As indie music acts turn to livestreams during coronavirus lockdown, these new ventures help monetise performances

Three months into our ever-increasing nationwide lockdown, the country’s indie music industry has been working hard to fix the many issues that surround the ability to make money from livestreams.

Amit Gurbaxani July 12, 2020 15:23:10 IST
As indie music acts turn to livestreams during coronavirus lockdown, these new ventures help monetise performances

In my last column, I wrote about how Indian independent musicians have embraced virtual concerts to make up for the lack of live music gigs, which are their prime source of income. I outlined how they’ve been struggling to find ways to monetise these online performances, something that has just got more difficult for indie music promoters after the Indian Performing Rights Society announced that it’s now mandatory for organisers to obtain a licence for a livestream, the cost of which starts at Rs 20,000 for a free, ad-supported or non-sponsored ticketed event.

Nearly four months into our ever-increasing nationwide lockdown however, I’m pleased to report that the country’s indie music industry has been working hard to fix the many issues that surround the ability to make money from livestreams. I’ve listed a number of these problems and explained how a series of new ventures have risen to the occasion to provide the solutions for each of them.

I’d like to charge for my online gigs but I don’t have the necessary gear to make them sound professional enough to warrant charging a fee.

In May, New Delhi-based organisation Art Unites, led by artist manager and sound professional Manu Saksena, began renting out “streaming kits” to help acts play live on the internet in the most “efficient and professional way”. Artists can either rent the entire kit, which includes everything from cables and cameras to mics and mixers to soundcards and routers, for Rs 10,000 or any part of it, like, for example, a mic stand for as little as Rs 400. As part of the service, the Art Unites team guides musicians on how to set up. Though the kit is only available in the capital, Saksena hopes to offer it in Bengaluru and Mumbai soon.

How do I put livestreams on Facebook behind a paywall?

The second weekend of April saw the arrival of the Lockdown Gigs series, which are staged every alternate Sunday on Facebook and tickets for which are priced at Rs 500. The shows, which are organised by artist manager Ryan Thomas and PR professional Schubert Fernandes, are announced on the series’ Instagram page, which has the link to a Google form that has to be filled by anyone interested in attending the concerts. On the day of the event, Thomas grants patrons who have paid up access to the Lockdown Gigs closed Facebook group for the duration of the show, which typically comprises two 30-minute sets.

As indie music acts turn to livestreams during coronavirus lockdown these new ventures help monetise performances

Six “episodes” in, the series has been played by both established and upcoming singer-songwriters such as Dhruv Visvanath, Neel Adhikari, Nikhil D’Souza, Hanita Bhambri, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya and Vasuda Sharma and the audience numbers have averaged around 30 people. Fernandes and Thomas don’t take a cut and distribute the proceeds equally between the artists who, thanks to a recent tie-up with Dolby, receive a small fixed amount as well. (Disclaimer: Fernandes and I are co-founders of Indie Music Allies, which you can read more about here.)

This sounds complicated. Is there a way to sell tickets and livestream via the same platform?

A bunch of promoters have been selling tickets for gigs through Paytm Insider and BookMyShow and event management companies like White Heaven Entertainments, which have integrated Zoom with their platforms to host the concerts. However, the quality of the audio transmission of live music performances on Zoom has been found to be less than ideal. In May, when they staged a sold-out show by electro-pop duo Parekh & Singh, the portal SkillBox became the first to livestream concerts on its own website, using Open Broadcast Software (OBS) that helps deliver a better audio-visual experience than that offered on social media pages and Zoom.

As indie music acts turn to livestreams during coronavirus lockdown these new ventures help monetise performances

Like on Zoom, viewers can comment during the event, which means they can chat among themselves and send requests to the performer. At his show on SkillBox in June, singer-songwriter Tejas based his set list on feedback from viewers who demanded certain songs. Earlier this month, BookMyShow followed SkillBox's lead and partnered with US-based video solutions platform Brightcove to start BookMyShow Online on which it will now stream digital events.

Even if they sound and look fine, livestreams from home just don’t have the feel of a real gig. Is there a venue where acts, including bands, can perform to an empty audience a la Laura Marling?

Earlier this year, in Bengaluru, rock musicians, guitarist Debjeet Basu and keyboardist Richard Andrew “Dudley”, converted Basu’s group Perfect Strangers’ jam pad into a livestreaming venue called Streamphony, which opened for business in early June. Here they provide performers with the infrastructure they need to stage and stream a concert, from DSLR cameras to film the show in HD-quality video to the audio equipment that ensures what the online audience hears is “as good as a good live mix gets”. Streamphony, said Basu, has “state-of-the-art light, sound, smoke machines, the works”.

