Meet KM Productions: New York’s cutting-edge lighting, sound and visual company
Over Halloween weekend, KM Productions produced several of New York City’s biggest, most ornate dance events in collaboration with RPM Presents. After attending Above and Beyond’s Pier of Fear show, we went behind the scenes with company founder Kevin Mignone to discuss exactly what the making of the Pier of Fear and other massive electronic music events entails.
With one of the biggest nightlife scenes in the world and most diverse venue selections the country, it comes to no surprise that New York City had multiple high-profile electronic music events during Halloween weekend. Above and Beyond’s Pier of Fear at Pier 94, HYTE NYC Halloween at 53rd Street Warehouse featuring the likes of Loco Dice and Derrick Carter, and Hi-Lo-Ween with Oliver Heldens at BKWRHS were three much-talked-about events in New York City and Brooklyn over the holiday weekend, and New York-based KM Productions was behind all of them. The production company provided lighting, sound, video walls, staging, and truss structures for a total of five shows at the three venues, pulling off an impressive amount of work within a short period of time.
(Photo Credit: Ryan Krukowski)
Kevin Mignone started KM Productions 18 years ago at the ripe age of 13: “I started out just wanting to have really good sound for my band and it kind of snowballed from there by picking up a few key customers that wanted the whole old school thing.” Starting in the electronic music industry with producing a show at the Roxy for DJ/producer Jonathan Peters, Kevin and his team now regularly handle the production for EDM shows around the city – many of which happen within the same time period – as well as full scale festivals like EDC New York and Governor’s Ball.
From speaking with Kevin, it quickly became apparent that the making of a successful electronic music event is no small feat. Involving much more than the headliner playing a great set, KM’s immersive events require several months of strategizing and preparation. For this year’s Pier of Fear, which featured Anjunabeats artists Yotto, GRUM, Jason Russ, and headliner Above and Beyond, the design planning and development started in April 2016:
“Obviously [Above and Beyond] these guys have played arenas, so we hit the opportunity at that point to scale with whatever the headliner’s touring rider is to shape and scale of the pier, and then develop a design based on their wishes that fits and works within the space.”
At the onset of design conception, determining the specific production elements of a show – including video, light, and sound – is a unique balancing act for KM. Kevin explained that shaping the overall design of an event is a combination of appealing to the needs of the artist, the venue, and every member of the audience: “We want to ensure their artistic presentation of their music goes well with what they’re accustomed to and make it fit the size of the show. We have to fill a lot of attendees with interest.”
While design strategy starts several months before a show, Kevin explained that plan modifications continue until just weeks before an event in order to ensure that both the client and all artists are satisfied:
“We do 3D drawings and renderings and things that can help the artists and our client see what it is our plan will look like and the finished product of it, and then for the two to three weeks leading up to it there’s lots of changes. There’re little additions to light fixtures and truss placements and stage decking plans.”
Even after months of intense preparation, operating within a short timeframe remains one of KM’s biggest challenges with electronic music events, making the few days leading up to a show some of the most pressing for the team. Adding to the time crunch associated with this year’s Pier of Fear, Mignone and his team had two instead of the usual three days to unload and set up Pier 94. To ensure everything was done in time, the KM team completed a substantial amount of pre-event “shop prep”:
“Every single solitary light fixture that you saw there on Friday night was completely set up, styled, and addressed and hung on the truss in our shop. And what’s on that truss…comes in with all of the lighting equipment prebuilt on it, hung into chain motors on the ceiling and the show is ready to go. So we put in two or three weeks in advance of shop time to make that show look as good as it does with only two days of loading.”
(Photo Credit: Boris Berenberg)
Another issue specific to Pier 94 in years past had been the venue’s inefficient sound system. The majority of sound would spiral down the alley of the pier and out of the venue, leading to noise complaints from Pier 94’s neighbors. Mignone himself dedicated months of research and measurement to solve this problem and come up with a solution to guarantee the venue’s parties continue for as long as they are supposed to without a hitch:
“It was tasked to me by my client to find a sound system that could keep at the proper volumes and entertain the crowd, but not create the noise pollution in the general area around the pier. There are no speakers around the front of the stage. All of the sound comes from the sides of the room and focuses the energy down the center of the room from the left and right. The system is in design to eventually put all the sound out of phase by the time it gets outside of the venue.”
After months of hard work, strategizing, and problem solving, Pier 94’s Anjunabeats-filled Halloween extravaganza finally arrived. Throughout the event, an audio engineer, a lighting designer, a master electrician, a video head, a stage manager, and other members of both the KM and artist teams orchestrated the production of the show in real time.
(Photo Credit: Boris Berenberg)
As none of the effects the audience saw during the show were pre-cued, it wasn’t just the large number of KM team members working during the event that helped make the experience so entrancing, but the deep understanding their lighting designer had of the stylistic traits of the artists. Throughout the night’s sets, this was clearly revealed as the lighting effects and video sequencing perfectly coincided with the sonic elements of each artist:
“In the case of our [lighting director] LD … he has a very familiar knowledge of the music so he is able to play to their set, and more wide than that kind of understanding and anticipating what’s coming, using colors to accentuate different notes and tones in music. So brighter songs and brighter vibrant-themed music creates more vibrancy in light and richer colors, whereas when you have that dark beat-type sound he’ll enrich the purples and the blues and the reds.”
(Photo Credit: Ryan Krukowski)
Ensuring a strong artist-audience connection is a key component of KM’s overarching production strategy, and with Above and Beyond as the headliner, this year’s Pier of Fear really put said component to the test. The UK trance trio is known for the intense emotional connection they establish with fans and audience members through not only their music, but also the emotional videography they incorporate. With this in consideration, Kevin and his team did everything in their power from a production standpoint to ensure artist-audience engagement was at an all-time high for the performance:
“We take their plan and redesign it to fit the space. Understanding what it is their performance takes to translate well to the audience is a big piece of us coming up with the design to put into the venue, and its conversations with artists in advance of what do you do with the wall, what do you do with the lights, what’s the purpose of these to your set. And then we take that, interpret it, and build it into our design.”
(Photo Credit: Ryan Krukowski)
KM’s commitment to respecting artistic vision could also be seen during the HYTE shows. Designing 53rd Street Warehouse in New York for a slew of European-inspired techno mavens, Kevin and his team did away with over-the-top video screens and instead created a low resolution LED backdrop which produced intense color output. In explaining his reasoning behind this approach, Kevin said:
“HYTE was a large understanding of what not only their music meant but how much the party meant to them, and it was very important to them to have something that translated their European style of music and ensured that the party looked that way and felt that way to all of its guests.”
While KM Productions produces diverse events for varying artists within the electronic music industry, one aspect of the team’s work does stay consistent – Kevin and his crew carry out each project with the same underlying goals in mind:
“Our main focus is to continually push the limits and stay a cut above the rest, and with doing that we always want to deliver a superior product to not only to our clients but to every single person who attends that show.”
(Photo Credit: Ryan Krukowski and Olga Topchii)
With their big Halloween weekend recently completed, KM Productions is now looking ahead to New Year’s Eve. Bracing for yet another hectic weekend, the team is already in the design phase of Pier 94’s five NYE shows as well as two big events at Brooklyn warehouses. That said, the next time an intricately-produced, large-scale electronic music event transpires in New York City, there’s a good chance Kevin and his team could be the masterminds behind the scenes making it happen.