acts.

That's when he teamed up with five others to create the fast-growing Altar TV – located at 1627 Penn Ave. in the Strip – a high definition video music channel that features interviews, behind-the-scenes and live concert footage of local and indie bands throughout the Pittsburgh area.

Drizos said the music industry is becoming more Internet- and social media-centric.

"It's a transitional period for the industry, so it's a more guerilla style of promotion," he said.

Along with Drizos, Altar TV was created by Chad Calcagno, Jordan Tomb, Brad Fombelle, Brandon Snyder and Phil Atkins, who all met through mutual friends and worked on music videos for Punchline with an east Pittsburgh production company, Quanti Studios.

When Drizos had the opportunity to tour with his band in Los Angeles he dropped out of the University of Pittsburgh.

"For the first five years, I wanted nothing to do with the business side of things," Drizos said.

Once on the road, he became more aware of that aspect of the industry.

Drizos was working at Altar Bar in Pittsburgh's Strip District on the interactive side of things like marketing and press, and booking bands, when he came up with the idea for Altar TV. Drizos, Calcagno, Tomb, Fombelle, Snyder, as well as some others, all held a meeting to discuss the project for an online music channel.

"Altar TV is Alex's baby," said Calcagno, a film student at the Art Institute. Michael Pitterich, the owner of Altar Bar and head of the "umbrella" entertainment company Blackburn, also loved the idea.

"Blackburn decided to, basically, buy us and the idea," Snyder said as he sat up excitedly.

At the beginning, the guys at Altar TV hoped to knock out 18 videos in six months, but they cut that time in half, and nothing has stopped them since.

Altar TV's website says it is "the portal for connection, engaging fans with exclusive content, behind-the-scenes insights and coverage of the most exciting artists in music today at the intersection of lifestyle, culture and cutting-edge trends."

Although this is the ultimate goal of the production, Drizos said they are not quite there yet. However, they are looking to integrate local businesses. Still, as of now, their main focus is street artists and behind-the-scenes footage.

In the seven months since the creation of Altar TV, various indie and local bands and musicians have been featured, including: Silverstein, All Time Low, The Cab, Aesop Rock, Whitechapel, Millionaires, Moving Mountains, Punchline, Crash City and even American Idol season nine winner Lee DeWyze. They have shot all around the Pittsburgh area: Altar Bar, Stage AE (North Shore) and South Side to name a few locations.

During interviews, Altar TV strives to ask more in-depth and non-traditional questions to the bands, asking about "what it's like to be on tour, to set up their gear and the stage, what it's like to record an album," Drizos said. 

Another issue the guys like to bring up is illegal music downloading. Most up-and-coming bands are having trouble making money because nobody is buying the record, but downloading it on the internet illegally. Thus, Altar TV tries to "examine creative ways" to promote these bands.

Some of the most memorable interviews were with bands like Moving Mountains, The Cab and Lee DeWyze, who were all very personable and talented.

"We got to hang out on [Moving Mountain's] tour bus with them, and follow them on stage," Calcagno said, wriggling in his seat. "Every band on Warped Tour this year loved them."

Snyder recalls The Cab being "very hospitable," giving out six backstage passes to random fans at Stage AE during their Aug. 26 concert. The venue was very strict about where Altar TV could film so The Cab ended up doing an acoustic performance in the dressing room. "They're a post-hard-core band, and around the same age as us," said Drizos. "So we connected and were able to [interact] on the same level."

When talking with Lee DeWyze about his experience before, during and after American Idol, Drizos worried he would not answer the questions they were asking. To their surprise, DeWyze had no problem answering their questions with nothing but honesty.

"It was almost as if he wanted us to ask those questions," Drizos recalls.

It takes a great deal of work to create the videos on Altar TV. Fombelle directs and conducts interviews. "I translate Alex [Drizos]'s ideas to video," Fombelle said.

Snyder works with Fombelle for the time, locations and the "business side of things," as well as produces the Altar TV content. Atkins also works with location, and the lighting and camera angles of the shoots. 

Tomb is the chief editor; Alex Mohler takes care of scheduling and access issues; and Drizos, not big on titles, is described by Calcagno as the "executive producer," because "he made everything possible."

One unique approach that Altar TV takes toward interviews is, as Drizos said, talking with everyone involved: the band, the managers, labels and "techies." Most times, the interviews are conducted by members of other bands, because they "know the perfect questions to ask." For example, in an exclusive interview with Bayside, Steve Soboslai of Punchline talked to them about touring and music pirating. This offers a musician-to-musician aspect and helps connect the fan to the artist.

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