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A great thing to do at a time of great challenge

By Michael Carpenter

My normal world sees me recording music, videos and performing all around Australia. Over the last few years, I’ve become a regular visitor to Central West NSW for live collaborations.

In February 2020, the months ahead looked very exciting. It was set to be the perfect balance of studio, video and live work. My schedule had the right amount of plane, car and stay-at-home work. Mid-March looked especially inviting, with three big projects in the works and some excellent road gigs planned.

Then COVID-19 hit.

A conservative estimate saw about $28,000 of work completely disappear in about three days. Every show, including two big tours in the second half of the year- cancelled. All my interstate work – gone. All video projects – on hold indefinitely. It was devastating.

I did the maths and realised that without doing something to generate income, I had three weeks before I’d be broke and pushed out of my studio.

Fortunately, I’d started the year purging unnecessary equipment. The week before the NSW lockdown I’d managed to sell a big-ticket item that I’d had for sale for a while. This was the money I was living off in the early stages of lockdown.

After the initial shock of the first week, I tried to analyse my panic. Once I looked past the vast negatives, I started to see this undefined length of time as an opportunity.

Making use of the extra time

I realised that I was always craving more time. Well … now I had more time! Lots of time, theoretically. I started to make lists: day-to-day and longer-term ones, of things I wanted to achieve and do. And quite quickly, my mindset started to change. I started to feel a tangible sense of relief.

A few friends noted the change and encouraged me to share my experience through Facebook live chats. Through these chats, I became inspired and started to think about the opportunities on offer.

I’m used to doing between 50 – 75 shows a year and I knew the prospect of not performing was going to take its toll. Financially it would take its toll, obviously, but I worried how I would cope mentally after 35 years of performing regularly.

We musicians get into a rhythm of affirmation and satisfaction from performing that is hard to simulate. I thrive on the feeling of living on the edge with my performances. The energy also feeds other aspects of my creativity. I knew that I wouldn’t cope well without it.

Late in 2019, I had a reasonably half-baked idea to run a live series under the moniker of ‘The Album Show’. Conceptually it would involve a house band made up of some of my trusted musical buddies performing a classic album. I’d been playing in Beatles cover bands for some time, and had previously been part of a Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks show. So, I’d been circling around the idea for a while.

As my musician friends started live streaming around the world, I paid attention, noting the things I liked and didn’t like.

Very tentatively, I approached singer-songwriter and good friend Nick Payne with the idea. We started to create a live performance with high-quality visuals and audio.

In May, we ran our first live stream with a Beatles show. A single fixed camera, live requests, high-quality audio and donations coming in through our PayPal Tip Jar. As the ‘promoter’ I can’t say it was profitable, but it was good. We did 20 things right and 50 things wrong, but we could see how it could work. Two weeks later we did another, with four camera positions and the feed edited in real-time. We had a suggested donation of $10 for people to join the live stream.

A new kind of show

Since then we have gotten into a rhythm of running these shows every two weeks or so. We’ve now done a Rolling Stones show, another Beatles show, a Motown Soul Revue, a Crowded House show, plus more. Bathurst-based muso Sophie Jones played in a Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks Show, and later, with her partner James Van Cooper, in a Creedence show. We’re in the process of taking on sponsors to help offset the costs, but the main thing we need is to build the audience and convince people sitting at home to part with $20 to watch a high-quality event. In the meantime, we’ve managed to give about 30 different musicians and crew gigs where none existed and have managed to build content to enhance the brand of ‘The Album Show’.

With the support of many people from the Central West, and a slowly growing audience, we have come close to covering costs. Watching the performances back, it’s exactly what we’d hoped for – a high-quality live concert experience that struck a chord with all who watched it.

What my team of brilliant creatives and I are doing feels progressive. It feels like a great thing to do at a time of great challenge. And man – it’s a lot of fun. It brings us all a large amount of joy, and the way I see it, joy is the greatest currency of all.

This blog piece was contributed by our partners from the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, as part of their work with Everymind and on their Wellbeing in Rural Small Business project.

About Michael Carpenter

Michael Carpenter is a Sydney-based record producer/multi-instrumentalist/video maker/singer-songwriter who collaborates with musicians and other creatives across Australia including Bathurst-based musicians Sophie Jones (also of Smith & Jones) and James Van Cooper.

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