Can online monetisation compensate for live performances?

In a month when another headline took over media with electricity bills jumping three-fold [as in my case] or beyond, at least in Mumbai, the ongoing online appearance by performers has begun to show a silver lining as the model of providing freebies merely for engagement appears to be moving towards a model of monetisation.

While, for consumers, there is no substitute to “free”, several have since accepted that there is a need for performers to also earn monies to support their livelihood, and have begun to pay for performances; certainly, a welcome change in their thought processes.

Dhanashree Pandit Rai

The first of the artistes that I had an opportunity of interacting with on this topic was Dhanashree Pandit Rai, one of the leading exponents of thumri, and her popularity owes itself to her rare voice quality that emulates the myriad emotions befitting the genre. Her repertoire also spans classical khayal, ghazal, bhajan, and various semi classical sub-genres. Pandit Rai has trained in khayal under the stalwart of the kirana gharana, Pandit Firoz Dastur, and further specialised in thumri under the guidance of the legendary Shobha Gurtu.

Pandit Rai is clearly focused on the way forward. “I am only doing concerts which have a sponsor,” she shares about her online activities, which occur with much regularity with her last one, ‘Monsoon Concert – Aaya Sawan ZOOM Ke’, being held on June 28. “Have taken that pledge: no freebies! This [pandemic] is going to be [affecting] the music scene for a long time to come, so organisers have to understand.” “Unfortunately,” laments Pandit Rai, “many artists are resorting to doing free Facebook live concerts on someone or the other’s page…!” But, hopefully, better sense will prevail.

Also in support is music director Shameer Tandon, who was live on the Music Inc 3.0 virtual summit held in June, which was organised by loudest.in, exchange4media, and BW Businessworld, which featured stalwarts from the music industry encompassing professionals and musicians. In a panel discussion, Tandon spoke about the importance of musicians monetising their performances online and the importance of brands supporting the musicians’ online initiatives by funding their marketing and promotions.

Further, Mumbai-based DJ Russel, who held the dance floor together at Door no.1 pre-lockdown, is live on mixcloud thrice a week, from

DJ Russel

8pm onwards, regaling audiences – open to all – with international music, and with Bollywood, with a theme to go with each session. While there is no entry fee, he has been transparent enough to announce that as he has had no regular source of income during the pandemic, he would look forward to receiving “donations” from regular patrons of his live streams. Hence, while no one is compelled to pay to hear Russel spin his sounds, any financial support is welcome.

As part of FICCI Frames 2020, one of the topics discussed across the five-day virtual conference was ‘The business of music in an artist first economy’, on July 10, featuring a stellar panel consisting of Censor Board chairman Prasoon Joshi, Sabbas Joseph of event management company Wizcraft, and performers Sonu Nigam and Shankar Mahadevan.

T Suresh

The focus of the panel discussion was on the music industry having shown consistent growth over the last three years with non-film/regional music sector creating a pop music industry that had begun to reflect the real India. However, having said that, the focus shifted to monetisation where Nigam, presently located in Dubai, stating there are no revenues being earned by him as a performer for the past few months as there exist no live events. However, Mahadevan was quick to counter that argument saying that, based on an initiative taken by T Suresh of Strumm Entertainment, he had a devotional channel on YouTube [under the branding of Strumm Sound and Strumm Spiritual], that had become money spinners for him where he was receiving periodical payouts. Hence, the recording of content and its deployment, once you achieve the minimum threshold requirements of the respective digital platform, is yet another opportunity of monetisation for performers.

Ritika Sahni

More support towards monetisation arrived via Ritika Sahni who, at present, is the founder-trustee of Trinayani, working for the cause of creating awareness for those facing disabilities with the promise of equality for such people.

She was involved in ‘Kolkata Calling 2020’; “A virtually streamed event “, is how Sahni describes it, “curated by my friends and me to raise funds for Cyclone Amphan. The show has a mix of music, intense poetry, dramatic and humorous theatre pieces, stand-up comedy and, of course, yours truly singing.” The pre-recorded show, which was streamed on July 12, which was priced at Rs.400, and had over 1,000+ ticket sold. Simple maths here…

Soulmate, Bangalore

Then, of course, are new product releases from artistes and, perhaps, one of the most anticipated of the launches is the one from Soulmate, the blues rock band from Shillong, Meghalaya consisting of Rudy Wallang (guitar/vocals/songwriter) and Tipriti Kharbangar (vocals/guitar). Once the new album was announced in mid-July, called ‘Give Love’, social media went berserk in anticipation of the August 1 release, which is scheduled for launch on International blues music day. However, in anticipation of the new album, their first release in six years, was the latent demand for CDs. There is no denying that better margins still exist for this format vis-à-vis streaming, which offers five paise or so. In fact, to establish that the physical format still exists globally, a look at the end-June album chart in the UK showed Bob Dylan at no.1 with ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ with sales of 34,000 albums, of which 29,000 were sold as CDs! However, that is not all, the no.2 album during the same period was Neil Young with ‘Homegrown’, which was announced as “the best-selling title of the week on vinyl”.

When the internet became commercially popular from the ‘90s onwards – I first had the opportunity of seeing it utilised during my first stint at HMV [now Saregama] during 1995-97 – not many were aware about its wide ranging utilities, especially by the media and entertainment industry. The music industry should have then combined to announce to consumers that if there was music being downloaded, there was an amount payable to do so…for argument’s sake, let us say, the equivalent of U.S. one cent initially, across territories. However, that did not occur, and Napster entered the market in 1999 as a pioneering peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing internet software that emphasized sharing digital audio files, typically audio songs, encoded as an mp3 format. It was only when Napster became popular that the music industry combined to challenge it for copyright infringement.

However, by then, internet consumers began looking at the larger picture and, even then, Hollywood was not quick enough to establish a similar principal of pay per view, and the movie industry soon found itself in similar problems of copyright infringement and beyond. Initially released in 2001, BitTorrent also introduced peer-to-peer file sharing, which was then used to distribute audio-visual content over the Internet in a decentralized manner…and, once again, for free!

So, before the performing industry also gets entrapped into providing services for free online, and to ensure that history no longer repeats itself, industry veteran Atul Churamani focuses his arguments on the necessity of composers/lyricists becoming members of statutory bodies such as IPRS [The Indian Performing Right Society Limited] and vocalists with ISRA [Indian Singers’ Rights Association]. Further, Churamani also propagates the obligation of obtaining relevant licenses while streaming live shows, and their recordings by obtaining sync licenses from copyright owners prior to monetisation on the internet.

Hence, the message for performers is clear and without present danger that, indeed, you can certainly make monies in a virtual world but, at the same time, please do not ignore the laws that support your monetisation efforts as you make money while you make music.

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