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Road to Relevance

A rant on how the arts and entertainment industry is affected by the a global pandemic like CoVid-19

Written by Enn.

It’s funny how we think COVID-19 left the Indian subcontinent in the lurch, it really is.

Imagine being given a headstart on a virus that’s taking lives left, right and centre, and still not being prepared for it.

That’s what we did. Our whole country. The moment our Whatsapps exploded with messages of, “lockdown tomorrow – grocery stores to be shut” there were snaking lines, packed close together, not distant. Unfortunately, it took the arts space in the same vein as it did most things, and brought it to a standstill. Of sorts.

I don’t think the Arts & Entertainment industry has ever been dealt a blow like this. We sat studying about the Bubonic Plague, and yet never prepared for its present-day equivalent.

The race for survival soon turned into a Race for Relevance, with the Entertainment Industry being the subjects of all other industries’ fancies. Communication was mostly reduced to digital presence, since physical presence was now a no-go.

Within days, hours, minutes, there were livestreams everywhere. Before you knew it, almost every single artist that you knew, or were one degree of separation away from knowing, had been on one, or was going to be soon.

Suddenly almost all artists found the need to have Truecaller installed, to cater to all the phonecalls they were receiving from unknown numbers.

Brands were calling you. Entertainment venues were calling you. Instagram pages were calling you. It was like the board exam results for musicians, because if you had one degree of connection to them, and your ‘them’ owned a brand, you were contacted. Big companies raced to get the biggest names on their bills to ace relevance quicker than their competitors could even think of the word.

With the largest elephant in the room – a new species, I think we’ll call it “Moneywantidae” – going completely unrecognised, poor guy, much with respect to him/her (gender fluidity) went disregarded during this Race for Relevance. Imagine not seeing an elephant.

Wondering what on earth the elephant in the room is? Monetary compensation, remuneration, token amounts, payment, in Foster the People’s famous words ‘call it what you want’, but nobody seemed to like this special species of elephant in the room when the time came.

Everyone wanted to get musicians on their livestreams first, but nobody had considered they needed a budget for this if they were involving artists, because showcasing their art is exactly how musicians earn a living.

With the first few days, and the sudden onslaught of switching from keeping your eyes peeled for festival lineups closest to you that didn’t pinch the pockets, to who was your favourite artist and deciding whether it was worth your time to watch their live, some real questions were being asked of consumers.

Were they at all though? Were questions being posed to consumers or was “Art”, once again, as it usually is in this country – taken for granted? Let’s see how a prospective conversation between a musician and a brand probably went/still goes during these pandemonic (I made up my own word, that’s right : pandemic + if you don’t guess what the other word is, I’m going to have to feign disappointment for something worse) times.

Brand: “Oh you’re a musician! Great! Would you like to do a livestream for our audience?”

Musician: “Sure! That’d be lovely! What’s the compensation looking like?”

Brand: “Oh you know because of lockdown, we’ve had to cut a lot of corners and our budgets, so we won’t be able to pay, but it’s our platform, and you’ll get new fans and exposure (feign x2 excitement)

Musician: oh. Okay. Well, sure, that’d be lovely! Anything for you guys! Y’all are great friends!

Here my friends, begins the pursuit of happiness, where they tap into the independent music scene: individuals making their livelihoods from their art. The exploitation is blatant from the start where monetary compensation is denied and a promise of exposure is given instead.

Now in some cases, exposure was great, and I’m all for it, but I’m talking about say a “Sustainable Living” (hypothetical) brand contacting a musician to come on a live – now why would they want to do that for free, to keep you afloat? If said musician, is a fan of sustainable living, I understand, but if you’re a full 6 degrees of separation from this artist, what connection does your brand have to this artist playing for you apart from ‘Relevance’?

This is an industry that provides survival for not just musicians and bands, but also Sound Engineers, Venue Owners and Workers, Light Technicians, Sound Rental spots, Production Houses, among so many more designations involved in keeping a live show going. That’s the list of all the people affected by this pandemic alongwith the fact that it’s brought life to a standstill for most employees in the entt. Industry. And this is only just all the designations I can think of, being an outsider, imagine all the insiders who’ll now try and tell me how many I’ve neglected mentioning. Obviously though, you stop bringing revenue into a venue or a production house at a time like this, unless they’re great entrepreneurs and planners, a lot of jobs are being lost in the wake of this pandemic, and now they have to invent new ways to keep theirs. If you’ve ever been to a live music gig, you’re entirely aware that Guest Lists are something that was aped from the west, cause it seems cool, yes? (I could be fully wrong here, but this’ what it feels like, at least) I mean, me, myself, I see no full point in a Guest List existing unless you’re someone of consequence that is in some way adding to the Band/Performances’ act, and by adding I mean, offering some sort of service, in exchange for being present at what musicians earn their salaries from.

And even so, does it ever pinch you to have your name put on a “Guest List”, do you feel guilt? Or do you just only feel cool? Do you think of how many people and expenditures it took for that band to put that music out there? Let me let you know now that making music is not cheap, musicians require spending on studio time, then on a producer, then on mixing and mastering, then on artwork, then if they’re savvy enough: a marketing budget, then they spend on travel to get on stages to play for you. Venues and booking shows is also a whole other ball game. Do you know that that takes money too? Writing mailers out – another step of music-making that takes money, because if you want to do a good mailing option, you pay for their service .

