By Simon Byrne

All of us are grappling with what the new normal is going to be

It is clear is that there will be no large gatherings for some time. Indeed the government’s three step framework only refers to gatherings of up to one hundred people, but with the possibility of larger gatherings to be considered [Evolving – see CX FB post re Govt statement 12 June].

That said, according to the plan, venues will only have up to one hundred patrons anyway, so it is unclear as to how a larger gathering is going to be possible.

According to the Federal Government, these are the arrangements that will be our ‘new normal’ while the virus remains a threat (exact words), and no one seems to be able to predict how long that will be.

So it seems that if you are going to see a band live, it won’t be at a venue anytime soon, it will be streamed. One company in Canberra is betting its survival on this and thrown themselves, and their dwindling cash into ‘Live In Ya Lounge’.

Event Audiovisual Services (known as EAVS) is a corporate audiovisual provider with twenty four full-time staff. Like everyone else, their workload went off a cliff on Friday the 13th March when the government announced the ban on gatherings and suddenly they had no work.

Rob Cartwright, the company’s Managing Director, wanted to keep the EAVS team intact. They had a whole heap of gear and talented people so ‘Live In Ya Lounge’ was born.

Streamed on both Facebook and YouTube as well as the ‘Live In Ya Lounge’ website, it is a means for artists to deliver the live concert experience direct into people’s homes. It isn’t just an artist in their lounge room with a smart phone streaming online. It is a virtual concert with full production, professional audio and lighting, delivering the next best thing to attending in person.

So far they have had Hands Like Houses, Groovy Daughter, Dana Hassall, Levi Jackson, Archie and Aya Eves to name a few.

The Archies perform at Live in Ya Lounge

At their own cost, EAVS hire a 770 square metre pavilion at EPIC (Canberra Showgrounds) to stage the events. Production goes in on Wednesdays, occasionally tech checks on Thursdays, soundcheck and rehearsals on Fridays with the show on Saturday.

Demand is such that the shows are being extended to Friday nights this month as well.

Eighteen staff from EAVS, plus a host, stage the events. As well as the sound, lighting and video techs, the team also comprises streaming, graphics, social media operators as well as their own dedicated COVID-19 safety officer.

Normally there are two acts, so that accounts for another ten or so people in the building. The performers are on in-ears and there is no PA system. Because of this, they are able to deliver very high quality sound to the streams. They have the performance stage covered by five cameras, as well as ‘the lounge’ covered by a further three cameras where performers are interviewed by the host, Lexi Sekuless, again in a socially distanced setup.

The lounge where the performers are interviewed

COVID-19 health safety compliance and approvals is the new, big challenge. The ACT Government owns EPIC so special permission was required to allow the use of the pavilion due to the fact that venues are currently closed by law. Therefore EAVS had to demonstrate that the space was not being used as a venue, but a workplace to produce the streamed content in a manner that complied with current health regulations.

This was difficult because there has been seven different versions of the ACT health regulations to which they must comply. Rob said he worked “really hard” with ACT Health and other departments to get an approval process to ensure they could operate.

Rob and his team developed a comprehensive thirty-eight page COVID-19 health safety plan. It sets out the procedures that they use to ensure that the virus is not transmitted between the thirty or so people on the site.

It starts with only allowing pre-approved essential workers into the building, all of which are logged in and out. Then there are procedures to ensure that the one person per four square metres is maintained, an example of which is the change rooms.

If you have two bands with five members each, that means you need at a minimum two, twenty square metre change rooms. EAVS make the rooms with push up poles and drapes. The floor is marked up for the operator zones too, thereby ensuring that the operators maintain the required separation.

Steve Collings running the vision

The equipment is disinfected very regularly, certainly when they do an act change, and the team use checklists to ensure nothing is missed. The COVID-19 safety officer documents that everything is done correctly should ACT Health require proof of compliance. Indeed, the first hour of the crew call on show day is solely taken up by carrying out their cleaning and disinfection procedures.

A vocal microphone is only used by a single performer and replaced for the next act. After the event, they are partially disassembled and disinfected using Isopropyl alcohol. Rob comments “I don’t think anyone had ever written a sanitisation policy for a microphone before.”

If there was ever an argument for vocal performers to purchase their own microphones, it is now!

Old school analog warmth brought to the stream

Equipment such as audio and lighting consoles are difficult to disinfect. You cannot be spraying those with liquid disinfectants and expect them to keep working! In those cases, the EAVS team hand wipe the gear as best they can, and more importantly, don’t share equipment. That way there is no transmission risk.

National level acts are taking notice of the high production standards and reach that ‘Live In Ya Lounge’ is delivering and they are booked well into June, but as you might imagine, it needs financial support to survive.

It is a self-funded operation and they’ve had some limited success with local sponsors but at this stage they definitely need more to make it financially sustainable. However, Rob believes as more people realise that this format is the only way that live music will survive for the foreseeable future, government and corporate sponsors will come on board.

“We’re doing a whole lot of learning very quickly but, like anybody, you’re grateful to have something to do … it gives you a sense of purpose.”

The Live in Ya Lounge Set