How many bands have you seen live in 2016? Unless you’re an artist or you work at a venue, there’s a guy in Puerto Rico whose count is much higher, and he’s got the videos to prove it. In about two years’ time, Gibran Morales has recorded more than 100 local shows at various venues throughout San Juan.
He live streams, too. That was the original purpose of Tu Escena.tv, an idea sparked from watching Street Fighter tournaments in real time online. While studying sound engineering in Bayamón at the Colegio de Cinematografía, Artes y Televisión, Morales realized the same process could easily be applied to shows.
What makes Tu Escena.tv especially important, though, is that Morales is documenting the local scene specifically. San Juan has a small but stellar offering of niche blogs and alternative outlets already, but they’re not video-based. And there are plenty of online series around the world that set up live sets in nontraditional spots, like vans or laundromats, and no shortage of radio sessions and record store sets, either. But the focus of most is much broader, regularly featuring acts hailing from anywhere as they happen to roll through town.
Tu Escena.tv, however, is hyperlocal. By honing in primarily on San Juan, Morales has basically created a visual encyclopedia of its dynamic independent music landscape, cataloging everything from hip-hop to punk to reggae – even comedy bands and an artist who pairs 8-bit pop with an electronic ukelele.
“We don’t have to envy any other country’s music; our music is the shit.”
“I really like the fact that Puerto Rico is so little in a world map, but its music is really something else,” he says. “Like Pelu [of skate-punk band Diente Perro] once told me, ‘We don’t have to envy any other country’s music; our music is the shit.’”
Morales has run a studio since 2004, first in Aguas Buenas, an hour south of the capital. Now he’s located closer to the city, where he edits the immense amounts of footage amassed from venues like El Local, La Respuesta, and Club 77, plus bars and unexpected spots where pop-up shows take place. He offers studio session videos, too — personalized ones. (At the moment, he’s accumulated more than 40 of those, and that’s in addition to the 100 separate shows he’s filmed).
Morales has covered the recording room in a bright grassy hue — sheets, paint, and even the soundproofing foam — for a makeshift wall-to-wall green screen. The backdrops he imposes range from psychedelic to downright silly to vaporwave-style digital surrealism, like in a clip of José Daniel (the chiptune-electronic-uke musician) covering “Empire Ants” from Gorillaz and Little Dragon.
Morales says Daniel is “a musical genius.” Another one he’s excited about is El Diablo from Petirrojo.
“We were trying new effects with the green screen,” he says. “And they’re one of the new upcoming bands that has what it takes to take it to make it in the music industry, once they figure out the angles.”
When he talks about bands he’s recorded, shows he documented, and files he’s yet to edit, Morales is visibly pumped. That’s crucial to continuing to do what he does, really. Catering so closely to the underground is maybe the least lucrative choice he could have made after deciding to offer any kind of recording services. Morales isn’t working with the absolute top-of-the-line equipment, but even charging appropriately with the gear he’s got, he struggles to turn even a meager profit. He’s even sold a lot of his personal equipment (he’s a musician, too) to keep Tu Escena.tv afloat.
“I think it’s more important for the material to come out,” he says. “Sure, it would be nice to stream and record mainstream artists, but I’m starting with the people I know and care about first to give them a little boost so they can be one step further to reach their goals. And I’m leveling up as I go. I still have much to learn, but I’m getting better at a steady pace.”
A lot of the skills Morales already has were acquired in school, but YouTube tutorials can be a boon to his — and anyone’s — continued education. He’s perpetually learning and improving, while also plotting the logistics of a more financially sustainable Tu Escena.tv. The latter in particular won’t be easy, but Morales’ gusto for Puerto Rico’s independent music scene will definitely help.
“We have a lot of talented musicians but I have seen so many disappear or simply just quit, because life in Puerto Rico is hard, especially for musicians…” he says. “I’m 100 percent convinced that we haven’t had a real chance to show what we’re really made of. That’s one of the main reasons I want to make Tu Escena.tv happen at a larger scale: We have the talent, but what we need is a channel to send the message clearly and effectively.”