HiSessions Seeks Support to Sustain Showcase
Four years ago, local musician Jon Yamasato was struck by how much his young daughter was into watching music videos on YouTube, and he wondered what it would take to bring similar exposure to Hawaii musicians.
“I noticed that a lot of local artists didn’t have good video of themselves, it wasn’t high-def, good sounding quality video,” Yamasato says. As it turns out, his friend and fellow musician Dave Kusumoto had started getting into videography, so Yamasato pitched him the idea of an online show. Yamasato would bring in the artists and Kusumoto would handle the production.
“I thought this could be good for the community, too — get the video out, and we’re having fun in the mean time,” he recalls. “It’s kind of a win-win for everybody.”
HiSessions launched in June 2011, and it quickly took on a life of its own. The HiSessions channel on YouTube now features more than 300 videos, racking up over 8 million views and attracting more than 38,000 subscribers. The show has found a spectacular venue in the Ko’olau Ballrooms and Conference Center, and a charismatic host in Skyler Kamaka, who was Miss Hawaii 2012.
“It’s become a little bit of a project,” Yamasato says.
The original plan was to find corporate sponsors to keep HiSessions going, but that has proven to be a challenge, at least so long as the show was going to stay on the web. Yet, there’s definitely an audience — half a million hits per month — and a long line of musicians hoping to be featured.
“We cannot continue to keep plugging away like we are, at the rate we’re going with the budget that we have,” Yamasato admits. “We’re pretty much running on fumes at this point.”
So now, Yamasato and friends are going directly to the community they celebrate and serve for financial support. They launched a campaign on Kickstarter, and with less than a week to go, they are less than $6,000 away from their $26,000 goal.
“In Hawaii, especially in the music scene, we’re a very tight-knit community, we’re very small fish in a very big pond, and we like to support each other,” Yamasato says. “HiSessions is a way to do that… hopefully we can get the support from the community to continue to do what we’re doing.”
Among the rewards for Kickstarter backers are half-hour ukulele lessons over Skype, or your very own performances by artists like Mango Season or Johnna Padeken Parel. For $500 you can get a band of your choice on the show (provided they’re willing!), and for $2,500, you can get a custom-made HiLife KoAloha ukulele and other HiLife gear. In what’s hopefully a good sign, many of the top-tier Kickstarter rewards (like $3,000 for a painting by artist Marc Turner) have already been claimed.
Want to get a taste of what HiSessions can do? Check out their most popular video featuring Mike Love singing “Permanent Holiday,” which has racked up 1.7 million views:
Here’s Kimie singing “Make Me Say,” the single from her debut album:
And here’s Ashley Lilinoe singing Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”: