Maharashtra: As nightlife halts, DJs & artists struggle to stay relevant

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Written by Abha Goradia
| Mumbai |

Published: July 6, 2020 1:28:13 am





The gig industry, heavily entwined with and dependent on these social hangouts, faced a collateral damage. (Representational)

Vinod Karjavkar, a professional percussionist, has toured India and abroad extensively to play alongside several music bands since 1995. In the last three months, however, the 41-year-old has leaned onto his ‘Koli’ identity and, perhaps, for the first time gone out fishing to Uran, Alibaug, Vasai, Andheri or Jogeshwari at least two to three times a week in the hope of a good catch.

As fishing did not fetch much money, Karjavkar and his wife also started a tiffin service alongside but got little success. “I see artistes going live on social media. People see such posts for barely 30 seconds. But mere appreciation doesn’t fill stomachs,” he said.

Karjavkar, who plays a variety of musical instruments from drums to mouth organ, had toured Goa, Oman, Bangalore and Delhi attending several musical events from November last year. In March, when the lockdown was imposed, he said he was forced to look for an alternative.

Restaurants, nightclubs and pubs across Mumbai have been reeling under the burden of rent and staff salaries since they were shut due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown. The gig industry, heavily entwined with and dependent on these social hangouts, faced a collateral damage.

DJ Rahul Pai, who has hosted nearly 10 online “social-distancing parties” through his social media accounts, said it wasn’t worth the trouble. As a result of prevalent algorithms on social media sites, Pai said he has received several messages warning him against playing tracks owned by some music companies. Parts of his live performance has also been muted by the social media platform. “The idea behind performing live on social media sites is simple: to stay relevant. It is just to remind people that we are still in the market,” he said, but such actions add to our disappointment.

A few days ago, a popular DJ had sent across messages, asking if anyone in the community required financial help. “The message said that no names would be revealed. Yet, hardly anyone came forward. DJs and artistes will not reveal their financial needs, frustration or depression levels. They are like celebrities and have to continue to behave as one,” he said.

There are an estimated 5,000 DJs in the city. Depending on who the DJ is, and the scale of the event he is part of, the payment can vary from anywhere between Rs 1,500 and 15 lakh per night.

In the last three months, Pai said he had received only one enquiry for a corporate gig. “After I asked their budget, they said they will get back to me. Of course, they did not.”

Restaurants and clubs usually seek the services of ‘system integrators’ for installation of audio, video and lighting equipment. Malay Jhaveri, who has been in this field for the past 25 years, has helped popular bars, such as Effingut, and R Hapi among others, to get their music systems in place. In a year, he would handle an average of 20 such jobs along with his partner, for a price ranging from Rs 2 lakh to 5 crore. “We just got to wait till the industry picks up,” he said.

A freelance visual artist, Tehmoor Khan, who used to create and edit videos for events, weddings and DJs, said he has been asked to work for free. “We create visual content that is played in the backgrounds for when DJs perform. But now we are told there are no sponsors and will have to work for free for the time being.”

For music producer, Ravi Sharma, who has been engaged in producing remixes for parties, events, concerts, apart from music labels, the access to libraries of music labels has stopped. “We could ask for vocals of a song or the music pieces of another song from the libraries. Since offices are shut, we have lost these resources. But we are trying to work without it using software. Earlier, I used to remix about four tracks a day. In the last three months, I’ve only remixed about 10 songs,” he said.

Bobby K, a DJ known for his “retro Bollywood” brand since past 30 years, has embraced the transition. “Whatever is happening right now is here to stay,” he says. Since the lockdown, to keep himself engaged and entertain people, Bobby K has been performing sets on different platforms such as Twitch and Mix Cloud for free. “Online DJ-ing has began at a small scale and will slowly pick up. The pandemic is forcing people to explore possibilities. DJs can now play from their home, and get their performance live-casted. This will help reduce travel time and other expenses, and can even allow DJs to do two shows per night,” he added.

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