Inside Rely-Ability’s Live Music Performance Program

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Inside Rely-Ability’s Live Music Performance Program

Words by Mixdown Staff

Mixdown was lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Rely-Ability managing director Michael Macokatic, who provided an inside look at Rely-Ability's Live Music Performance Program.

Rely-Ability is a New South Whales based mental health peer support service, delivering creative opportunities to improve the mental health and well-being of clients.

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The organisation’s creativity hub is a laid-back, fun environment within which clients are provided with specialised support. A group of carefully selected staff, who are not only peer workers in the mental health field, but possess relevant industry experience in the creative arts, all generously impart their skills unto clients, helping them to achieve their artistic goals and make their dreams a reality. These support workers are provided with art supplies, technology/software and music equipment in a safe and supported environment, from which some truly incredible creative work has emerged.

Mixdown was lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Rely-Ability managing director Michael Macokatic, who provided an inside look at Rely-Ability’s Live Music Performance Program; the client base of which is producing some phenomenal and extremely exciting work under the expert guidance of their on-staff mentors.

Can you provide us with a bit of background on Rely-Ability’s Creativity Hub? How did the initiative first come to fruition, and what programs are currently on offer for clients/participants?

Rely-Ability started eight years ago when managing director Michael Macokatic, after fifteen years experience in the welfare sector identified an opportunity for a more unique service model using creative arts to support recovery. A service with a strong focus on digital media to better meet the needs of the younger generations, and also provide any client with skills to help them connect with their community in new and exciting ways. Michael believes that creativity nurtures good mental health. Rely-Ability offers numerous creative arts programs. These include music performance, sound production, animation, graphic design, creative writing, live-stream set, to name a few.

Focusing more specifically on your Live Music Performance Program, how has the curriculum been tailored to creatively empower individuals with disabilities?

Rather than using a formalised structure or curriculum the live performance program is delivered by mental health peer workers that have significant industry and academic experience, who work with clients at a pace that is suitable to their individual needs, and focus on areas that they may be more interested in to help maintain enthusiasm and meaningful engagement.

Rehearsal sessions take place on Saturdays between 10am and 2pm. The client staff band ‘Moving Shadows’ are expecting to begin performing in the local area early next year. A tour up the east coast is also being considered for some time next year. Rely-Ability uses great equipment to perform and record such as UI-24 Soundcraft mixers, Universal Audio Apollo 4’s at it’s recording stations, Yamaha PA speakers and sub, high quality mic’s such as Peluso and Neumann and of course the unbreakable Shure 58’s for live shows. We use a range of DAW’s as well, but mostly Studio One by Presonus. All instruments are provided at our hub too. Rely-Ability even provides software subscriptions for clients enthusiastic about learning sound production.

Staff support clients to work towards what are considered mutually beneficial goals. In the case of the live music program the goals are around developing a live show consisting of original songs written by clients, and some songs co-written with staff. Staff understand their role is to support and empower clients to achieve their creative goals. Our flexible sessions are tailored to respect the clients needs and can be highly productive or relaxed depending on how a client may be feeling on any given day. Progress notes are also recorded as sessions should preferably be productive, and having a client participate in session notes can be a valuable aspect of the support, promoting transparency and co-design of service. Rely-Ability also supports clients to street perform with the busking program run by Andrew and Laree. Clients are supported to register their originals with APRA and staff support clients to access royalties where that support is needed.. Rely-Ability also supports clients to develop performance skills and confidence through our regular live streaming sessions. During our live stream performances clients get a chance to rehearse and get comfortable in front of the cameras with encouragement from staff.

Tell us a little bit about your wonderful staff in the music program – what are their musical backgrounds? How has their collective expertise shaped the program?

Rely-Ability’s music program staff all have qualifications or experience in the creative industries. Music specialist Alan has worked professionally in the international music scene with his popular rock band Mammal. He also has a university level qual’s in performance arts. Alan has written several hundred of his own songs and has skills in navigating the music industry.  Staff person Laree has earned a Bachelor of music with majors in performance and sound production. Laree supports clients to record and rehearse their songs. Laree brings her experience as a music tutor and session bass player to each session with clients. Sound engineer Colin Wright has twenty years of experience teaching sound production at TAFE and has worked with Sure, Troy Horse Studios, Rich Music Studios, members of Midnight Oil and many more. Each of our music program staff are dedicated to helping clients produce the highest standard of music and supporting them to be confident performers. Our program is driven by the skills and experience that our staff bring to working with clients on their musical goals. Staff work hard to ensure that clients’ productions are of a professional quality.

