Chamber of Music: The future of online concerts

The lockdown has given us some wonderful music on social media. From hosting ticketed concerts to trying out innovative videos, the Carnatic artistes are doing some interesting work

Two weeks back, Carnatic music aficionados were in for a treat with the 90th anniversary celebrations of Lalgudi Jayaraman, organised by the Lalgudi Trust. For many, it was a nostalgic journey to relive the life and times of a legend. It was a culmination of a work that went on for more than four months and over 21 stalwarts were a part of it. But it all happened on YouTube.

“In fact, I wonder if it might have been possible to have so many legends come together for a real live program. There were lecture demonstrations by Sriram Parasuram and Saketharaman and a Harikatha performance by Visakha Hari aired from the Lalgudi temple,” says Shreya Nagarajan Singh, an arts development consultant.

At the end of the day, Facebook and YouTube are not sustainable platforms. You can have a glimpse of what the artiste has to offer but we felt we had to go the way of paid concerts early on in May

In the early days of lockdown, music was everywhere on social media with every other artiste going live. But now, artistes have started rethinking their presence online. “People have reached a saturation point with respect to Facebook and too much of anything is not good. At the end of the day, Facebook and YouTube are not sustainable platforms. You can have a glimpse of what the artiste has to offer but we felt we had to go the way of paid concerts early on in May. Also, the content you put on Facebook or YouTube can be easily downloaded, which raises questions of security of content,” says Gayatri of the Ranjani Gayatri duo.

You need to cultivate a culture of paid concerts. Depending on sponsors and philanthropists cannot be a long-term solution

Sustainability is a factor that Shreya also has her concerns about. “I feel when there was a deluge of content online in April-May, many artistes were not thinking through it. In fact, those who did concerts mindfully have stood out. Today, except for the top artistes, the main source of revenue for artistes comes from teaching. You need to cultivate a culture of paid concerts. Depending on sponsors and philanthropists cannot be a long-term solution. I once attended an overnight therukoothu performance in a village but the villagers collectively paid the artistes for it. Why can’t we do it in the cities then,” she asks.

Keeping aside the merits and demerits of the medium, one has to accept the current reality. Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghunathan experimented with the online medium in the last few months with her celebrity conversations. “As artistes, we need to do something creative. These discussions I hosted with other celebrities had conversations interspersed with some music here and there. This is a time when artistes are all trying to reinvent and do things differently,” says Sudha.

Since 2013, Mudhra has been at the forefront of digital concerts but again there are efforts to ensure serious listening. “We have been webcasting concerts since 2013 and have curated several festivals but it is only available for viewing live,” says Mudhra Baskar, trustee – Paalam, who has a rich repository of archives from which the concerts are played. “During the lockdown, we aired many music, dance and drama programmes from our archives,” he says.

In a hall, there might be composition or two that a person is not particularly fond of but they will still give it a listen. But the moment it is online, you snap out of it and have the freedom to just close the browser

Online concerts can be a tricky space. “In a hall, there might be composition or two that a person is not particularly fond of but they will still give it a listen. But the moment it is online, you snap out of it and have the freedom to just close the browser. But yes, as artistes we also gave a lot of free content to the rasikas because they played a major role in our lives and this was our way of giving something back to them. Many of them got solace listening to good music during the lockdown. But I am not a votary of free concerts,” says Sudha.

This year, the music festival in December is slated to happen largely online. “It is good that it is happening despite the pandemic, though online. But again, it is not the same event we all are used to. A live audience inspires you. Here you have to perform for the cameras. But one thing we all realise is that a Carnatic artiste needs to have a pull effect for people to book tickets online and attend their shows online. The response we have received has also been very heartening,” says Ranjani. Also, online concerts have erased the limitations of location completely. “We have been able to reach out to listeners from all parts of the world now,” says Gayatri.  

Shreya believes in making the online work mindful and purposeful. “There are situations when I feel an artiste can offer free work. The first is when they are new. Then if it is a charity fundraiser, you perform for free. The third is when you do it for a certain goodwill because of a rapport you share. But it cannot be the norm,” she says.

This story was published in The Times of India

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