- 13 May 21
As part of our special feature on the impact of Covid-19 on the Irish music industry, Oisín O'Brien, founder of Visual Spectrum and DSNT, shares his experiences, and looks to the future...
Founder of Visual Spectrum and DSNT
How has the impact of Covid-19 affected you and your business?
I run two businesses. One is a production company, Visual Spectrum, that does stages at festivals and events – basically like a lighting studio. I also run a party series called DSNT – which has now grinded to a halt. We sold DSNT merch and clothing at the start, but eventually we ended up taking a break from it. We’ve largely been on a break from it for nine months or so now.
We would have done all the festivals with Visual Spectrum – including Body & Soul and Electric Picnic. We were pretty active on that circuit, so we’ve obviously missed out on probably 30 or 40,000 pounds in revenue.
Were you in a position to try anything new or different?
We’ve managed to sustain ourselves financially with Visual Spectrum by moving into new areas. The skills are transferable if you’re prepared to be a little bit creative, and pivot.
I’ve had to change my business model completely – because obviously we’re not really doing production at live events anymore. I’ve managed to pivot into a bunch of creative arts projects, in film, broadcast and animation. Business has been really good. It was really a moment of ‘adapt or die’. We’re quite lucky to have received support from both Future Screens and the Arts Council, to develop a training course on lighting and visuals. We’ve had around 80 students worldwide sign up for that course, and that became a revenue stream for the business. We’ve also worked on a bunch of creative products for clients – like the Boiler Room x Jameson broadcast in The Complex in Dublin. We produced the lighting show for that, and also produced all of the camera work. We also did a VR painting project for Belfast Photo Festival, which had a quartet playing renditions of Aphex Twin, and other cool musical bits. And I’ve done a lot of community work within both loyalist and republican areas in Belfast and Derry, doing outdoor projection projects with them.
We’ve really had to change the type of business that we do.
Some people have been finding it hard to survive. Is that something you’ve encountered?
At the start, yes – but I’ve pretty much pivoted into different projects.
For DSNT, it’s been a total struggle. Some of the artists on our roster, like Myler, had real trouble at the start. Fortunately, he received support from the Arts Council. For a lot of the artists on our roster who were touring internationally, it has been really challenging. Even, for instance, [NI Music Prize-winning musician] Ryan Vail – he now works with me as a videographer. He’s basically had to retrain as a videographer, and join my team. We’ve worked on a bunch of projects which are totally outside of our comfort zone. In a way it’s been good in that way – that we’ve developed new skills from necessity, for our survival. Financially, we haven’t overly suffered, because we’ve been prepared to retrain. But the traditional sources of income have evaporated.
Mental health has been a huge issue for a lot of people involved in music. How has your experience been in that regard?
We actually run a mental health charity called Keep It Zesty. We’re about to release our second edition of our magazine, which is like an archive of work created by artists throughout lockdown. We’ve had to do quite a bit of engagement with the young people that would’ve attended our events. We’ve found that mental health has been a big challenge for a lot of people – and for a lot of our peers as well.
You don’t have the traditional release of something to look forward to, or something positive, in the form of events, or seeing your friends, or going for dinner. There’s ups and downs within this period of time. A lot of people are feeling a lot of frustration.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
It’s a difficult one – because if you look at the UK roadmap, a lot of my peers in the events industry there seem to be on the way out. If you look at the North, we’re pretty much in a good place, in regards to the vaccination. But unfortunately, because the South is so behind, our policies will be determined by that. It’s quite frustrating, seeing the UK leave lockdown, and have our government not really give any indication of a timeline for a return to normality.
But I’m optimistic that AVA will go ahead. I’m optimistic that, by September, we’ll be in Boucher Playing Fields, listening to tunes. I’m optimistic that, with a combination of rapid testing and everything else, they will be able to pull that off. I’ve seen that there’s already events in the Netherlands doing rapid testing – so I’m optimistic. Part of me is going, ‘Ah, we’re going to be in lockdown forever – maybe this is our new totalitarian future!’ But it can’t go on forever. When it does end, I’m optimistic that we will enter into a Roaring ‘20s – similar to in the 20th century. Vibes all round, for four or five years. When things do come back, the hunger will be there to such an extent, that I think the events industry will recover tenfold.
Read more of our 'Music Industry in Ireland: Where To Next?' special feature here.