Live music takes a hit amid pandemic

As live shows and concerts continue to suffer due to COVID lockdowns, venue owners try to cope and adapt to different options

Updated - October 09, 2021 03:16 am IST

Published - October 09, 2021 01:29 am IST - New Delhi

Photo used for representational purpose only. File

Photo used for representational purpose only. File

With a looming threat of a possible third wave, social distancing norms and limited seating capacity, musicians and venue owners in the city are a worried bunch. Although live music is up and running, COVID-19 restrictions come as a roadblock for many.

For 28-year-old Zeeshaan Nabi, member of a city-based band ‘Ramooz’, subsequent lockdowns have resulted in multiple live shows being cancelled.

Affecting creativeness

“In mid-2019, the band had moved to Kashmir to record its first studio album, however, they were stuck in the Valley due to restrictions imposed post the abrogation of Article 370. While we returned to Delhi in November that year, we managed to play only a couple shows after the first and second lockdowns were lifted — with limited capacity. This has affected the creative process of the band, especially due to the financial constraints that the lockdowns had brought along,” said Mr. Nabi.

The band is now nearing completion of its first studio album. However, it faces a dilemma due to the restrictions imposed on live performance gatherings.

Making ends meet

Sharing the same conundrum is 26-year-old Ahmad Hagroo, a city-based singer-songwriter, who has been struggling to secure live gigs since the pandemic first struck. This has further resulted in financial constraints for Mr. Hagroo who now runs a cloud kitchen, from his residence, to make ends meet.

“I have been performing since 2018 in and around Delhi. I was earning well until the pandemic hit and everything has changed since then. I had to turn to other sources of income and have recently started a cloud kitchen. The idea is to also invite people to dine-in with me on weekends and to give a performance alongside,” said Mr. Hagroo.

Prior to the pandemic, independent music scenario in the city and other parts of the country witnessed a regular flow of events with live performances on a weekly basis. However, since the pandemic, the situation for artistes and venue owners remains dire.

Venue owners in the city have also voiced their concerns. Arjun Sagar Gupta, founder of The Piano Man Group, said that “the level of fear in the market was very high” after operations resumed post first wave.

Long-term viability

“From December to March, we saw a rise from 25% to 50% of pre-COVID revenues, but then came the second wave. Despite the devastation it caused, I was surprised to see the market picking up at a faster pace as compared to the first wave. To sustain, we have been implementing cost-control measures on a war footing and setting up aggressive cost targets. Nobody is looking to earn money right now, we are looking towards long-term viability,” said Mr. Gupta, adding that simultaneous short-term and long-term planning is required.

Nitin Arora, managing director of Katalyst Entertainment, said that the past year and a half “has been really bad for the wedding fraternity. He added, “Our wedding business has reduced to 25%. If a third lockdown does not happen, we are in for a very good season due to the backlog of weddings that has not happened due to the previous lockdowns. For artistes, it will be a brilliant season too, but only if the situation remains stable.”

Alternative routes

A few venue owners have also resorted to alternatives. Manu Mathew, founder of The House Concert Foundation who organises intimate home concerts, supported by crowd contributions, has now resorted to organising multiple shows at bigger spaces as a measure to prevent crowding

“For our upcoming event, we are going to host two shows in a day to bring more audiences, this will help accommodate more people and ensure a limited capacity. While we were livestreaming shows, it was difficult to recreate the experience online. Instead, we decided to focus more on smaller formats of the shows and we are also exploring a simultaneous mix of offline and online options,” said Mr. Mathew, adding that there has been a dip in the frequency of shows and a change in audience members due to the pandemic-induced migration.

Tuning to radio

While artistes in the city remain dependent on live performances for their core source of income, city-based musician Vineet Singh Hukmani has made “global radio” as his “core”.

“I had previously witnessed a plenty of artistes in the international music arena who made a living purely based on alternative online avenues of music. One needs to make sure that international radio receives your songs well because radio was unaffected during the pandemic. We rode that wave for a year and that created a momentum on the music charts. Musicians can create their work first, then distribute them to radio and digital domains and live performances,” Mr. Hukmani, whose records have been listed on the global charts, said.

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