Singer-songwriter, Kolkata (INDIA).
My husband Sumith (*) and I work from home. Sumith’s music studio is operational 24×7, while my jewellery design studio is based in another corner of our home. So, if we aren’t gigging, we’re used to spending most of our time at home. It works for us. My parents stay next door and it was with their safety in mind that we decided to quarantine ourselves earlier than most.
Let’s skip the complaints
Like most Indian households, we have been without staff for nearly 70 days (and counting) now. While we try not to complain too much, it does interfere with work – the guitar solo has to wait for the house needs sweeping; unable to record vocals because I’m just so knackered from swabbing the floors and washing dishes, the weekly grocery run cannot wait – it’s laughable, in hindsight, but at least we’re safe, with a roof over our heads, food on the table and with family.
Never a better time to impart knowledge online
Professionally, we’re innovating, trying to keep up, stay relevant and generally go with the flow. Sumith’s always been a tech-savvy musician, who spends his time in isolation up skilling, composing, collaborating and cooking.
The online guitar lessons, which he could not accommodate into his earlier schedule, are currently a roaring success – he’s accessible to students all over the world. Truly there was never a better time to impart your knowledge online. It scares me though, to admit how our lives are very dependent on broadband connectivity.
On a selfish note, I’m ecstatic I can finally breathe – our pollution levels are their lowest, nature is regenerating – there’s immense joy in knowing just that.
Entertainment industry will be affected
Currently, everyone is in survival mode. Across the board, the adaption has been about cutting costs, conserving funds and protecting livelihoods. While there’s no doubt the social-distancing measures will save lives, the restrictions – which have led to cancelled events, venue closures, delayed projects and reduced income – will certainly take their toll on the entertainment industry.
Ying yang of contrary forces
However, we believe there are opportunities out there opening-up avenues – more by accident than by design – and it is up to us music/creative professionals to ensure that we are in the strongest position possible after the pandemic to take them to fruition.
We’ve been in lockdown for so long now that on some days we feel that this is a blessing in disguise – a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reset whatever it is that we wish we could do differently, while on other bleak, ’what-if’ days we’ve dealt with stark realities to which there are no answers yet. It’s the yin-yang of contrary forces, of knowing and not-knowing what will be which has worked for us.
No crisis can thwart creativity
The very essence of creativity involves the ability to offer new perspectives, generate meaningful ideas, raise new questions, and come up with solutions, while communicating and entertaining others. A lockdown or a pandemic can never thwart creativity.
Social-distancing measures have led to a huge shift to virtual-event solutions; from audience-free studio productions, drive-in concerts and webcasting, live streaming and remote production to enable events to continue being delivered.
Artists will lose live audiences
But until we have this pandemic under control and till we have the promised vaccine, artists will continue to lose live audiences.
No performer would like to perform to an arena of physically-distanced concert-goers. Similarly, no audience member would put herself at risk for the love of a few lines of magic. This, unfortunately, is our current reality and we have to make our peace with it. I already have. Sumith still has good and bad days, but he’s getting there.
As for the thrill aspect, every right-thinking musician should currently pursue the thrill of staying alive, staying healthy and staying COVID-19 free.
Working together, yet apart
Change is unavoidable. Now is the time for creativity, flexibility and quick decision-making and execution – factors, which will help us, musicians, stay relevant.
Every musician worth his/her salt has laid on shows for fans on social media. Some are charging for the privilege. Sadly, the ones that need it the most are denied the opportunity.
Working together, yet apart, in exciting and creative ways so as to engage the audience remains the musician’s biggest challenge yet. Never has the word ‘contactless’ felt so forsaken.
Adjust rapidly to the new normal
Unfortunately, the Indian entertainment industry has zero government support so it has no choice other than to be self-sustaining. For those not a part of mainstream Indian music (namely, Bollywood and regional film music) free balcony gigs, free social media gigs and performing ‘gratis’ for a good cause will only lower our market value further.
It’s a tough road uphill. Unless we adjust rapidly to the new normal, (and keep our wits about us at the same time), we must prepare to be left behind.
(*) On Song
When Kolkata-based singer-songwriter Rila Banerjee and Sumith Ramachandran, one of India’s leading guitar players, sought out a platform to fine-tune their craft, they found it here – despite its indiscriminate ear, Kolkata has a big heart for music.
Music has been re-established as entertainment and Rila and Sumith are on song: a product of various permutations and combinations of folk and country and jazz, a marriage Rila still calls “bizarre”. Majors, minors, sharps, flats, diminished, augmented… sounds birthed and meticulously honed from hours of disagreements and equal time spent making up.