Cubsport performing on ‘The Sound’, Episode 2 / Photo: Supplied Mushroom Creative.

How The Creators Of ABC’s ‘The Sound’ Managed To Make A Live Music TV Show In The Midst Of A Global Pandemic

As the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our nation’s beloved live music industry, ABC TV’s The Sound stands as a weekly beacon of hope for us all. Coming to our screens each Sunday, The Sound combines Australia’s finest musicians with world-class production techniques to create an unmissable hour of music television, every week.

Heading into its fourth week, The Sound has so far featured breathtaking exclusive performances from the likes of Nick Cave, Paul Kelly & Paul Grabowsky, DMA’S, Eskimo Joe, The Teskey Brothers, Cub Sport, Amy Shark, John Butler, Gordi, Scott Darlow with Ian Kenny and many more, as well as weekly music news updates. Hosted by very rad humans Jane Gazzo and Zan Rowe with help from Aussie icons like Bryan Brown, Russell Crowe and Red Symons, The Sound is a powerhouse production brought to life by Mushroom Vision the team that brought us Music From the Home Front AND The State of Music.

The realisation of a long-held dream for Mushroom Vision’s Michael Gudinski, The Sound brings contemporary Australian music to free-to-air TV weekly, during prime time for the first time in far too long. It would be an impressive achievement in any era, but putting together a weekly music show of this calibre, during a pandemic era, when live music, media, production, hospitality, travel and other associated industries are operating under stringent lockdowns, stops just short of a modern miracle. With this in mind, we sat down for a chat with producer Saul Shtein to find out exactly how they’re managing to bring The Sound to life.

Music Feeds (MF): We’re entering the third week of The Sound how are you finding the experience so far?

Saul Shtein (SS): It’s been incredible. Given the challenge of getting a show up so quickly, the results that we as a team have achieved so far has been terrific. Some of the clips that the production team, headed by Tom Macdonald have put together and the performances themselves that have been captured have been wonderful.

MF: It has definitely been a pretty impressive experience as a viewer, especially given the time constraints you’re under. For perspective, how quickly did you have to get this together?

SS: For the first program, there was nothing in the can when we got the thumbs up on the Monday, with a delivery date of the Friday, so I’ve never seen or experienced anything like it. This is entirely a Mushroom Vision exercise and what they’ve been able to do, by capturing performances at such a high quality, and package it together with the hosting, the music news and the new releases, to create an hour program, and a real hour program at that, not a commercial TV hour, is extraordinary.

MF: From a viewer’s perspective, it definitely has a world-class feel, it is also a breath of fresh air having a dedicated contemporary music show back on the ABC during primetime, in the old ‘Countdown’ time slot! How do you feel about being trusted with occupying that slot?

SS: Intimidated.

Times have changed, if you were to do ‘Countdown’ now, I’m not sure it would work as well as it did. The nature or at least the intention of this show is to be a bit more eclectic than ‘Countdown’ was. It is great to be in that same space though. We are also operating under completely different circumstances though, you wouldn’t have a band playing close together on a small stage with a bunch of screaming, hyperactive kids in the audience in these current times, these troublesome times, it just couldn’t happen. I think that is the other thing too, the approach that we have had to have, as a result, is also extraordinary and having to work around those challenges. It is not as simple as putting a bunch of acts in the same studio and saying, ‘ready, set, go’, it is a very complex exercise.

MF: It is incredibly complex. As a musician myself, based in Melbourne, the prospect of even organising a live rehearsal is complex to the point of bordering on being an impossibility, so I can’t even fathom the complexity of organising a full TV production right now. Especially considering that capturing the essence and spirit of live performance on TV is notoriously difficult to do, even with the advantage of a studio audience, yet you’re pulling it off. Are there any certain techniques that you’re using that are enabling that connection, that vibe, to cut through?

SS: We’re dealing with something completely new. It is not like putting a band on a stage and filming with multiple cameras live. It is varied and really depends on what style of artist we are working with, be it a solo artist or a band. They all require different approaches. One of the most extraordinary aspects is that the artists don’t need to be in the same place. You’ve got contributions like Colin Hay coming from Los Angeles, or Eskimo Joe where three band members are in one state and another member is in a completely different state and timezone. That aspect has been really eye-opening for me, as far as how well it has worked. We’re still learning along the way. If you said we’re going to capture performances from people in multiple locations and have it come together with the integrity of a live performance, that is something that is completely new and likely wouldn’t have happened, had it not been for the current circumstances caused by COVID-19.

MF: It really is one of those instances where necessity has been the mother of invention. It also feels like these abilities and techniques that are being developed are going to be very influential in television production moving forward. Do you get that sense as well?

