Many people out of work because of the pandemic survived on unemployment benefits, stimulus payments, family support and savings while waiting for their jobs to reopen.
It was much the same for Paul Ortlip-Hume, 31, who was laid off as a member of the stage crew by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in March of 2020, and has yet to be asked back.
However, as much as he enjoyed his work on the stage crew and would love to return one day, he used the down time to explore the possibility of starting his own business.
In his downtown Ashland studio, he has been recording and producing original music, music videos and personalized comedic skits as gifts for special occasions.
It really started a few years ago when he decided to sing for his mom’s birthday.
“She loved it so much that I decided to create something for my sister’s birthday. I recorded my own vocals over the music of the Duck Tales theme song and made a fun music video to go along with it. For my dad’s birthday that year, I acted out a really odd skit about a clown who was down on his luck.” His dad is long-time OSF equity actor Michael J. Hume.
The pandemic gave him a lot of time to think. “I realized that while I was chasing other job opportunities, I was ignoring the skills and passions I’ve had my entire life.
“So, I pieced together a small recording studio and started writing, creating, producing and recording original ideas that made me happy. And it didn’t take long before I had the idea to create things for other people.”
In the summer of 2020, he wrote and recorded an original song for his friend’s wedding. It was well received and his new venture/adventure was on its way.
His first season at OSF was in 2006 when he was 16, working for the stage operations department. He had been on the hunt for a summer job.
“I loved it almost immediately,” he said. “It was the perfect combination of physical, intellectual and creative work.”
He continued to work there summer seasons in between school years until 2014 when he graduated from the University of Oregon, at which time he came back to work at OSF full time, except for two years when he moved out of town to pursue other interests.
He returned to work at OSF for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then COVID-19 hit.
“Fortunately, I was already collecting unemployment during the off-season and was able to continue doing so during the pandemic,” he said.
State and federal stimulus packages were a help, and he worked a number of odd jobs.
“It also helped that I lived on a farm where I did work-trade for rent and food,” he said.
He’s been having fun honing his skills and creating personalized video and musical gifts — sometimes in the form of a goofy original song for someone’s birthday, a weird video skit for a family member’s graduation, a full-length music video for a friend’s wedding, and more.
“I also produce a lot of original music on the side that’s just for me — for now, at least,” he said. “That being said, all of the creations I’ve made so far have been gifts, free of charge. It has allowed me to gauge recipients’ reactions, get amazing feedback, and build up a following.”
He believes the day will come soon when he has built the infrastructure for success and can start monetizing the things he creates for a variety of customers.
He envisions a typical job as beginning with an initial consultation to learn more about the recipient before creating a personalized song or video.
He’s exploring marketing strategies for when he goes commercial.
“As of now, it’s mainly word of mouth, but in the near future, I plan on launching online campaigns through social media and a website.”
He enjoys the reactions he gets from recipients of the personalized videos.
“I aim to make people laugh, gasp and think,” he said. There may be elements of absurdity, but always presented in a heartfelt way in a spirit of fun.
Hume essentially does everything himself.
“I write and record the songs, write the scripts for the videos, direct and act in the videos, and then edit it all together and tie it up with a bow,” he said.
“I do hire actors for my videos, since most of them require a range of characters. The actors I hire always have a great time working on these projects, so it’s really easy to get them to come back for the next one.”
He’s been working on developing his new business for about a year.
“I’ve produced dozens of projects, and they’re getting better and more professional and effective,” he said. “I feel very optimistic about the future because there are so many avenues to take. I’m not limited to a single type of creation. And I have the infrastructure and connections that will allow me to maximize my potential.”
Along the way, Hume and a friend, Mike Caruso, started collaborating musically, paving the way for more exposure and an opportunity to add a revenue stream.
Caruso, whose stage name is Son Ravello, also worked in stage operations at OSF before the layoffs. He is the founder of Magnetic West Music.
“He’s been an amazing influence on me,” Hume said. “One day he noticed me singing during our shift at OSF and was impressed. He asked if I wanted to record the vocal harmonies for one of his original songs he was writing. We’ve been collaborating ever since.”
The two started playing live shows together in the summer of 2020.
“We played a handful of wineries across the Rogue Valley and some private parties,” Hume said.
They perform Caruso’s original songs, of the indie-folk, singer-songwriter variety. Caruso plays guitar and sings lead vocals, occasionally adding licks on the harmonica, kick drum and ukulele. Hume sings vocal harmonies, plays the keyboard, and occasionally the tambourine.
“In addition to writing and performing, we also created and starred in a mini web series called ‘Birdwatchers.’ It’s a comedy sketch in a series of episodes about two dorky birdwatchers and the funny drama that happens on their birdwatching outings,” he said.
Caruso has been playing gigs in the area for many years. When Hume appears with him, it’s as a “guest performer.”
The pandemic, as crazy as it was (is), brought hardship, but also clarity, to Hume.
“It allowed me to realize that I was pursuing avenues through the lens of other people’s approval and not what made me happy,” he said. “As difficult as the road ahead may be, I’ve found the right route.”
Hume is putting together a “You Record” studio where people can record their own original work. He will include one free session, teaching them how to use the equipment. He’ll also provide everything needed to record — computer, recording software, instruments, and unlimited loops and samples.
For more information, contact Hume at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at email@example.com.