Amid coronavirus outbreak, how indie musicians and fans can deal with impact of social distancing
Here are 10 ways both performers and patrons can make the best of a bad — and increasingly worsening — situation, amid the coronavirus pandemic
Unlike their more commercially-oriented counterparts, Indian independent music artists depend mostly on income from gigs to make a living. The clampdown on public gatherings and consequent cancellation of concerts across the country in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic has caused most of them to lose out on all potential earnings over the next month, and perhaps longer. How do these artists tackle such an unprecedented turn of events and how can their fans support them in this time of social distancing? Here are 10 ways both performers and patrons can make the best of a bad — and increasingly worsening — situation.
For fans: Catch up on new releases
While streaming an artist’s music more than usual isn’t likely to earn them a whole lot more money, it can help them in other ways, such as increasing the probability of them being placed in a popular playlist and letting them know where they have fans, so when they eventually get back on the road, they’re better equipped to plot their tours. I’ve prepared a Google spreadsheet with all the Indian independent music albums and EPs released so far this year that I’ve tracked along with links to streaming services where you can listen to them. I’ll be updating the list regularly. If there’s something I’ve missed, please mention it in a comment below or on my social media feeds. And if by any chance you’d like to make a similar list of singles and music videos, I’ll be extremely grateful and happy to add them to the sheet.
For artists: Cash in on your song bank
Fans with time on their hands will be hungry for new music. If you’ve got unreleased material in the bank, think about putting it out. You could even share works-in-progress, fresh takes on or remixes of old tracks, and previously unreleased gig footage (don’t worry if it’s not edited, as long as the sound quality is decent, fans will watch).
For artists: Capitalise on social media
Never before has the smart use of social media been more important to an artist’s career. Use Facebook and Instagram to run Ask Me Anything sessions and throw listening parties during which you share the stories behind the making of songs. Take your cue from Blackstratblues. After their concert in Mumbai this Wednesday was cancelled, the blues-rock band’s frontman, guitarist and composer Warren Mendonsa, who did an AMA on Instagram on Tuesday, announced that drummer Jai Row Kavi and he would be going live on Facebook around the same time as the gig was scheduled.
For artists: Conduct live streams
A couple of promoters and management companies I’ve spoken with recently said they’re deliberating over the staging of digital events during the next couple of months. These don’t have to be elaborately-mounted affairs but could be no-frills performances played at home, such as acoustic sessions by singer-songwriters and freestyle jams by hip-hop acts. Among the acts who have already staged “live” gigs homes on Instagram are Chris Martin’s Coldplay and John Legend, and closer home, Ankur Tewari and Tejas Menon. Mendonsa too treated fans to some tunes in his Facebook chat. Artists and their teams should go through US-based music journalist Cherie Hu’s extensive guide to hosting virtual shows.
For artists: Collaborate
Considering that all musical projects have essentially become bedroom projects, use this opportunity to try and collaborate with other acts you’ve always wanted to work with, including those outside the country. They’re dealing with downtime the same way you are and it wouldn’t hurt to email them sharing an idea. They too may be facing an empty gig calendar and are therefore free and willing to try something new.
For fans: Collect merchandise
A good way to supplement the income of your favourite artist is to buy merchandise that you might have held off purchasing because it felt like an indulgence. Relatively few acts make and sell merch and most of them limit it to T-shirts, which you can shop for on their official website or from e-tailers such as Red Wolf and The Souled Store. It’s likely you already own the apparel but in case you haven’t got that limited edition vinyl, CD or cassette, shell out for it now even if it will only serve as a souvenir.
For artists: Compose, write, record
The day-to-day grind of gigs and session work frequently leaves artist with little chance to completely focus on the creative process. Indian indie acts are notorious for having long gaps between releases. This is not the ideal scenario in the streaming era when just a couple of months without a new track are considered a “break”. Take this time to write and compose and, if possible, record — whether it’s tunes inspired by the dystopia we seem to be living in, or that long-pending concept album you’ve been procrastinating all these years.
For artists: Consolidate your plans for the near future
Contemplate your next move and strategise accordingly. Himanshu Vaswani, the co-founder of artist and event management and production company 4/4 Experiences whose roster includes Hindi alternative rock band Daira and multi-lingual hip-hop crew Swadesi, told me that their teams are going to spend these weeks discussing “release plans, merchandise, and digital promotions” with artists. They’re exchanging feedback on even “small things like fonts”. It doesn’t matter if you work with an agency or independently, ideate the next stage of your career, covering everything from visual communication such as the need for a new logo or website to charting out the sonic direction of your upcoming record.
For fans: Create a fan club
We’ve finally reached a point when dozens of Indian independent acts can boast substantial followings. While there are plenty of fan clubs for Bollywood music stars such as playback singers Arijit Singh and Armaan Malik, there’s a surprising lack of them for indie artists, most of whom connect with their followers through social media. Some like singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad and folk-fusion rock band Swarathma keep them up to date about tours and releases through newsletters. Hindi post-rock group asweekeepsearching have taken things a step further by launching and liaising with an official “community” known as AWKSgazers. If you feel passionately enough about a particular act, start a fan club that brings together your tribe. You can begin by attempting to be the comprehensive guide to all information related to your idol. In the future, you could possibly work with them on promotional activities.
For artists and fans: Crowdfund and contribute
Given that acts such as Kuhad and genre-defying rock band Peter Cat Recording Co. are able to sell out gigs for which the average ticket price is over a grand, it’s clear that Indian indie music fans are willing to pay top rupee to watch their favourite artists. In the UK and US, there are a handful of resources providing musicians emergency funds to cope with the current scenario. I’m not aware of similar initiatives in India but there are a number of crowdfunding sites through which acts can raise money in exchange for rewards such as early access to new releases and exclusive merchandise. Fans could calculate the money they would have spent on tickets, transport, drinks and food and set it aside for the acts they’re going to miss seeing live.
Recently played —
British-Pakistani singer-rapper Riz Ahmed’s The Long Goodbye is a Brexit-inspired break-up album that posits the UK, where Ahmed was born and raised, as a manipulative woman with whom he’s going through a tumultuous separation. I watched Ahmed perform a short set at erstwhile Mumbai bar Zenzi back in 2011 when his stage name was Riz MC. Both his fame and skills have grown exponentially over the last decade.
The Long Goodbye clocks in somewhat ironically at a mere 27 minutes. They’re enough for the Emmy-winning Ahmed to deliver scores of clever couplets that will make you smile and shiver in succession. “I’m in the in-flight magazine when the TSA stop me/They don’t like no ’fugees, but still killin’ us softly, yeah,” he rhymes on “Deal With It”, a dance-inducing celebration of brown pride.
The standouts however are the two spoken-word pieces “The Breakup (Shikwa)” and “Where You From”, on which Ahmed sounds like he recited them in a tearful rage. He speaks of the immigrant experience but the communally-divisive events that have lacerated India in recent years have engendered similar feelings of exclusion and aggrievement among citizens here. They’ll find much on The Long Goodbye that resonates.
Listen to it here.
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox
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