Here’s why independent artists were a beacon of hope for the music industry during the year of the pandemic



2020 has been a year defined by the need for “essentials” – medical services, basic necessities, jobs and rent payments. Yet the irony of the past year was that, as the coronavirus spread its tentacles across the world, choking economies, claiming lives and confining millions of people to their homes, one of the most “components” essential ‘of human existence, music, was considered’ non-essential ‘.

Many musicians, singers, sound engineers and technicians around the world found themselves unemployed in 2020. Some even struggled to pay their rent and find food. However, 2020 was also a year that proved that music can find its way into the dark.

The past year is a testament to the strength and resilience of these musicians who, despite their difficulties, stepped forward to support the less privileged in their industry. It showed that the pandemic may have caused many musicians to take other jobs, leave cities and change their lifestyles, but it could not infect their hopes or their will to create. music. In the first months of last year, when Italy lost many citizens to the virus, its musicians held balcony concerts to keep morale high. Wuhan, the zero point of the COVID-19 escape, resonated with loud chants and songs sung by its residents during the initial phases of their lockdown.

For the “Independent” community

In India, too, the crisis brought together the loosely linked independent music industry with “privileged” musicians helping those in desperate need.

Indian Ocean bassist and singer Rahul Ram told News18, “Members of bands like ours, where Parikrama and Euphoria have homes and bank balances. They would be able to stay afloat during this crisis. We took a hit too; we didn’t get 90%. 100 of our income last year. But that didn’t make us sell cars, or drastically cut back on our lifestyles. ”

However, many have been pushed into poverty, Ram said. In Rajasthan, for example, folk artists have taken on jobs as day laborers or taxi drivers to feed their families. “The smaller and relatively younger musicians who put everything on the line for a career in music, who had fought with their parents to keep their dreams alive, were also hit hard,” he said. .

The past year has been particularly difficult for sound engineers and technicians who found themselves completely out of work and no live concerts took place for most of the year. “They typically invest millions of dollars in audio systems and depend on stable income to pay back the loans they have taken out to make such investments. But, this pandemic has left them dry, ”Ram explained.

He pointed out that in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand and several other countries, performers and musicians have received direct or indirect government assistance but, in the absence of such assistance, India, the musicians tried at their individual level to help each other.

“I have friends who have invited folk artists to play online so they can make money. They are not the only ones. In my experience, sole proprietorship has been the biggest driving force last year, and we have all tried to help other musicians on our small scale. We also played for a lot less than we usually do because we understand that the person who pays is going through a tough time as well, ”he added.

Let the music flow

In 2020, another thing that worried independent artists was the licensing agreements signed by The Indian Performing Right Society Limited (IPRS) with Facebook (and Instagram) and other OTT platforms. The agreements aim to promote “fair trade” and to help original creators collect royalties when their works are used by other performers.

Friends of Linger singer-songwriter Sharif D Rangnekar and curator of Embrace: Music Justice Arts told News18 that while the intent behind these licensing deals is excellent, the timing of these deals shows no empathy towards struggling artists, who sang covers to make money during the pandemic.

“In the current situation, the possibilities for any artist to reach an audience are already limited and the kind of restrictions imposed by these agreements affect young artists who do not have the money or the power to reach audiences with their original. compositions, ”he said.

However, Rangnekar pointed out that 2020 is a year marked by collaborations rather than competitions despite the licensing agreements. “One new thing we saw in 2020 is that a lot more artists have shown a willingness to work together and create music. The past year has been marked by so many artistic collaborations from artists who are physically distant from each other, ”he said.

Keep hope and find positivity

Rangnekar is hopeful that audiences who have been following the artists on Instagram and other online platforms will also come to the scene when restrictions imposed due to the pandemic are relaxed and vaccines are made available to the public. “I believe there are people who have developed an emotional connection with independent artists during this time, who will come and encourage them in the analog world of reality,” he said.

Euphoria’s Dr Palash Sen said now is the time the independent music industry should besiege if it is to ever prosper. For years, Sen worked to create a movement – India for Indie – to allow independent musicians to have their industry. However, he has had little success with it. But, he hopes the pandemic could change that.

