Every music video in the “little songsThe series begins with a living portrait: the musician stands still and stares straight into the camera, setting the tone for an intimate performance. They play into a microphone with a singular instrument and in locations that vary from street corners to alleys to city parks. The series is meant to “just focus on the performer and watch them do their magic,” says producer and videographer Cole Mitchek.
Mitchek started “smallsongs” in 2019. The Evergreen native had returned to Colorado after several years in San Francisco and saw the video series as a way to combine his love of music and film. So far, the project has featured around 300 performers, and Mitchek has filmed them in cities across the country and abroad. While he wants Youtube channel to continue to grow, with more musicians and a wider audience, the target remains focused on the small moment of an artist sharing his profession.
“I always grew up wanting to be a filmmaker,” says Mitchek. “It’s been my one and only dream of my entire life.” He enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2013, where he honed his video skills and began collaborating on various short films and music videos. These days, in addition to “little songs,” Mitchek supports himself by editing wedding videos and other freelance gigs.
During his early college collaborations, Mitchek learned the value of simplicity. Organizing shoots with large crews and multiple cameras takes time. With “smallsongs”, he streamlines the filming process. It records the videos itself and shoots them in single takes that don’t require deep editing.
He also prefers to shoot single takes for artistic reasons. “It’s spontaneous and natural,” he explains, adding that he and artists tend to prefer the first and second takes, and he’s never done more than four. Although multiple recordings may allow for the best technical release, “the first or second try is the most authentic because they’re not trying too hard,” he says.
Sometimes that means artists make mistakes. Mitchek recalls a set with the band Minneapolis Americana the last party, in which a guitar string broke midway through filming. But these are the privileged moments that he likes to highlight.
“When people aren’t too afraid to show their mistakes, it makes things easier to understand,” he says.
The performances are filmed in atypical places which stage moments of improvisation. “When I can make life move in the background of filming or someone stops and watches [the musicians] playing is really special,” adds Mitchek.
The project gave Mitchek countless unforgettable memories. He describes the pleasure of filming the singer Danitse in Lima, Peru, in an urban park known for its population of stray cats. There was also the time he filmed the group from Fort Collins many mountains on a fire escape near Larimer Square, and a cop told them that even if they could finish recording, they probably shouldn’t be there. He often included moments of his wife, Andy Venturaand their son, Elliott, somewhere in the set.
The weather also plays a role. In March, Mitchek filmed the Asheville singer-songwriter Alexa Pink a snowy winter morning. “It was his dream to shoot a video in the snow,” he explains. “Most musicians wouldn’t want to do that because the guitar would go out of tune and their hands would get cold. But I knew it would look amazing.
Mitchek says that when he started the show, he often relied on tools like social media and Westword concert listings to find musicians. But as her series has grown, it has become easier to network. “I learned that the music community is more tight-knit than I thought,” he explains. “I can discover new artists thanks to their recommendations.”
Mitchek took “little songs” on the road in 2020 after he and his wife converted a party bus into a liveable van. She had always wanted to live in a small house and they wanted to explore the country with their baby. Continuing the video series while traveling was a bit of an afterthought, he notes, but they ended up recording artists in New Orleans, Austin, New York, Nashville and Philadelphia.
It was a special time because the artists weren’t on tour, but “smallsongs” was able to travel to them, adds Mitchek.
He sees the project as a way to support the independent music community, as it allows for creative freedom and exposure to a wider audience. “Some of the musicians I work with are amazing, talented people. I want them to be huge,” he says.
Mitchek sees how similar YouTube video series, such as The Blogotheque, have gained many followers. The group has filmed “Take Away” shows for the past ten years, amassing more than 600,000 subscribers and capturing performances from Iron & Wine, Angel Olsen and Mumford and Sons.
Mitchek hopes “smallsongs” can do something similar. One day he wants to film Bob Dylan.