SS: I think pretty much across the board that is true. If you have to look at the way television is being produced now, particularly when you’re trying to capture something live. Live sport is a good example of this as well, at the moment you have broadcasts where the commentators aren’t even at the ground and the main production crew aren’t even at the ground either, so there’s a lot of adaptability and progress going on.

MF: For artists, especially musicians, getting back to actual stages is the goal, but as that looks less likely by the day, having opportunities like performing on The Sound, or even picking up the technological developments that come with these types of broadcasts to apply elsewhere is a really important thing. Do you feel the positive impact you’re making?

SS: The most positive person of all is Michael Gudinski. I’ve worked with captains of industry in the past and I’ve never met anyone as passionate, hands-on, or involved as Michael is in this. This isn’t a money-making venture for him either, it is quite the opposite actually, but he is doing this because he believes in it and he is passionate about and the work ethic he showed to get this over the line, filters through to everyone involved. It is an enthusiasm that is rarely seen. It is a real belief in promoting Australian music, and none of this would have happened without Michael.

MF: It is refreshing to see someone that inspired still this deep into their career that’s for sure. Now we are a music publication, so it is probably worth us talking about some of the performances that have taken place on The Sound so far?

SS: It is very eclectic. I think one of the most poignant performances was Paul Kelly & Paul Grabowsky. To see them playing at an empty Hamer Hall, was actually quite emotional. Not only was it a fantastic and moving performance, but the energy the environment gave the performance, really underlined what we’re doing here. The way the production team has turned in some of these performances, such as Eves Karydas in the Aquarium, to pull something like that off, it was almost as if someone was sitting there saying ‘cue the turtle’, it was one of those ones that was world-class and anyone would be proud to be associated with it. So again my praise goes to Tom Macdonald and the team for capturing these things so wonderfully.

It is a very eclectic show. One of the things that have really caught some traction are the tributes. The one for Greedy Smith in the first episode and Chrissy Amphlett for the second, and there’ll be another one this week. We’re talking multiple artists from different locations, coming together and that has really generated a lot of comments.

MF: It is all pretty cool. I must say I’m particularly blown away by the artist’s ability to connect with each other and deliver what really feels like a genuine, live performance, remotely. I feel that is quite an achievement on their end as well.

SS: You being a musician would understand the challenges better than most and trying to capture that live performance in that way, really is something kinda new. Hopefully, artists are watching it and wondering how they can add to what we’re unearthing here and apply it to their own careers. It is very much a blank page that we are filling in week-to-week. It is early days, but as with the rest of our lives, we will be looking at new ways to do things.

MF: Absolutely. I have to say to hear someone of your experience and seniority, speak with this much passion about a project they are working on, is quite refreshing. It really speaks to a genuine love and passion for music to me, is that the case?

SS: That is very much the case. People always ask me “what is your favourite band?” or “what is your favourite sport?” but my answer is always, I like anything that is of quality. I’ll watch a competitive game of tiddlywinks or a band or artist of any genre as long as it is of quality. At my core, I’m a failed musician. I played in a three-chord punk band and I also played in a youth orchestra and I was a bit average at that as well, so I come at this with a genuine appreciation for music of all genres.

I was actually reading your article on bands that wear masks, and some of the bands I must admit gave me a laugh, stuff like GWAR for instance, but then others, like Ghost, I love. It is all a part of the performance. My first go at producing a music show since the MTV days was Music from the Home Front and pulling all of that together within six days was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, and The Sound continues that trend.

MF: That passion is definitely cutting through, so I hope we’ll get to keep you in our world for a little while longer yet. Before I let you go, I’d like you to name a few performances from the upcoming episodes that you’re looking forward to people seeing?

SS: Scott Darlow and Ian Kenny are just fabulous, our tribute this week to Skyhooks is extraordinary, plus Sheppard and John Butler and Amy Shark have done performances that are great as well. It is really hard to separate them, it is a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child. The thing about them though is they are all quality performances. If you pressed me, the highlight from this week is Scott Darlow and Ian Kenny’s performance. Gordi is great, Boy & Bear, even looking at the Vault performance we have from Jimmy Barnes, that blows me away a bit too. It really speaks to the eclectic nature of the programming.

We’re aiming to make it an hour that everyone can connect with at least something in, so you can sit down with family and everyone gets a moment or multiple moments where they feel like the show is really speaking to them. If you don’t like what you’re watching at any point, in three or four minutes you’ll get something that you may like. The challenge of the show is to connect with as broad of an audience as possible.

‘The Sound’ airs Sundays at 5.30pm on ABC and repeats the following Saturdays, 12.30pm on ABC. Also available to stream on view. Head here for this week’s lineup

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