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From the Where2sing.com stories:
The Great Karaoke Escape 2004/05

Day 18

I used to live in Brisbane, after I ran away from the ridiculous weather of England, and driving back to Brisbane from the Gold Coast reminds me of my many previous trips along this road. Although I'm going to be staying in town for a few nights later in the week, I'm first spending some time with friends who live at Redland Bay. So I arrive there in the middle of the aftenoon, we sit and chat, and although they are both non-singers, we agree that we'll all go to karaoke in the coming days.

But one of the people I'm here to see in Brisbane is Bill Masters, previously interviewed for W2S, and the person who compares the Karaoke Kangaroo community TV karaoke show, who also runs the Karaoke Korner shop at Holland Park, and who is also B&B Masters Enterprises and Oz Karaoke. But Bill is also busy building a mansion (tongue in cheek) in the wilderness of Queensland, and is today overseeing the installation of electricity through the valleys, over the hills, and up the slope that leads to the future Masters corporate headquarters.

'...Won't be back till much later in the day' is the word from Bill during the afternoon, then later comes a call offering dinner at his private Brisbane residence. I'm honoured...

I may have intimated that Bill is a man of substantial means, and living off the back of magnificent wealth torn from the wallets of karaoke singers, but actually he lives in a modest style and drives a car of excellent breeding but also reasonable age. Bill is too much a karaoke and music enthusiast to have made millions from it, and much of what he says is in fun - he seems to be a man who does not take himself too seriously.

He is also quite a private person, and I'm indeed honoured to be invited into his home. Some of the business of producing and editing footage for the TV series is done here, but I have only a brief tour before the wine is uncorked. We're having white wine, and there's talk of pasta to come. Mr Masters is tired from his day's endeavours in helping electricity make it as far as his new home, but he is obviously the cook in this household, and he soon starts cooking. He asks me to check the pasta, and as I think it is suitably 'al dente'; it is served. The chat is amiable, and we discuss the happenings on the W2S Forum and such since we last met.

The meal over, we move to the living room to watch the night's episode of 'Karaoke Kangaoo' - something I used to do some years ago. I would expect it to be a poor immitation of the SBS challenge (though it has preceded the SBS show by several years), but in fact it has all the fun, vibrancy and interest that was so lacking in the early SBS karaoke shows, and only barely evident in the latter ones. I mention this to Bill, and we agree that a karaoke show needs different treatment than other forms of TV singing.

Of course, the reception of Briz 31 is slightly 'snowy', whereas SBS has a crisp picture, and the 'Karaoke Kangaroo' is produced on a budget somewhere between 50c and a packet of crisps whereas even the SBS media launch of their series alone would have dwarfed the 'Karaoke Kangaroo' total production budget. But, a word to anyone thinking of putting together a TV series for karaoke - give Bill Masters a call, because there's something about the way his TV shows are shot, presented and edited that captures the fun of karaoke seemingly lost in other, and bigger-budget productions. And I'm not turned sideways and filling Mr Master's pockets - this is a genuine observation.

Bill has been around karaoke and entertainment for a lot of years, and his experience comes through in his conversation - not because he's ever telling you that he has great experience, and in fact he often says that he's an entertainer and not a businessman, but much of what he says is simply based on experience.

So I ask him whether he's worried by the many karaoke-singer-cum-host shows packed with the latest equipment. He has indeed noticed how many of these are applauded on the W2S site, but suggests that those on the site are the tip of the enthusiasts, seeking out the best karaoke experience that compliments their voice, irrespective of whether the karaoke hosts will make sufficient money with which to survive in the longer term. And, of course, he's correct - it's all very well to come onto the scene with the greatest and most expensive equipment, but this gear is expected to last for several years, and the crunch will come in four or five years when the host faces replacement but may not have earned sufficient income to facilitate this.

Bill also reminds me that many who come to karaoke are only occasional singers, and that they neither desire, nor would appreciate, the very best in sound equipment - and that a mid-range system is often less daunting to these people. Yep, he's probably correct, and that there is a place for hosts with all levels of equipment in the industry, and indeed that Bill is in it (and has been in it) for the long term. We do agree, however, that the host is the most important element in whether a karaoke gig 'works'.

'So tell me about Finland' I ask him, as it was there that he sealed the deal on running the Australian heats of the Karaoke World Championships 2005 just a few months ago. So he tells me about the sauna and the naked swim in a freezing lake - but images like that are too soon after excellent pasta and wine, so I won't report this conversation in detail.

How many venues will the Wintersun comp end up with? He reminds me that the previous year's comp had 80-90 venues, so I ask him if it's achievable to get to the 150 mark this time. He thinks that if W2S hosts and venues really get behind the comp, that we could achieve that, and it would be great to get really wide coverage, so that even people in rural areas can get to a karaoke venue near them in which to compete. He also says that he's found a great location for the Victoria state finals, and has set the time sufficiently early in the evening so that singers from the rural areas will be able to get there and back without being out all night.

Mr Master's long day is catching up with him, and I feel it's time I let him go to bed. It's well after 11pm anyway, and we've been talking for some hours, eventually sitting outside in the pleasant evening cool. I feel priviledged to have been invited to his home, and he certainly is an entertaining and surprisingly sincere character - I'm sure that he can also be quite business-minded when it comes to making all the figures work and ensuring that these national karaoke events work out, but he is probably indicitve of many karaoke hosts who are principally driven by the love of what they do.

I leave, and Bill as already yawning as he waves goodbye.

Read more singers' stories, and write your own karaoke story, on Where2sing.com . . .

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