It took Cole Mitchek years of experience making music videos to realize that when songs or artists are good enough, he doesn't necessarily need a bustling film set complete with a large staff and a massive budget to capture their character. Sometimes all it takes is one camera, one microphone, an acoustic instrument or two, and a distinct spot in the city as your backdrop.
Mitchek recently started Smallsongs, a project that captures artists playing stripped-down performances of their music on streets and in parks and alleys across Colorado. The video series tosses aside the frills of large-scale performance and video production in favor of quiet, intimate performances that are just as much about the environment they were shot in as they are about the music itself. New episodes premiere every Tuesday and Friday on YouTube.
“I wanted to strip down all the potentially pretentious and difficult things about making a music video and make the performances more natural,” says Mitchek.
Mitchek started Smallsongs only a month ago, but for his first video, he was able to shoot Eef Barzelay of the popular alt-country band Clem Snide — a longtime favorite artist of Mitchek's — playing his song “Act Naturally” on the streets of Boulder. Barzelay was doing a living-room tour across the country at the time, and to Mitchek's surprise, he agreed to do an episode.
“[Eef] was really excited about being involved, which was elating for me," Mitchek says. "I ended up just getting to walk around the city and getting to know him. It was surreal."
So far, Mitchek has filmed Clem Snide, Dan Nobacon of Chumbawamba, Jeffrey Dallet, Hound Heart, and Eleanor Nash & the Ramblers at locations all across Colorado, including the streets of Golden, Boulder, Washington Park, and Denver's Art District on Sante Fe.
The locations play a distinct role in Smallsongs, serving as much more than a backdrop. People are seen walking in the background, and you hear the occasional hum or roar of traffic.
Mitchek cites old films from the ’60s and ’70s as the inspiration behind the videos’ bright, sepia-driven palate. The musicians end up looking as if they’re performing in another time.
"My goal with Smallsongs was to take down the barrier between the listener and the artist by showing musicians performing their songs in everyday places across Colorado," Mitchek says.
Mitchek currently narrows in on alt-country, folk and bluegrass artists, but he has no plans to typecast the project. He’s currently planning sessions with punk-rock, alternative and hip-hop artists, allowing them to strip down their songs and perform them in a more intimate manner than what you would hear on stage.
"When you take a band that has a bigger sound and have them strip their songs down to the basics, it forces them to perform them in a new way. It's been really enlightening to hear songs I love played in new and exciting ways," Mitchek says.
While one of his goals with Smallsongs is to highlight Colorado's diverse music scene, he also wants to use it as an opportunity to work with some of his favorite artists across the nation.
“The location and the date these videos are shot is so important," Mitchek says. "They really capture a moment in time. It’ll be interesting to look back at these videos in ten years and relive it all a bit."