Where Music and Video Collide


The work of Steve Ossler ’84, concert video director for Zac Brown Band, is displayed on three large screens at the Second Annual Southern Ground Music and Food Festival in Nashville, Tennessee. 

When you spend your childhood flying across the country meeting people such as actor Jack Lord from the original Hawaii Five-O, it’s just a small step to touring the world with Bon Jovi. At least, it was for Steve Ossler ’84.

“Because of my dad’s job as an executive with TWA, we were always traveling to Las Vegas to see my grandparents,” he began. “On those flights, we often bumped into famous people. They seemed normal to me, but so many people were in awe of them. I had no clue.”

That fame-filled youth evolved into a career as a video director for concerts and tours with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including his first gig ever — with The Who. “I was very excited when I received the phone call. I don’t think I needed more than a minute to say, ‘Yes,’” he recalled, adding, “It was incredible to sit on stage and run a camera for a show with Roger Daltrey swinging his mic at your head every night. It was kind of amazing.”

Ossler tracks multiple camera feeds to show people what’s actually happening on stage: “If you hear a guitar, you want to see a guitar; if you hear drums, you want to see drums. I have a natural gift for being able to visualize that as it’s happening.” 

Ossler’s love and passion for music started when he was a child listening to The Sound of Music and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” every night. “Music has always been a solace for me, a place to escape,” he noted. “I would go to bed with music on an old 45 rpm record player; it would play over and over until Mom or Dad shut it off,” which led to music becoming a “key and integral part” of his life. 

While a mass communications and radio/TV major at Bradley, Ossler delved into the broadcast world at WEEK-TV, the Peoria NBC affiliate, as a floor director assembling prompter pages before becoming a master control operator. But, the music was still there: “I was a DJ at a bar by the river, spinning records. … I also worked for WCBU-FM, the classical music radio station.” In addition to his college jobs, he also served as chapter chaplain for Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. “I loved the fraternity. I loved the campus. I loved the opportunities it gave me,” he said. “Working for the radio station was phenomenal.”

A sometimes saxophonist and drummer, Ossler admits he never mastered those instruments, “but I always understood music — the beat, the tempo, the rhythm,” skills that took hold in his 30s after he cut his first show and realized he had a natural gift for seeing “the visual side of music.” That epiphany launched a career of showing people what literally is happening on the stage in front of them or on TV: “My most current venture is doing live broadcasts for AXS TV; Palladia will come soon.” Until then, he remains focused on his role as video director for the Zac Brown Band.

How does Ossler continually find himself surrounded by some of the best in the business? “Loving what I do becomes infectious,” he explained.

“After 12 years on the road, the last two with Zac have been so positive,” he remarked. “I’m surrounded by talented technicians, by people who have a passion for the business, a passion for Zac, and a passion for a successful project.”

That’s saying something for a man who ate dinner at Jon Bon Jovi’s parents’ house — and completed three world tours with the band — who had 18,000 people sing him “Happy Birthday” courtesy of Sarah McLachlan, and who played Frisbee with Sir Paul McCartney during a European tour stop at the Millennium Dome in London. 

Although he admits the 18-hour days on the road can be long, it’s easier with his “Zamily,” his band family. “We’re weekend warriors: We only do shows Thursdays through Sundays because Zac likes being home with his family, so I’m home every week with mine,” he explained. However, over the years, he has missed birthdays, plays, and performances: “It’s a double-edged sword going after your dream and having to make sacrifices for it. It’s amazing what you will do for what you love.”

Having returned to Peoria for concerts at the Civic Center with the Zac Brown Band in 2013 and with Nickelback in 2006, Ossler fondly remembers his time on campus, stating he was “very prideful to walk in and see the Braves name. I’m very happy I did my stint at Bradley.”

— Clara Miles, MA ’05
Photography by Southern Reel