Of Independent Musicians and Their Ilk
- Families to feed, rents to pay, careers to build and opportunities to consolidate upon – yes, musicians have to do all this too!
- Being a part of an informal sector, independent musicians probably don’t fall within the ambit of any tangible noteworthy scheme or sarkari yojana as they say.
Covid-19 has shaken the world in unprecedented ways – affecting everyone across industries, pulling brakes on the entire economy, rendering people helpless and threatening us to reconcile with many new truths that will unfold in the days to come.
What are we seeking solace in? Who are we looking towards to take us all away from the sustained and almost permanent like uncertainty? I know some of us have fallen back on the basics - of reconnecting with friends and family who were always there and yet we couldn’t see, of rediscovering talents and passions we were born with and yet didn’tpursue in the world as we understood it before.
However, in these unsettling times, there is also this one group of people who have become constant entities in our virtual but personal space, people who are doing the crucial task of lending us an oar to wade through the troubled waters. I am talking about the scores of musicians, performing artistes, who are ‘online’ through this entire lockdown. Big or small, rich or poor, famous or unknown, each has struck a chord and stuck by us for different reasons. Some are performing just to raise funds, some to give voice to their own aspirations, some to be around in the circuit, some to share their own joy, sorrow, agony. But most importantly, every single artiste is doing this selflessly, because of an inherent urge to give us all a ray of hope in these dark times, albeit momentarily! They are doing so because music indeed brings peace, makes you look at a world that will be, should be……. And they are doing so honestly, truthfully and because they have been blessed with a rare gift that can make others happy in the face of adversity.
But let us, for a change, go behind the curtains and take a peek at what awaits this very group of people.
Families to feed, rents to pay, careers to build and opportunities to consolidate upon – yes, musicians have to do all this too! Barring a handful that is directly related to the Indian mainstream film industry, the rest are at the cusp of a frightening crossroad.
1) Most rely solely on live shows to earn a buck. With the rightful need for social distancing, one will see a complete withdrawal of these shows.
2) Events per se will take a totally new avatar and not necessarily embrace the ways of the past.
3) The Jingles market would shrink because marketing/advertising budgets would be hugely slashed. “Being broke is a part of the journey,” the old adage often almost used loosely as a joke will not find humor anymore, at least not in my mind and I am sure, not in the minds of countless others. The ambit and connotations of ‘bankruptcy’ are often misinterpreted as being limited only to money. But the fact is that, in a post Covid-19 world, we are looking at a much wider form of bankruptcy for this very essential group of people in our society – of opportunities, of platforms to showcase their craft and of course, of means to simply survive. They are called independent musicians - independent in their thoughts, actions, creations, style and way of living, but yet men and women who are an intrinsic part of our societal construct.
Simply put, they have done their bit to bring us a smile. We have to think of doing our bit to put a smile back on them, isn’t it? The question is how?
I guess at one level they themselves need to re-strategize, rethink and rejig their plans - whether to say YES or say NO to all the ‘free gigs’ that are happening online at the moment! If yes, how many is too many? Is there an element of overexposure here? The answer to this lies within themselves. They need to decide and own their decisions.
However, is there nothing that we the listeners, fellow musicians, patrons, corporates, POLICY MAKERS can or should do? I write policy makers in bold because of the sheer magnitude of broken lives that will need to be mended. We as members of the civil society unfortunately express solidarity and empathy that dwindle with every sunset. Also, people have scarce resources with which they need to put their own houses in order. Let’s face it. Most cannot help. And this is exactly where and why government support needs to kick in.
Can there be a one of a kind intervention? Being a part of an informal sector, independent musicians probably don’t fall within the ambit of any tangible noteworthy scheme or sarkari yojana as they say! Can the government of the day step in with a realistic blueprint to ward off what might be coming? Can they provide a minimal genuine relief? Undoubtedly a tall task, but is it not time to incubate that thought? For a moment though, let us also admit that a government can only do that much for that many sectors, purely because the onslaught of the slowdown is unparalleled in history.
In which case, can corporate India take this up as a moral, if not social responsibility? After all, their events - bit it a celebration, a product launch or just a meet, did find pride of place amongst their peers when the performing artistes graced them. This was true right till the day the lockdown started. Should they now not lend a helping hand? My hunch is, even if each of these companies/brands choose to assist just that one lot of artistes who worked closely with them in the last 5 years, they will have taken care of a cross section of the eco system these artistes breathe in with their brothers in arms – the sound engineers, managers, producers, helpers and so on. After all, there is little use in resuscitating the body when the arms and legs are amputated. So help needs to be holistic, should cover the spectrum of people who are both behind and under the arch lights.
I realize there is no single correct answer and I am guilty of citing a page full of apprehensions without suggesting clear solutions. Some might even argue that I am not anymore directly a part of the industry I am talking about. But I’ve been privileged to be born in a family of musicians where I spent the greater part of my childhood oscillating between the four walls of a studio and the stage. And let me say, whether it were my parents Jayanta Hazarika and Manisha Hazarika or my uncle Dr Bhupen Hazarika, they all had to count and account for each penny they toiled to earn and were always engulfed by a veil of financial insecurity. So I have known what it is like beneath the splendor, the anxieties that come with an irregular flow of income, the fear of not being left with anything for a rainy day!
So there ought to be a time when we begin to question, which is exactly what I have done through this piece. Also an appeal of sorts, that we first recognize the impending threat of losing livelihood and then take appropriate measures to at least minimize the threat, if not neutralize it. I am glad I can already see some from my ilk flagging off similar concerns.
So without any further ado, do please think this through and do whatever it takes. Make forums, hold discussions, create support groups, host online chats, talk to clients you’ve continually entertained, engage with event curators, reinvent gig platforms, revisit monetizing methods, select representatives to present your case to people who make policy decisions. And above all, make yourselves heard by speaking out as much as you had touched everyone’s heartby singing out.
You are on your own………but don’t lose heart!
(Mayukh Hazarika is an independent musician and is VP, Head of Event for a national media channel. The views expressed in the article are his own)