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The Show Must Go On, Say Chennai-based Musicians as Performances Become Virtual

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In early August, Chennai-based music band Motta Maadi Music took to their Instagram page to announce their virtual initiative titled The Makkal Project. Their aim was to get the audience to send in video and audio clippings of a popular film song, based on a specific template. The band is the latest one in the city which is willing to go the extra mile to keep in touch with their audience.

“The idea is to recreate the vibe of our shows,” says Badhri Narayanan Seshadri, founder of Motta Maadi Music.

“Since we cannot perform live anytime soon, these digital projects showcase that we still want the audience to be the performers,” he says.

Despite the pandemic hitting the Chennai music circuit hard, many bands and artists have managed to come up with innovative ways to keep the art alive.

Staccato, a contemporary classic band, spent the lockdown warming up to the idea of performing private e-concerts. Having performed for the Art of Living Foundation, private clubs and other social events, the band firmly believes that their music resonates best in shows like these.

Coming up with personalised projects and audience-friendly initiatives has been their goal. “We have a new production coming up. The band members got talking and we each decided to come up with a song that is close to our childhood,” says band member RH Vikram. A couple of over-the-top (OTT) platforms have shown interest in picking up the band’s production, he says.

Apart from bands, a few organisers have decided to offer independent artists a platform to collaborate and showcase their work. Chennai-based arts management company Indian Arts Scene helps artists produce and distribute their original work by adapting it into short-form content and uploading it onto their page.

Unlike typical real-time events, many city-based musicians have sought to blur the lines between them and their audience. Even during the lockdown, they’ve continued to emphasise its importance. “Whenever something bad happens around us, I make it a point to release a video on my band’s platform so that the audience can feel relaxed and happy,” explains Motta Maadi Music’s Seshadri.

However, this is not always the case. Many well-known artists who perform for Sofar Chennai have decided to take over the platform’s Instagram Live to perform their pieces. After a couple of shows, Sofar decided to halt the initiative as they felt that point was lost. “The whole idea of Sofar Sounds is that nobody knows who the artist is and this surprise element was lost. The element of introducing new music is very important,” says Akshay Oliver, organiser of Sofar Chennai.

Sofar Sounds isn’t the only platform that is sceptical of performing live on social media platforms. Many artists believe that offering and showcasing free content hampers their business. With audiences already wary of monetised shows, they have a hard time making money during the pandemic. Some of them even take up side jobs to sustain themselves.

Navin Dorai, founder and CEO of Original Dog, a crowdfunding website for original music, believes that the pandemic has given people more time to appreciate virtual music gigs but they aren’t necessarily okay with paying for them.

Due to corporate shows and gigs being cancelled, many artists and band members have taken up individual projects to stay afloat. Some of them have taken up teaching, solo gigs, and requested fan funding. Talking about crowdfunding, Dorai says: “Artists have never had consistent income and their music should not suffer.”

Despite embracing the ongoing lockdown, the belief that they thrive through live art continues to hold true for these artists and bands. Staccato, which has already given a live performance, believes that though it might take time for events to take place in a full-fledged manner, it will be worth it.  “Having a virtual concert is like a normal audio system. The feeling of being in a concert is lost,” says Vikram.

Many bands have already begun making plans to host events when things open up. Keeping in mind that audience experience is key, their main focus is not just to restart their events but to also retune them, so that they offer newer ways to engage with the crowd.

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