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Good Karma 

UPDATED: Richmond’s Spacebomb studio has to cancel free sessions for SXSW bands. .

click to enlarge The Spacebomb crew, front row from left: Cameron Ralston, Zack Cain, Ben Baldwin, Brooks Daughtrey. In the back row are Pinson Chanselle, Travis Robertson, Matthew E. White, Trey Pollard, Dean Christesen and Jesse Medaries.

Scott Elmquist/File

The Spacebomb crew, front row from left: Cameron Ralston, Zack Cain, Ben Baldwin, Brooks Daughtrey. In the back row are Pinson Chanselle, Travis Robertson, Matthew E. White, Trey Pollard, Dean Christesen and Jesse Medaries.

Updated with statement from Spacebomb:

When SXSW was cancelled, we were only facing a festival pulling out to avoid large gatherings. However, things have progressed significantly in the last couple of days. With all Richmond VA area schools announcing they were closing for two weeks starting Monday and there being more closures to follow, we feel the current public health risk has reached a level where it would be irresponsible to continue with activities which put the community or the healthcare system under any additional and unnecessary stress.

So we have decided to cancel all studio activities from the end of the day including the free SXSW sessions happening next week. Spacebomb as a whole is working remotely going forward.

Last night we spoke directly with all the musicians who were coming to Spacebomb – Stealing Sheep, Self Esteem, Kate Bollinger, Little Coyote, Camp Howard (what an amazing week it would have been!) – and everyone agreed that protecting the most vulnerable is the priority now.

Thank you to everyone who offered support and to the individuals who offered accommodation. You’re all amazing. We should find a way to make this happen in the future, once everyone is safe. Now THAT would be fun!

Conferences, schools and now South by Southwest, the annual convergence in Austin Texas, of the interactive, film and music industries, are all affected by the coronavirus.

When the conference announced Friday evening that this year’s festival would be canceled, Richmond’s Spacebomb Studios was as bummed as anyone. As regulars at the conference for nearly 10 years, the biggest disappointment was for their artists who were going down to play: Angelica Garcia was traveling from Los Angeles, Nadia Reid was flying from New Zealand and a new management client, Good Dog Nigel from Virginia, was headed there to showcase for the first time.

Rather than focus on missed opportunities, Spacebomb decided to make lemonade out of lemons. Knowing that hundreds of artists would be stranded with their plans in question, Spacebomb decided to offer up its studio, free, for any musicians who could get to Richmond.

Chief Executive Ben Baldwin says it wasn’t until they headed to a bar for a post-work drink Friday and people’s phones started going off with news of the official cancellation that offering the studio came to mind.

“Within minutes, I saw the British musician Self Esteem – a longtime friend of Spacebomb – tweet about how disappointed she was. And as I typed a response from my personal Twitter account inviting her to Richmond instead, it dawned on me that we should offer that to as many people as possible,” Baldwin explains. “We crafted a message at the bar and posted it [on Instagram and Twitter] 15 minutes later.”

Longtime participants in the music industry, the Spacebomb crew knows that being a developing band is expensive and there’s almost nothing pricier than attending the festival, no matter where the bands come from.

“Artists spend a lot of money to attend SXSW with no guarantee of seeing a return on that investment,” says Dean Christesen, Spacebomb’s co-founder and artist manager. “We wanted to give back to artists who may be hurting from this cancellation in whatever way we could, and making our studio available is relatively easy to do. We have a studio and it’s there to make music in.”

The internet lit up in response, with many musicians commenting about how cool, dope and kind it was of Spacebomb – with plenty of “Is this for real?” comments thrown in. Before long, the studio was overwhelmed with musicians eager to take it up on the generous offer.

So far, it has scheduled Stealing Sheep, an electro-pop trio from Liverpool, England, which asked to collaborate with in-house producer Matthew E. White, Little Coyote, a Canadian alternative pop artist coming in to record piano and vocals, and U.K. indie pop artist Self Esteem, the original catalyst for the idea. Other artists are finalizing travel plans but have requested time.

Besides being the kind of people who choose to put good karma out into the world, Spacebomb is special in that it’s not just a recording studio. It’s also a label, a crew of producers and arrangers, a management company and a publishing company.

“If this opens the door to working with some artists that we wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise, then we’ll take that as a blessing,” Christesen says. “So the possibilities of working with great artists in different ways are plentiful and sometimes we don’t know what that could look like until we’re in the room making music together.”

Beyond that, word of mouth is key in the music industry, so the studio is hoping the artists share the good experiences they had in Richmond with their fans and other musicians.

Baldwin is excited about the possibilities.

“You never know what comes out of putting different people in a room together, that’s the magic of music,” he says. “It also allows people who might not have taken a trip to Richmond any time soon a chance to see and work in the studio, and meet all of the Spacebomb team.”

Best case scenario, he says, is that six or seven artists end up coming, making a great track or two, releasing them into the world with their own labels and people liking what they hear.

“Plus, we make a bunch of new friends and connections in the process,” he points out.

Meeting new musicians and representing Richmond are a big part of what Spacebomb strives to do year round.

“Every time anyone comes to Richmond to work with us, they go away talking about what an amazing experience they had at Spacebomb and in the city itself,” Baldwin says. “We hope they get to see the community here too, and with companies like the Martin Agency, Arts & Letters Creative Co. and MadmonkieTV all reaching out offering to help with filming and streaming, Blanchard’s offering to stock us with coffee, and the amazing individuals who have offered accommodations free of charge, then I think that’ll be obvious from the minute they step through the doors.”

Christesen is more succinct.

“We hope to create something great with the artists who are coming to visit. That’s what it’s all about for us.”

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