Tickets for the gigs, which are broadcast on SkillBox, are priced at Rs 300 per person, of which the acts get a portion of the gate, which starts at 50 percent for up to 100 attendees, and goes up to 80 percent if there are over 200. So far, folk-rock band Cinema of Excess and of course Perfect Strangers have performed at Streamphony, which is also being rented out to companies who hire it at an hourly rate to host online events such as annual day celebrations, product launches and the like.

As indie music acts turn to livestreams during coronavirus lockdown these new ventures help monetise performances

Cinema of Excess

At present, there are no such venues in New Delhi and Mumbai — the country’s two other hubs for independent music — but both cities have studios with similar facilities. The aforementioned Art Unites also runs a studio in the capital while in Mumbai, Glassonion Studios has figured out a way to make livestreams look slick even without professional filming equipment. The team there uses smartphone cameras and OBS to shoot concerts from different angles, edit and transmit them in real time, giving them the appearance of a televised performance. Although the shows, which commenced last weekend as the Twenty Twenty series, are streamed via Zoom, because they’re played at the studio and run through a 32-channel digital audio mixer, the sound quality is excellent. For now however, Glassonion, which is located in Khar, can only stage gigs by artists who live within a two-kilometre radius. Fortunately for them, the suburb is heavily populated with indie musicians.

In all these cases, the acts perform to an empty room. How do we recreate the sonic ambience of an actual concert?

During shows livestreamed on Clapstream, which was unveiled in May by its Pune-based founder, indie music fan and techie Ishan Ahuja, viewers can use buttons to clap, whistle and cheer for the artists who can hear the sounds in their monitors. “As an audience member, you feel like you’re part of a crowd and as a musician, you get real-time feedback about how people are enjoying themselves,” said Ahuja who has licenced a sample library of different audience sounds.

Pop band Fiddlecraft and rock singer Rohit Vasudevan are among the acts who have performed so far on Clapstream for which, Ahuja said, the quality of the audio (in 320 kbps stereo mp3 format) is of the “highest priority”. The platform makes revenue from a cut of the tickets, which are priced at a minimum of Rs 199.

Most people don’t want to pay for livestreams because they’re unsure of the quality of both the audio and video. How do we get these fence sitters to come on board?

On Listn.TV, which went on air for a test run in the second half of June, a user can watch all the gigs for free for the first five minutes, after which the performance is paywalled. To continue viewing, you need to donate a minimum of Rs 50, but can also contribute Rs 100, Rs 200, Rs 500, Rs 1,000 or Rs 2,000. Irrespective of the amount one gives, the quality of the stream is the same for everybody on Listn.TV, which was conceptualised by New Delhi-headquarted online booking agency GigSync after surveying fans and consulting musicians.

As indie music acts turn to livestreams during coronavirus lockdown these new ventures help monetise performances

Many people I know don’t attend shows by just one act. They want a festival. How can we organise those online?

The folks who run Mumbai-based electronic music event management company Gently Altered were encouraged to launch Altered TV after seeing the audience response to a virtual edition of the international festival SOUQ, which featured a stage curated by Gently Altered. “People stayed for hours at a stretch” as compared to social media platforms, where attention spans are limited to “a few minutes", said founder Nishant Gadhok aka DJ-producer Gad. Fans who tune into Altered TV, which is an Indian avatar of French ticketing and streaming platform Shotgun.live on which SOUQ was broadcast, can switch between multiple rooms or stages streaming different styles of music.

Keeping in mind the need to replicate the vibe of a festival, Altered TV boasts interactive features such as a “wall of fame” on which you can show off “your signature dance move”; private or public “dance rooms” where your screen displays those of friends and strangers; and the ability to buy artists drinks in the form of donations tagged at Rs 100 for a beer, Rs 500 for a cocktail and Rs 1,000 for champagne. Attendees can also stay for the “afterparty” sets, which run from 1 am until 3 am.

Nearly 900 people watched the first “telecast” in June, which featured pre-recorded sets by 24 acts including BLOT! and Sapta. Gadhok now plans to shift to “completely live set-ups”, sell tickets and take the platform to artists and promoters and tailor it to their needs. Altered TV will run at least once a month, which means it’s more of a gig series in the shape of a festival. For one-off events, electronic music promoters seem to be of the belief that fans want an out-of-the-ordinary experience.

