With the specter of COVID-19 looming large over the PNW music industry, a number of organizations have stepped up to offer a hand.

Seattle-based 501(c)3 non-profit BiG BLDG has done their part in aiding local artists and musicians for the last seven years. The organization’s broad platform encompasses live performances (including several iterations of the very successful BiG BLDG Bash), vinyl and cassette releases on the BiG BLDG label, and merchandising support.

The organization’s weekly live-streaming series, Grounded, began at the quarantine’s outset in March, and the show offers a rare local non-profit model where musicians earn and keep all monies generated (BiG BLDG cedes all proceeds earned during the streams to the performing artists).

Grounded‘s all-volunteer marketing, visual, audio, photography, and videography team has stayed constant since the stream’s inception, raising several thousand dollars for the performing artists in the bargain.

Two of BiG BLDG’s staff members, Hector “Hexx” Rodriguez and Mary Robins, host the show. In addition to hosting, and their regular admin work with the organization, they’ve both been passionate advocates for voting. To that end, Grounded’s October 22 stream with Actionesse and Biddadat was set up by Rodriguez as the stream’s #VOTERemote stream, and he put together an informative #VOTERemote how-to guide on the BiG BLDG blog.

Artist Home chatted with Rodriguez and Robins via email about BiG BLDG, balancing administrative and hosting duties with their work as musicians, and the lessons learned along the way.

How did the two of you become involved in BiG BLDG, and how would you describe your respective roles at the organization?

Mary: We were originally going to work with the BiG BLDG team to put on their BiG BLDG BASH festival this year. We were excited to help with programming, marketing, and whatever else we could do to help out. Well — we all know what happened next…

Mary Robins and Hector Rodriguez, hosting Grounded. (photo courtesy BiG BLDG)

Hector: Well, when the pandemic hit in March, our plans fell apart. We adapted quickly and expanded our production team and started to partner with different locations including Mysterious Red X, Inscape Arts Building, Central Saloon, and Screwdriver’s Belltown Yacht Club.

Though we all are wearers of many hats, my main roles for the organization are Programming and Booking Manager, Development Director, and co-host. I am also on the Board of Directors. 

Mary: My role is Community Engagement Director and I am also co-host! On occasion I will act as photographer and also help the marketing team with graphics and other marketing tasks. 

Do your roles at BiG BLDG intersect with your overall career path/education at all?

Hector: Sort of. I got my bachelors at Seattle University and in the beginning did a PR internship with SIFF, and I did some work with smaller festivals. Currently I have an administrative job at the University of Washington. 

Mary: [BiG BLDG] aligns pretty well with my career path. This Summer I joined the Board of Directors at The Vera Project. I started my career in music photography through volunteering at Vera many years ago, and then did photography with Showbox for years after. I’m currently a student at Bellevue College pursuing my bachelors in Digital Marketing.

How did you go from behind-the-scenes to co-hosting Grounded?

Hector: I mentioned doing an MTV-style program where we have hosts, live events, some casual interviews with the bands, and sure enough, I got asked if I wanted to host and thought having two hosts would be more engaging, so I asked Mary to join as my co-host.  

You both play in a Seattle rock band, Biblioteka. Have you been able to keep up with your own creative pursuits as well as your work with BiG BLDG? 

Mary: At first, it was difficult to find a balance – but mostly due to COVID-19. We’ve been working with BiG BLDG since before the pandemic, but Zoom calls and Discord made it an almost-seamless transition for us to continue planning for the livestream. 

As for Biblioteka, we were unable to see our bandmates due to quarantine, and just like many other artists, we had planned a tour for our new record this past July that fell apart. 

BiG BLDG staff member and Grounded co-host Mary Robins, gun for hire with Seattle/LA band Acid Tongue at last year’s MercerXSummit Festival. (photo by Tony Kay)

The work we put into BiG BLDG and putting on this livestream comes from our own experience as musicians. Seeing other musicians also struggling made this livestream even more important for us to build and uphold, so we can offer artists a platform to have their voices be heard.

Thankfully we’ve since been able to adjust and have written new material for Biblioteka. We are recording next month and have found a happy balance between the two. Catch us on the livestreams soon!

The Grounded streams have been great, but not without the odd technical hiccup. What’s it been like dealing with those mishaps in a (pretty much) live format?

Hector: The show must go on, right?! Well, once we had an episode where ten minutes in, our power went out to all the computers and the sound board, I think the band had just started their performance. After alerting our viewers, we decided to start over after a brief stall to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Reminds me of those times where a guitar string breaks mid-performance and everyone just stares at the person on the mic, to just say something, but you hadn’t practiced your comedy bit yet. Well at least you know, we are actually live. 

Mary: We’re really lucky to be working with such a strong team. Thankfully, any time a technical difficulty happens, we’re quick to deal with it behind the scenes. Then after the stream, we all debrief on what happened and how to prevent it from happening again in the future. We have professionals in videography and production on our team, and we’ve all been able to gain invaluable experience when it comes to livestreaming through this. 

But hey, that’s just showbiz, baby! 

On a broader level, what have you learned individually and as an organization after 21 (by my count) episodes of Grounded?

Hector: Oh geesh, has it been that many already?! The Grounded Livestream series would not be a thing if it wasn’t for all the hard work from our volunteers, our crew, the musicians and the fans!  I’ve learned a lot about non-profits throughout my time with BiG BLDG and what it takes to grow. (Spoiler alert, it’s a lot of work!) We found many ways to work smarter, and as a team. Having a passion and a lot of time on our hands was definitely key to accomplishing what we have done thus far! 

As for hosting, I learned that being onstage versus being in front of the camera is not the same. Staring at the camera while a room of people just look at you while you talk is weird… 

Mary: I learned that it really takes a village. After all of these episodes, our system has been fine tuned, and it goes to show how much work can go into building a system that really works. Our team has become like a second family, and each person has an integral role in this livestreaming ecosystem we created. 

Do you have the full forthcoming schedule for future editions of Grounded? Any hints/idea as to lineups?

Hector: We don’t want to give too much away, but we are booked well into December. October 29th is the Monsterwatch and Lipstitch show at Belltown Yacht Club. Razor Clam, Racoma, Moon Palace, and many more [are scheduled] in the future. Stay tuned!

The Grounded weekly livestream airs each Thursday at 8pm. It can be accessed by following BiG BLDG’s Facebook page, and clicking on the active link each week. An entire archive of previous Grounded episodes can also be accessed via BiG BLDG’s YouTube page. Further info on BiG BLDG can be found on their website.