Just like every industry, the global outbreak of coronavirus has also been harsh to the electronic music industry (EDM). Following the lockdown, all music gigs and tours were cancelled and clubs shut shop. And with the government’s decision to suspend visas for international tourists, many gigs that had line-ups featuring international DJs had to be cancelled in cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi. According to a report, it was predicted that the live music industry across the world could lose around $9 billion due to the pandemic.
Keeping present circumstances in mind, most companies are looking at staging digital events for a while. Percept Live, which organises India’s biggest music festival Sunburn, also sensed a massive opportunity to scale up and offer events in the digital space. “We conceptualised, locked in the best of global technology, and rolled out many Sunburn variants in the digital domain," says Karan Singh, COO, Percept Live. "For instance, we launched Sunburn@Home–a live stream venture on our Instagram and YouTube handles, Twitch app and ZEE5 platforms."
Over the past six months, the company has featured more than 180 leading international and Indian artists including KSHMR, Nicky Romero, Alison Wonderland, Lost Frequencies, Paul Van Dyk, Skazi, Sam Feldt, Diego Miranda, Maddix, Spin Doctor, Bassjackers, and Vini Vici.The company had to cancel all the Sunburn live events including their Arenas, Reloads and Campus tours. But they unveiled the Sunburn Home Festival, a virtual two-day mega music festival with the biggest global music artists, Vini Vici, MATTN, Bassjackers and Ummet Ozcan, After Hours and a whole host of exciting virtual entertainment experiences.
Singh says that the planning and production process of virtual events is profoundly different from live events and requires a higher level of technology confidence, but Percept Live is glad that it took the leap and incorporated virtual reality, mixed reality and hybrid formats to keep their connect with fans going strong. “Going virtual in 2020 was probably the safest strategy as it kept business going and created brand new revenue streams that remained unaffected by the social distancing rules. Transitioning to digital proved to be a very viable option, as we have evidenced with our many new digital ventures,” he adds.When asked about the emerging trends in the electronic dance music industry in the post-pandemic world, Singh says that he foresees a blend of live events and digital events, co-existing to cater to multiple audience requirements and partner expectations. “Digital events are already generating revenue with innovative content, and expanding its global reach. Virtual events have great potential, but in order to succeed in this space, we will need to augment our technological prowess, change our way of thinking, and most importantly upgrade skill sets,” he says. “This is a new frontier for all of us in the live events domain, and we will all benefit from collaborating together to help produce virtual events, share information and value add to the experiential industry,” Singh adds.
Harsh Bawa, Founder/Director of Dunes Entertainment Company, which organises the Dunes Music Festival, says that virtual gigs have allowed them to reach a large number of people around the world at the same time. “We did so many virtual events in the months of April, May and June. Dunes were live from many cities in Italy, Israel and some cities of India. It's good to showcase your talent virtually. At least you feel the vibes,” he says. His heart, however, is still stuck on shows for live audiences.
Bawa’s business has been severely hit due to the pandemic. “We had more than 200 people working on daily wage for us. All the events were cancelled and most of our staff moved to their hometowns. It was quite a task to manage all that. All the sponsors/partners put their payments on hold. So there's no hope we could see, to this day.'' His company had more than ten events planned till April and 30 events across ten cities till December. All of them were either cancelled or rescheduled and postponed, for an uncertain time. “There is no particular timeline for this pandemic. This was a big shock for us as we were, and are still, facing a big loss,” says Bawa.Dunes Entertainment Company has done some gigs after the restrictions were lifted. “We have been organising small club events since August, with government guidelines in place where only 50 people are allowed. Before they enter, they are thermally scanned, sanitised and mandated to wear masks at all times. We try our best to ensure that social distancing is maintained during the events,” Bawa tells us. According to him, trends like virtual shows, podcasts and drive-in concerts will continue to be the new normal, at least for a while.
DJs, have also been hugely impacted by the pandemic. Most DJs don’t work under any record label and gigs are their only source of income. With no event parties and no after parties happening, times are tough for the DJ community. The year had started on a great note for Gagan Deep Singh, aka DJ The Stranger. The first three months were filled with bookings and he was getting to perform with International DJs. And then the pandemic happened, and Singh had to cancel almost all his gigs. The DJ spent his lockdown creating fresh music, exploring new sounds and teaching music to youngsters. He also plans to start a music academy soon to generate an alternative source of income.
“I am a bit frustrated now. I so want to get back to the stage duties. ASAP,” he laments. Innovative DJs are taking up to the idea of online clubbing and putting up their performances online. Singh too did virtual gigs for a few music festivals on their social media handles. “The whole idea behind virtual gigs is to make people engage with music which might help them to stay positive in these tough times. That's what an artist is supposed to do, make people happy,” he says.
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Singh has spent the lockdown working, on a new mixtape which will be releasing soon, and had even got a gig in Jaipur in September, but the state government had imposed Section 144 to contain the virus and the gig was cancelled. This hasn’t discouraged the DJ. “I am hoping for the best. Things will take time, but everything will be back on track soon."
Sharing music on online platforms is a recent trend, Singh says. “We are doing live sessions, sharing our style of music with people on Facebook and Instagram.” The DJ, however feels that this trend may not last for long. “All DJs can do is improve their music production skills and get ready with some mash-ups, remixes and singles so that they can bang on later when normalcy returns.”
Vikrant Rathore, aka DJ Audiogramme thinks that virtual gigs are not at all a profitable venture. “They are free gigs and people usually stay in a gig for five minutes. People have a lot going on in their lives and they are not exactly in the mood to party hard, let alone attending virtual gigs for hours,” he says. “Nobody remembers virtual gigs!” He also tells us that even though gigs have started in clubs, DJs are not being paid enough. “It’s a tricky situation right now. Till the time clubs are not allowed to host more people, the DJ industry will not be back on its feet,” he adds. He is also apprehensive that clubs may be asked to shut again if the number of COVID cases keep rising.
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Rathore travels a lot for his gigs and has played in almost all parts of the country, with Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata being his favourite places to play. He had to cancel 12 gigs across the country due to the pandemic. “I have some bookings coming up for the mountains but apart from that there have been no inquiries, to be honest,” he says. The DJ adds that there is a lot of uncertainty about international travel with rules changing every week.
During the lockdown, Rathore taught students as part of a global online workshop that featured 14 artists from all over the world. These workshops have been helping him to pay his bills. Rathore also runs a music academy in Delhi but parents are a bit apprehensive to send their wards to his academy right now. He thinks DJs should start teaching music to youngsters in their cities and look for alternative sources of income.
Vaibhav Pareek, aka DJ Vaporized, a resident DJ at Jaipur’s G Club had lost much of his confidence, thanks to the anxiety that came with the pandemic. “I was so uncertain about getting to play in the near future that it took a toll on my mental well-being. I was also anxious about whether I will be able to perform the same way when normalcy returns,” he says. “Our salaries were discontinued because clubs were shut and we had to use our personal savings,” he adds. Pareek had to cancel 25 gigs and most of these were private gigs at lavish wedding functions.
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Pareek also did live online streaming of his sets on his Facebook and Instagram. Some clubs asked him to perform his sets on their social media handles, which came as quite a stress-buster for the DJ. He has also been working on updating his playlist.
The best part is that the lockdown restrictions have been lifted and clubs have been allowed to reopen. Pareek is back in action. “Luckily, I am getting bookings and also performing at my regular club. We are organising gigs with all safety protocols in place,” he says. “Even if we are performing to limited crowds, the feeling of getting back to the console is unparalleled.