In the next couple of weeks, at least three virtual reality concerts will be staged online. Percept Live will present an edition of Sunburn with its usual line-up of both international and Indian EDM stars. Artist management company UnderTheRadar will roll out retroFuture, comprising sets by its roster’s electronic music acts Anish Sood, Nucleya and Ritviz. And “immersive experiences design design consultancy” Transhuman Collective will stream two-day fundraising “alternative music and art festival” Unrated, which will take place on a space station and feature DJ-producers such as Ash Roy and Calm Chor as well as visual artists like Daku and Decoy.

Each of these gigs will be available to view even without a VR headset, the use of which will “take the experience to the next level”, said UnderTheRadar founder Rahul Sinha, who employed the services of a Lithuanian video game design company for retroFuture. He said they decided to go the VR route because his acts’ fans have come to expect a unique experience every time they perform live. For Jash Reen, the co-founder of visual agency Wolves, which has constructed the virtual arena for Sunburn, the idea is to use VR technology “for world building, making different themes and places people would want to explore even if we weren’t in lockdown”.

I have a band with members in a) distant parts of the same city or b) different cities. Is there a way for us to perform live online without a noticeable lag?

Not yet but there will be soon. Live & In Sync, a technology developed and owned by the fusion group of the same name, enables musicians performing simultaneously in various locations to livestream a concert with minimal delays. Currently, its use is limited to the band, which comprises Mumbai-based musicians sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee and drummer Darshan Doshi, Chennai-residing tabla player and sound engineer Aditya Srinivasan, and Mahesh Raghavan who lives in Bengaluru and performs music using his iPad. Their tagline is “Music performed live, miles apart”. They recently signed with artist management company TM Talent Management, which is working on an app that will make the technology available to the public at large.

***

Recently played

A selection of new Indian independent music I recommend checking out.

Audio track: Wildfire” — Dhruv Visvanath

I’ve observed a recent trend in the country’s singer-songwriter scene. These guys and girls with guitars (or keyboards) are upping the tempo, layering their compositions with more instrumentation and emerging with tracks that sound bigger, brighter and less ballad-y than their previous work. Recent examples include Mali’s “Age Of Limbo”, Tejas’ “Lead” and Prateek Kuhad’s “Kasoor” (see below) as well as the last two singles by guitarist-vocalist Dhruv Visvanath, “Dark” and “Wildfire”. The finger-snappy “Wildfire” is perhaps his most immediate tune until date, and features an electric guitar solo by US-based axeman Shubh Saran that sounds straight out of the best of 1980s pop-rock. For aspiring composers, Visvanath has very generously uploaded a four-and-a-half-long video that takes you through the making of “Wildfire”, which was mixed and mastered by ace producer Keshav Dhar.

Music video: Kasoor” — Prateek Kuhad

While I continue to be amazed by the artistic talent showcased on the countless number of animated videos being put out every week, I’ve been getting a bit bored by the equally endless series of crowdsourced ones. Singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad’s “Kasoor” is a lesson in how to do them creatively. Indian indie’s favourite romantic balladeer asked his fans to film their wordless reactions to a series of relationship-related questions. The result is a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and a video that has pleased even those fans who prefer the stripped-down unreleased version of the song that Kuhad has been playing live.

Album/EP: It’s About Time — The Dirt Machine

It’s been a busy few weeks in terms of album and EP releases. Among the records I’ve been streaming are synth-pop producer Dreamhour’s POPSTVR and rapper Naezy’s 2014, who do what they do best on their respective sophomore efforts. The set I’ve chosen to highlight is a debut offering. The Dirt Machine is the new project from folk-fusion rock band Advaita’s bassist Gaurav Chintamani and it’s a welcome addition to the handful of blues-rock acts we have in the country. It’s About Time is filled with the kind of riffs that will rouse live audiences and like all good blues-rock collections, it’s groovy and funky and in this case, occasionally electronic. After you’ve listened to it, lend your ears also to Hold The Line, the impressive single by Plan B aka the synth-pop avatar of Chintamani’s Advaita bandmate, guitarist Abhishek Mathur.

***

— Featured image via Facebook/@mrdhruvv. Photo of Dhruv Visvanath by Mandeep Singh Bains/@marshalbains

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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