Social media is filled with beautiful musical tributes happening in India and around the world as we battle COVID-19. It is remarkable how musicians across various genres have got together virtually and fused their pieces for an experience of a lifetime - all for us. My personal favourite: ONE WORLD… ONE SONG with friends of Nagaland, India.

Isn’t it then time to talk about our musicians… who have been in the forefront ever since the pandemic broke out and have been entertaining us across continents and cutting through borders. They have kept us cheerful and engaged and more importantly, our spirits high.

But has anyone given a thought to how this industry cannot survive without our support and that they too need sustenance and a bailout plan from the government at large. It is time to also look at the flip side on how musicians are battling for survival and trying to figure out ways and means to endure these turbulent times.

The music industry has been hit hard as well and I want to bring this story to light, as no one seems to be talking about it when other businesses and industries are spoken of - singers, songwriters, lyricists, musicians, artists, engineers, technicians have been impacted. Questions come to mind: Is it time to do virtual concerts and charge a fee for the entertainment being provided? Should there not be some fixed charges for live-streaming music etc. There are no free lunches you know!

Freelance independent musicians not working with the movie industry / big labels /established companies need our support. The smaller labels are facing an existential threat with drastically reduced cash flows. I doubt this Government will pitch in to bail them out when they have done zilch for the daily wage workers. Let’s face it – the underdogs are always avoided and ignored.

This pandemic has brought together composers, musicians and singers from across the globe who have made recordings in their homes/make-shift studios, for us to be entertained in ours. The songs are soulful, combining lyrics through multi-lingual languages spreading the message of love, harmony and the world being one big family and focusing on our never-say-die attitude in our collective fight against the coronavirus.

Musicians have taken part in online concerts for relief funds even though their own gigs and concerts have been cancelled worldwide. Favourite venues, bars, and after-gig hangouts are likely to remain shut for the foreseeable future.

A well-known and popular guitarist who prefers to remain anonymous says that she has used this time to complete an unfinished song and had now ventured into merchandising her logo and music to earn money. In fact, she goes a step further and says, “Since going out and playing is currently not an option and there are no more gigs or open mics, make a post letting people know an exact time you plan on live-streaming, with an option to buy tickets and prepare a small set just like you would for a normal gig.”

In conversation with Rudy Wallang, the iconic blues guitar player/singer/songwriter and member of Soulmate, he says, “Yes, as far as Soulmate is concerned we are planning to start playing live stream gigs in lieu of payment. The problem is, Facebook, where we have a substantial following hasn't started allowing monetisation as yet - at least not in India. We will have to work out other ways of earning some money. Secondly, we need some decent audio and video equipment so as to bring quality music to you all when we stream live. Professional musicians keep getting asked to do live streams to raise funds but we need to raise an income as well. We have a lot of genuine music lovers and fans and I know that they will support us when the time comes and I know we cannot remain like this forever.”

As an independent musician, singer, music composer/producer Ambar Das says, “The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has really changed the whole scenario. No one really knows what the future holds. Most musicians and freelance artists are daily wage earners in a way. Now with the subsequent lockdowns, everything is uncertain. Freelance independent musicians who are not working with the movie industry, major labels or companies, are the ones who are hit the hardest. As a result, most artists are doing a lot of virtual concerts which are mostly unpaid. A few likes and nice comments are good for the soul but it doesn’t pay the bills. To begin with, most artists don’t even get the royalties of their music. Live shows and studio sessions are a major source of income but with that gone, the future looks bleak indeed. One solution can be OTT services that are artist-friendly, unlike our major labels who just fleece the artists. Ideally, the government should pitch in to help, but that also seems unlikely under the circumstances. At the same time, we are an optimistic lot and believe there will be a solution”

Shankuraj Konwar, singer, music composer/producer in Mumbai says, “The sudden turn of events is very unprecedented for the music industry to respond to. Musicians like us were simply not ready for days like these. There is a virtual rat race on which is largely out of fear and insecurities about the uncertain future. My personal take is that we need to relax a bit, research and have discussions amongst ourselves as to how to go about live streaming and having online gigs.”

Nilanajan Samadder, an independent musician/songwriter/composer/guitarist based in Mumbai says, “The present scene is scary - we have not earned any money for the last few months but having paid all the bills our savings are slowly getting exhausted. It goes without saying things will not be normal for a while. 70% of my earning comes from live gigs. I pay tax for each of my gigs and contribute to the nation's income. But when I need the nation/government to take care, all I get to hear is ‘atmanirbhar bharat’ with a bogus economic package that is of no use to any of us.” He rightfully mentions that it is always the poets and the music makers who are the first to react and stand in solidarity with their people. But today, there is not a peep from anyone in support of the musicians.

Rudy Wallang sums it up beautifully by saying, “If artists and musicians think that they need 'likes' more than they need money, they are mistaken. We have to put a stop to this. One thing where the government’s attitude is concerned - they all feel that they are doing us all a favour… Be it musicians or artists or daily wagers or whoever the workforce in the country is. They forget that they are where they are because of us and it’s not the other way around.” His positive smile with a ‘We shall overcome’ sets the tempo.

Priyanku Bordoloi, music producer, guitarist, proprietor Brahma Studio, based in Guwahati, Assam stresses on the fact that the current situation demands that musicians need to concentrate on digital medium with nominal charges for performances. “Also this is the time for musicians to unite and help each other and decide their fate not the record labels.”

One of indie music’s biggest influences, singer-songwriter Uday Benegal, who is best known as the lead singer and founder of India’s leading rock band Indus Creed (previously known as Rock Machine) has a very positive outlook to this whole situation. “As professionals of the music industry we have been through various ‘Boom or Bust’ scenarios through our career. Of course, never around a pandemic and so this is a first. But this is a temporary situation and we will all evolve from it. Times are hard and taxing but humans have this remarkable ability to adapt and so we shall overcome. There is a brave new world waiting to challenge us in every way. Live streaming music via various platforms like YouTube/Instagram where you charge the audience for tuning in are already taking off. Of course, one has to be mindful of having control on the quality and sound effects. Online concerts have already started with systems and checks in place, and the way ahead would be through this medium.”

And one day soon: The live concerts will return! Till then, let us support our favourite musicians and bands.