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What’s Next for India’s Homebound Musicians and Entrepreneurs?

Artists look ahead with alternative ways to adapt to the current uncertain climate

(Clockwise from top left) Artists Sanaya Ardeshir aka Sandunes, Tejas, Warren Mendonsa, Nush Lewis, Suraj Mani and Demonstealer aka Sahil Makhija. Photos: Courtesy of City Press (Sandunes); Swaraj Sriwastav (Tejas, Lewis, Makhija); Rahul Bhardwaj (Mendonsa); Courtesy of Courtesy of Motojojo Co. (Mani)

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While schools, colleges and offices have all been shut down, the country’s independent music scene has also taken a big blow due to the Coronavirus pandemic. From as early as last week we reported that the ninth edition of metal festival Bangalore Open Air (BOA) announced that the event was postponed to July due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Apart from BOA, clubs around the country too expressed their worry about the pandemic and went ahead and canceled their programs. Mumbai blues-rockers Blackstratblues were slated to perform this month at the city-based antiSOCIAL and Jadavpur University in Kolkata. The band’s founder guitarist Warren Mendonsa tells us that gigs with Bollywood outfits Amit Trivedi and Vishal Shekhar too were called off. He says, “Unfortunate, but necessary.”

The same story goes for singer-songwriters Tejas and Aarifah Rebello. Tejas had shows at fests such as Zomaland and The Lil Flea in Mumbai, as well as gigs in the U.K and Bangkok that are now non-existent. He tells us that “it’s a major bummer and huge blow for the industry for the real gig economy which is actual touring musicians and all sessions artists.” Rebello on her part was chalking out a tour across south India and has now put that on hold. She says, “I am glad that people are canceling the gigs, I just wish that we realized the seriousness of the situation a little earlier.” 

With the gigs dried up, Tejas states that things are only going to get worse before they get better and that artists need to have a systemic change on how they can sustain themselves through this crisis. He says “I am personally considering a very big shift in my daily life in terms of how I am going to be distributing, disseminating work, music and content.” Tejas adds, “I think I am trying to move to a [subscription content service] Patreon maybe YouTube kind of combination and see how that works.” Mendonsa explains that financially he will have to fall back on savings.

Livestreams to keep fans engaged

So in this digital age, what’s next for musicians? Bengaluru singer-songwriter Suraj Mani has been taking on livestream performances (the first one took place on March 18th) and though he says it’s to “beat boredom,” the former Motherjane frontman adds that he got an international audience tuning in. “And I reconnected with a lot of fans. I hope that live music starts soon but I also know that I’ll keep playing online as well.” 

Mani says the livestreams are a good way to have an increasingly engaged fanbase that would certainly help for when he releases his upcoming EP Rinse & Repeat. “This will rouse things up,” he says. 

Livestreams are also common with Tejas, who hosts Tejas’ Midnight Jam usually to plug his upcoming gigs and Mendonsa’s series Living Room Jams. “I’m quite enjoying being able to communicate with listeners this way and learning how to monetize from home,” says Mendonsa. For Tejas — who has for the longest time been a presence online — feels that he needs to take it more seriously now than before. “I think all musicians and artists should. Of course, it’s not made for all artists,” he adds. 

Kochi musician (and also former vocalist at Motherjane) Vivek Thomas also got on to social media to talk about how musicians can diversify and monetize their skills. “It’s a shitty time for gigging musicians but the computer is your friend during extended amounts of time indoors,” the recording engineer said in a post. He encouraged musicians to make DIY videos, transcribe music for tab books, teach production or even take up video editing. 

Best time for mentorship

Mumbai’s electronic music producer Sanaya Ardeshir aka Sandunes has been busy as ever with (yoga, creativity and music) workshops, classes and performances (plus occasionally hilarious detours into live mixing/sampling current event clips). But in this period, she’s also offering five free signups to a mentorship for any creative project, plus opening up to Skype lessons to offer her experience in the creative field. “It’s also still really important to stay creative… to stay supported by your community, to ask for help if you need it, and do what you can to feel connected (and productive) in this oddly dystopian, and sort of isolating time.” Rebello too has kept herself occupied by catching up on reading and channeling her creative energy towards stitching and painting.

Bengaluru’s guitar ace Bryden Lewis (formerly of folk-rock act The Raghu Dixit Project and currently one half of fusion/rock duo Bryden-Parth) also made an impassioned plea to musicians upset about lost gigs and money flow getting stalled due to the pandemic. He advised musicians to check their privilege and added, “Find a way to earn your buck, we all are, save up – ease up on your lifestyle. Every person from all walks of life is trying their best to make ends meet and to overcome this crisis. You at least have an audience clapping, they don’t.” 

While metal bands like Gutslit and Godless are reeling from losses made on booking their second Eviscerating India tour (which would have kicked off this week), the death metallers have both asked fans for support by buying merchandize. Elsewhere, Mumbai extreme metal band Demonic Resurrection‘s frontman Demonstealer aka Sahil Makhija offered all of his solo and group’s discography up for free download. Makhija said in his post that he’s offering his music out to keep those in self-isolation and practicing social distancing entertained. The post added, “If you have the means and the money do go and support your fav bands who have faced big losses. We’ll be doing the same.” 

Spruce up social media with music education

Although it was initiated as a summer activity, The Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SaPa) is offering free online classes as part of World Music Wednesdays, every week at 11 am. “We will share a recording of the song you learnt so that you can keep practicing. The classes are open to students of all ages and musical backgrounds,” the SaPa website notes. 

Mumbai-based independent art and music education property Offset — who have canceled their forthcoming sessions — will also be doing their part to help music educators around the country. Founder and musician Nush Lewis states that it’s a great time for teachers to think outside the box. She says, “I think this is also a good time for educators to come together and help each other out. If someone calls saying, ‘I need help with a certain lesson plan or I need to learn finger positioning whether on the piano or guitar,’ think of different ways to communicate and talk to other teachers.” Lewis further tells us that with the internet teachers need to keep innovating, trying and testing new possibilities and also keeping in mind that no two students are the same. She says, “Exchange ideas, scan pieces from books and send it to other teachers or if you have PDF files, anything that can help keep the music learning as stable or as fun as possible.”

Going forward, Tejas stresses that musicians need to take a long hard look at their careers and mold into people who can survive despite not being able to live in an analog world, needing to accept the fact that there is never going to be anything online that can replace a live show with an audience. “I think artists will always find a way to put their art out to anybody who’s willing to listen,” he says. While we are still uncertain about the times ahead, Rebello encapsulates it well by saying, “Music is there to soothe people, it will help deal with the stress we are all enduring.” 

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