Then when you don’t buy a ticket, or not enough people come to their show, they barely cover their costs.

So now they’ve spent over and above their budget, and you’re just sitting around whining about how you don’t want to pay 500-800 bucks to watch a live performance. If you haven’t asked your favourite musicians what they need the most to put out new music – let me also let you know that what takes their art further than anything – is MONEY. Sometimes, exposure, sure, but mostly money.

As the indie music scene sprouts followers countrywide, I think we, as listeners, need to fix our approach to listening to music and art, in general, ESPECIALLY when it isn’t from Bollywood. If your parents still give you pocket money, or if you have an extra buck, and really enjoy listening to music, there’s ways to give it back.

Let’s see what our options are: > Bandcamp has #BandcampFridays that lets you purchase music that goes straight back to the artists on the first Friday of every month until July, so far. Upcoming Dates: June 5th and July 3rd.

> Kerplunk recently had a crowdfunded “Pay what you want” show which got each artist INR 3,308. That was for 43 artists. FORTY THREE. What a mammothian number.

Again, in my vein of criticism, I would definitely spread these out apart some more so people attending could’ve been greater, I suppose, and there were breaks that attendees could take. > Benji & Joel Madden have a company called “Veeps” that allows bands to take their tours online, but unfortunately it’s only linked to PayPal at the moment, and their payouts arent in INR yet. Maybe we need to prove we’re a market.

> “Art as Mentorship” that’s being run by ‘Making Movies’ (Rock band from the USA) is a free online songwriting camp that is mostly targetted at teenage singer-songwriters, but is open to all, so if you feel like you want to get some cool creative workshop time in, this is one of those. > Musicians have moved on to “Twitch” which was essentially built for gamers to interact with each other, but now is being used by everybody at a time like this, which is great. They have livestreams running for COVID relief, companies are now running live shows on it as well, so that’s driving good quality online viewing.

> You could auction off time with you, as a musician on a video call, or Houseparty or something, to generate income that you could use for Relief donations or even yourself.

> Wave XR, which mixes live streaming with virtual reality to create immersive online concerts like a videogame, has produced streaming events for electro-violinist Lindsey Stirling and EDM duo Galantis, and is in talks with major concert promoters to help create new digital live events.

> If you know someone that works for a brand that is really just rolling along this Road to Relevance, pressure them into paying an artist, do fewer lives maybe, get more people to attend the lives you are doing. > Think of new ways to engage your audience into this whole live game – you can create competitions, you can create new content from existing content (if you’re good at ideating, of course and, keep your eyes open for great ideas), collaborate with an artist that associates with your brand, bring the human to the fore, without using them as a commodity. > Offer designers token amounts, if your budget is completely short atm, to make posters for you. Don’t do a half-assed version of a poster on Canva, unless you’re a pro at Canva, and design, in which case, please do. If you can’t do either of these, because there’s no budget, learn the tricks of the trade and have trademasters review what you’ve made. > Market your gigs, give people the time to remember you have an upcoming gig, and generate reasons for them to come attend this gig. > Let your audience direct your decisions. How are you picking an artist to come perform for you? Who does your audience want to listen to? Don’t just pick the artists that will bring you a rise in followers. > If you’re a brand, and you want an artist to come on board, what are you offering them? If it isn’t remuneration, shouldn’t it be something? Maybe it can be a gift package in return, maybe it can be their cost to cover sticker/poster sales, maybe you can sell some of their merch for them on your page, maybe you can get to know them for your audience, maybe you can market their gig? > There’s more than enough flaws we’ve noticed in the PM Cares model, and multiple art companies have taken to offering the proceeds of their shows for food, and necessities for people suffering from the repercussions of COVID-19, but not even the actual disease. Requirements for water, food and sanitation is more dire than ever right now, you can further relief efforts in the country. > If you’re a company that deals in the entertainment industry already, maybe offer something in return, something more than just “exposure”, this can be a conversation had with the artists coming on board, since you clearly have your tiers for performers. > Take your lives to places of better quality, we’ve reached saturation point, and way past it on Instagram. There’s Youtube, Facebook. > If you’re really good at your craft and think teaching could be your niche, there has never been a better time than now. > For artists that have really struggled through this, know, more than anything, that this is a time you can practice, practice, practice, clock in those 10,000 hours. The internet, if you hunt it, has something for everyone, in terms of solutions, all you’ve got to do is find it.

That’s a few of the points I have that can change how we’re doing what we’re doing in this livestreamed age. We need to rethink how to go about this, while showing gratitude to artists for their art and their followers, and give credit and compensation where it is most rightfully due. If you’re really struggling to figure this field out, hit me up, and pay me a token amount to help you ideate through this pandemic. It isn’t hard, it’s easy. You just need to find ideators to help you with it.

Imagine any other industry, one that apparently involves more pen + paper obviously [that can be the only logical argument here for the “grassroots” Entertainment industry suffering, (or dying may be a better word)] asking for employment to happen without a salary. Absolutely ANY industry won’t.

Let’s be clear here though, I’m not saying all brands should stop leeching off art, I’m saying, if you do “feel like leeching”, offer added value too, and more than 10 attendees on your lives.

Both of those together would be great. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Goodnight!



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