A collective vision: Kalamazoo creatives keep busy with area musicians, large corporations, and more

With one eye on corporate vision and another on curating projects for local and regional musicians, Kalamazoo’s Overneath Creative Collective is striving to become an area leader in multiple markets, putting its collective strengths together to create the best possible result for a wealth of clients from national brands to fledgling artists.
 
Founded in 2014, the collective — based out of its downtown office located along the Kalamazoo Mall — offers everything from a full-on audio and video recording studio with in-house musical production and on-staff session musicians to a place where corporate giants such as Kellogg’s, Stryker and Bronson Healthcare can come for their marketing needs. 
 
Started by audio engineers Gordon van Gent and Cameron Drake, along with partners Drew Raklovits, and Michael Steinke, the collective has seen its client list grow from humble beginnings to north of 200, as the collective’s team of eight full-timers is now busy tackling more than 400 projects per year. 
 
When they came together van Gent was operating his audio company GVG out of his basement, while Drake and the origins of Overneath were based out of an upstairs office at an area church, doing primarily video work. As both businesses started to grow, van Gent and Drake found they were doing a lot of passing back and forth of clients to help fulfill the needs and desires of those they were working with. Having known each other since they were both students at Western Michigan University, joining forces seemed like a logical and natural step. 
 
“We had been talking about it for a while, and when the right space became available downtown (home to the former Brown and Brown Recording Studios) we asked ourselves what it would like if we became a conglomerate of basically creative media (with) a recording space, photography, and concerts, and decided to go for it,” van Gent recalls. 
 
The result has been having an ever-evolving collection of talented production-based individuals all co-existing under one roof, working together with a shared vision. 
 
“Our philosophy has always been that we have core people in the house that do a lot of the things we need done, but we have a group, a collective that we know and trust, that we can bring in that can add to what we already do in terms of video and audio, or extensive web, animation or graphic design,” Drake says.
 
Making their mark
 
Whether it is laying down hip-hop-infused marching band beats at the request of a corporate partner like Stryker, while piecing together their marketing videos, or putting together just shy of 200 videos for an ongoing provider series for Bronson Healthcare, Drake says that they learned quickly that it isn’t enough to just be creative to become an industry leader. 
 
“If you are going to work with other businesses they need to be able to rely on you to deliver things on time, on budget, or under budget and to not just be creative but be able to meet their specific messaging needs whatever those may be,” Drake says. “One of the reasons that we have become as successful as we have so quickly is that we help our team stay focused on their organizational goals but still stay creative at the same time.”
 
That creativity and ability to take creative direction has gone a long way with their clients and allowed them to continue to build those relations and watch them evolve. 
 
“When I approached them to create a series of videos that would allow patients a chance to really get to know their doctors before they select them, I knew what I wanted and had done a ton of research on length and everything else and they were really great about bringing those ideas to life,” says Erin Smith, communications specialist with Bronson. 
 
“Whenever I have feedback, they are really willing to listen and when I have questions they are always there to answer. It’s hard to find that kind of talent in a local community … and having them downtown, it really makes it very convenient to be able to work them face-to-face.”
 
The downtown location, in addition to convenience for their existing client base, has also thrown Overneath right into the central mix, allowing the collective to participate in things like Art Hop and highlight their live audio/video recording sessions (KBR Sessions) for the public. 
 
Musicians helping musicians
 
Having worked with everyone from former American Idol finalist Matt Giraud, to the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, to longtime area favorites The Corn Fed Girls, as well as up and coming acts such as Lushh, Last Gasp Collective, Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, and Nashon Holloway, Overneath has quickly carved out a name for itself on the Kalamazoo music scene, and the KBR Sessions have played a large role in that.  
 
The quickly-emerging Kalamazoo-based progressive Celtic act The Founding is one of many artists that has taken advantage of what the collective has to offer. The band — formerly known as Blarney Castle — first entered the studio in 2016 for a KBR session, recording in front of a live studio audience that was brought in by Overneath.
 
“The videos that we got from that session no doubt went a tremendously long way toward landing us more gigs, both locally and regionally,” says Lukas Stanley, keyboardist, and percussionist for the band. “The camerawork is great and the audio quality couldn't be better, especially considering that it is a live recording.”
 
The Founding recently returned to Overneath to record their first full-length album, “Form,” released in late 2017, working with the collective to put down 10 tracks in a period of just three-and-a-half days. 
 
“It was really a tight schedule and they really bent over backwards to make it all happen on time and within our budget,” he said. “The album has already paid us massive dividends, leading to us getting signed with a national booking agent who has plans to put us on much more extensive tours around the country. We are really grateful to Overneath's contribution in making that a reality for us.” 
 
One of the things that sets Overneath apart, according to local Christian recording artist Anna Joy Tucker is that in addition to simply pushing the buttons and making recommendations on tracks, the studio, from top down, is able to offer their own creative musical touches. 
 
Joy, who plays primarily piano while also adding guitar to the mix, walked away from the recording of her sophomore effort, a five-song EP titled “Songs for the Storm” with more than just musical direction from the studio she worked with, but a full-on accompaniment as well.  
 
“Gordon took the songs I wrote and came back with arrangements for strings, horn, and even choir for one part,” she recalls. “They really, truly offer something that makes recording and producing with them totally unique. They are so talented in so many ways and not pushy at all. While Gordon was writing parts for my music, he still remembered it was my project the whole time, and just really did a great job at offering suggestions.”
 
Adding his musical chops to the mix is one of the things that van Gent truly loves about his job. With an undergraduate degree in jazz guitar from Western and a master’s in musical composition, music is the main reason he is in this business, and he not only lives to help create something the musicians that come through his doors will be proud of, but to give them that “safe space to experiment, without breaking the bank for them.” 
 
“Music is a super personal thing,” adds Drake. “Sharing it with somebody is one thing, and then trusting somebody to kind of memorialize it in a recording is another, so there needs to be a really high level of trust to take this creation that is fragile and make it into something that is going to live on this album forever.
 
“It’s about a relationship, not just about people that can push record. All of our engineers are musicians as well, so they can talk the talk and they know what it is like to gig and to write music and to perform as musicians. First and foremost, we are just musicians trying to help out other musicians. One of our main goals here is to be in the middle of this growing scene in Kalamazoo and enable groups to record the music they can to help them sell albums and get noticed."

To learn more about Overneath Collective, click here

Ryan Boldrey is a freelance journalist and editor living in Kalamazoo. A Michigan native, he returned to his home state in 2016 after spending the better part of a decade working as a writer and editor in Colorado. He spends much of his time traveling to see live music and is an avid Michigan State and Detroit sports fan.
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