(Above: Rely-Ability’s second music video ‘Floating’. Music & Lyrics by Michael Macokatic & Robert Burley.)

Are there any key challenges your team has identified that the disabled community encounter when approaching the creative arts? And further, how do Rely-Ability’s programs aim to ameliorate them?

The non-availability of NDIS services focusing on the creative arts means that Rely-Ability is filling a gap in service delivery, at least in our local areas. Supporting clients to feel welcome, comfortable and valued is a key focus of the Rely-Ability approach. The service has a strong focus on hiring staff who have lived experience with mental health. Our peer workers bring valuable personal experiences of recovery in the mental health space. Our team aims to provide an empathetic and supportive environment which encourages individual expression. Our team also views creativity as a means of transcending perceived limitations that may be related to one’s mental health experience. For example, many clients have written and recorded songs at our service about difficult times in their lives and created something quite beautiful and exciting from those experiences.

Also, with the use of all of our awesome digital media equipment clients who may be isolated or lack confidence to physically socially interact with their community we are able to support them to create blogs, youtube (and other streaming) platforms/channels, develop an online portfolio and ultimately support the emerging of artists in their own right. We attract very passionate and highly talented artists to our service as well as people on the beginning of their artistic journey.

What have been the most rewarding aspects of running the program? What has surprised you the most along this journey? 

There are too many rewarding aspects to cover here in this article. It is rewarding on a daily basis to see the people we support continue to achieve their goals, gain skills and confidence, purpose and meaning in their lives. It is rewarding from the position of being a social enterprise. Rely-Ability employs staff that experience barriers to employment. Despite the fact that there is positive change in society around stigma associated with mental health, many people with lived experience face barriers to meaningful employment in the workforce. Discovering just how much meaning and purpose is provided to clients and peer staff has been surprising. Our programs not only support client’s recovery but also staff in their recovery and ability to maintain optimal mental health and well-being. Watching clients and staff working towards goals in a safe, supported environment where the focus is on creativity. A space where diagnoses, limitations and labels fade away to a place of irrelevance, as the world of unlimited opportunities for creative expression opens up to staff and clients each day, this is immensely rewarding for all involved!

(Above: A song written by Robert Burley and Michael Macokatic, acknowledging challenges faced by first nation peoples. A collaboration between staff and clients Rely-Ability.)

Are there any anecdotes, or client experiences you’d like to share that really showcase the efficacy of the program? Any particular highlights?

One client Jesse spoke about our service recently describing it as the ‘life juice’ that she gets from accessing our program. Jesse has recorded and produced four albums at Rely-Ability Studios with the support of her key worker Colin Wright. Colin has over twenty-five years experience teaching sound production at Tafe and has worked with some of Australia’s biggest artists. Jesse has also produced several music videos by engaging with our music video program.

Christopher Surgey, a talented singer/songwriter who has a record deal is being supported to record and produce a 16 song demo album to present to Sony Music.

The success of client Nathan Bell is another stand-out example of achievement. Nathan’s debut novel which was written with support from the Rely-Ability creative writing program has sold over 500 copies. Nathan is also supported with music. Nathan has completed a series of studio recordings, two music videos, several lyric videos and is supported to regularly produce content for his YouTube channel. As Nathan is very business focused, support is tailored to help Nathan grow his creative business. Nathan is also supported to produce promotional material including posters and flyers which he distributes around Newcastle to build his following.

What’s next for the program? Anything particularly exciting on the horizon that you’d like to spotlight?

The level of talent amongst our client base is inspirational. It’s only a matter of time before we see more of our emerging artists connect with a wider audience and build connections and employment opportunities in the music industry. We aim to support clients to achieve the recovery they wish for and exit their program at Rely-Ability, and maybe even return as peer-support staff with Rely-Ability.

(Above: Music video for Renegade by Hadron C (Nathan Bell) featuring Ezekiel Ox.)

For more information about Rely-Ability, head here.