“With the lockups of last year, less Bollywood movies and music have entered, which is why a lot of people are listening to different genres of music and looking for different kinds of entertainment. I think for the independent industry this is the best time to strike, and I hope all independent musicians will make that effort, “he said.

Sen said the only way to overcome this crisis is to show pure positivity. “The first thing I did during this pandemic was to change my mind. I had to accept that I wouldn’t be on the pitch or on stage, so I did as many virtual gigs, and Instagram live as I could, ”Sen added.

Sen was not the only one to see the glimmer of hope of “positives” amid the dark clouds of the pandemic. Sentirenla Lucia, a graduate of Berklee College of Music (Boston Massachusetts), singer and music teacher from Delhi told News18 that she has found herself in a paradoxical situation in recent months, because as an artist she was unemployed, while as a teacher she had many new students who came to her to learn.

“Many students and children who wanted to study music came to me and I prepared them for their entrance exams during this time,” she said. Lucia said that despite the pandemic, the enthusiasm of her students is intact, with some applying to as many as ten schools abroad to learn music. “Most of these students are seriously considering a career in music. They are preparing to study music in Australia, Europe or America. I prepare students for the ABRSM Theory and Trinity exams so that they can graduate in music here in India. Students who want to study abroad come to me so that I can help them prepare for auditions and placement tests. As a teacher, I worked all day, while as a as a performer, I was really upset because I didn’t have any concerts to give in the first few months, ”she added.

Mental health struggles

For most performers, who weren’t in a profession other than music, 2020 was marked by anxiety and mental health issues. It didn’t take long for them to realize that free online concerts wouldn’t get their careers anywhere or pay their bills during that time.

“I went through a lot of stress and anxiety. I was so uncertain about the future, and I still am, “said John Oinam, lead singer of indie band Blue Meadow. For Oinam and his band mates, 2020 was meant to be the year their future has come to an end. changed because their first EP, Weeds Are Flowers was coming out.

“We had so many different touring plans, promoting our EP and performing, but all of them came to a screeching halt during this pandemic. My group mates had to go back to their hometown, and they’re still there… I went back to my parents. “said Oinam.

Oinam was not the only one. Arati Rao Shetty, a Bangalore-based singer and music promoter told News18: “I have spent 10-11 years promoting independent musicians, and I feel overwhelmed to think about what they are going through… the future. is very disturbing, and I’ve seen some of my musician friends have mental health issues. They have their backs to the wall because they have no other choice. Music is not something that they pursued in parallel. For these musicians and technicians, it was incredibly difficult, ”she added.

Rao Shetty stressed that she had turned to “creative pursuits” to “keep her sanity” and recommended that in order to cope with the difficulties of the present times, artists should fully immerse themselves in others. creative activities.

“I saw that so many musicians were painting during this period. Some cooked in their home kitchens and sold the food to order. It was encouraging to see that so many of them have taken new creative paths this year, ”she added.

While waiting for the storm to pass

Piano Man Jazz Club founder Arjun Sagar Gupta said that while the crowds are returning and things are improving, business has been slow.

“Until November, we had 25% attendance, now it’s gone to 30%. Most of the couples we see today are nuclear couples. People living with parents or older family members don’t go out, and that’s understandable. Things will only normalize when the distribution of vaccines in the subways becomes important and easily accessible, ”Gupta said.

Gupta knows the way forward is uncertain, but the best thing to do is wait for the storm to pass. “I have spent a good ten years of my life building this business, and I refuse to let it collapse. I certainly don’t want him to fall apart because we haven’t fought enough. But, of course, I can’t deny that the business is suffering. Now the main question I have asked myself is “where can I find the money to get things done?” and the unfortunate answer is that things have to be financed by debt during this time. But what gives me hope is the positivity of all the artists I spoke with during this time. The fact that people are slowly coming out to live concerts is also cause for optimism. But beyond those reasons, what I have also seen is that there is a lot of market support for companies like ours. People say, ‘Hang on, we’ll be there when we can,’ “he added.

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