In an eclectic office and studio in the back of an old Pictou foundry building, it seems anything is possible – from branding a product to creating micro-tourism videos to producing the sound track for a movie.
Within the high brick walls of RavenMedia are sets from past Pictou Rotary productions, stained glass windows from churches and re-designed tool boxes full of specialized equipment. A rotary dial phone sits atop a hand-cranked Victrola record player and an aged liquor cask serves as a side table.
“It is all stuff I use, not every day, of course, but very useful to have around when you need it,” explains Jon Visser who specializes in photography, audio, graphics, branding, marketing and related swag.
His current local clients include Glen Haven Manor and Thistle Bar and Grill and he has helped the Nova Scotia Spirit Company with its branding but he is convinced he can reach the world from Pictou.
“This is a unique space and I’m still working on a few details but with technology, adaptability and the drive to succeed there is no limit. I want corporate clients in my future.”
Visser points to a studio corner that holds an isolation booth that can surround a drum kit with sound proofing. Across the room is a Steinway piano with gingerbread scrolling. Between them is a period fireplace he built after an electrician found an old mantelpiece in the rafters. The walls, some of which slide in and out of place, display concert posters and album covers he designed. Above it all is a pulley system that probably goes back to when parts for ships were produced at the foundry.
The name of Visser’s multi-media company dates back to his early days of singing under the name Jon Raven.
“It is music that led me to all this. I wanted to be a singer and my mother insisted I had to do something else, as well, so I started the process of adding on skills. Once I learn something I look for the convergences and I master them.”
He studied recording arts and multi-media technology and found a day job in Toronto along with as many singing opportunities as he could handle.
“I spent two years working at the Silver Dollar Room in Toronto and brought many East Coast bands to town. I learned a lot about marketing and made a lot of connections.”
When a Nashville-based Sony Records producer responded positively to a demo tape Visser had sent, his world turned upside down.
“He told me he really liked it but he couldn’t work with me if I was in Toronto so I put everything up for sale and I was gone. “
As a child Visser spent more than a decade battling a rare form of cancer which had a low survival rate.
“It took my childhood but it made me a fighter. When Nashville called I had the guff to think I could do it because that’s the way I grew up. Mind you, I should have gotten something in writing because I wasn’t in Nashville too long before that producer was gone.”
When his first chance slipped away, he decided to stick around and work hard enough to create a second chance. By the time his funds were low he’d made enough friends to help him out until he was making money again.
“When I was couch-surfing I stayed about a month at (country singing star) Tanya Tucker’s house. I don’t know how many people believe it but I did.”
He was certain if he could weather the tough times, better days would come.
“Eventually, I was named Best Americana artist of the year. I was singing with legends, being produced by Steve Earle’s producer. I got as close to a professional status as I could get.”
Visser also found Nashville was the perfect place for his other skills.
“I got some breaks picking up jobs where I had the opportunity to learn from very smart people. Often they were willing to mentor me so I learned a lot more than what my job involved.”
Every time he changed jobs Visser made sure he added to his skill set.
“There was a time when I was just a day from having to leave because my work visa was going to expire and I got hired by the most amazing company with clients I never dreamed of working for.”
He said they included Eli-Lily Pharmaceuticals, Disney and NASA. The Disney job was designing an interactive program to train new hires while his work for NASA involved English to Arabic voice recognition software. While he may not be a football fan Visser was thrilled to design websites for the San Francisco 49ers, the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans.
“Along the way, I learned there were companies that didn’t like to pay for work done for them and as someone on a work visa I was very vulnerable but you learn to avoid getting burned the same way twice.”
When Visser’s father was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer a few years ago, he sold his Nashville home and brought his 1957 Chevy to Pictou County.
“I’d never have gotten anywhere near the experiences I’ve had if I had not left home but when I heard about my dad I wanted to be with him. Once you are home it is harder to go back so I keep working away, trying to build my business.”
One of his challenges is to convince prospective clients first-rate work can be done locally.
“It is something I run into, people who think it has to be better if it comes from away but if I can get in a foot in the door, I think I can convince people I have a lot to offer.”
On his own he is putting together a video series titled Beach Glass to tell people of the charms of Pictou County. To date he has filmed with chef Paul Heighton and singer-storyteller John Spyder Macdonald.