Live performers await return to stage post-Covid-19

The show must go on: Live performers await return to stage in post-Covid-19 era

A microphone is seen on the stage during the set-up for the "Live at the Tyne: An Evening of Comedy" show, which will be streamed online from the Tyne Theatre & Opera House. Credit: Reuters Photo

“At times in my life the only place I have been happy is when I am on stage”, Bob Dylan had said famously. Reproduced endlessly over the years, the singer-songwriter’s words find echo in an age of ‘pandemic angst’ as musicians wait anxiously to return to the stage for live shows that are both income and inspiration.  

The show must go on. And it is in a manner of sorts, but it’s now all about virtual concerts and online interactions. The zing is missing and so is the economic incentive, say aspiring musicians who mostly operate in a “non-commercial” space of clubs, bars and music festivals.  

With all live gigs cancelled as Covid-19 continues it spread, the give-and-take of audience responses is gone, impacting creativity and also pushing many towards joblessness and financial crisis.  

“I have lost all my gigs, I managed to do only one online Zoom performance. But essentially there are no performances, so it’s a big loss in terms of economics,” said pianist Pradyumna Singh Manot.  

A hiatus of four months since his last live performance in March may have given the musician enough time to spend with his family but it has taken away from him the adrenaline rush of a live audience.

“We are social creatures, and I miss everything about performing live,” Manot told PTI in a WhatsApp conversation.  

“I miss the beautiful adrenaline, the energy, the joy of performing, sharing your art with other people, meeting people, socialising, hanging out with your band members, getting on stage. And, of course, the music… performing above everything else,” the Kolkata-based artiste added.

Is a full-time music career viable?  

The question troubles Manot and many others like him as they contemplate an uncertain future. With all performing venues closed and no sign of them opening anytime soon, Manot said he has sustained himself financially by conducting online lessons for upcoming artistes.  

He also looks at the positive side of the lockdown picture.  

“I tell my students to think of this as a great opportunity to practice. To come out of this as better artistes. That is how I look at it. To me, this is the year that does not exist. And that it’s a time capsule for practice,” the 36-year-old added.

Like Manot, Delhi-based bass guitarist Sonic Shori also depends on online classes to keep him going. While he has sustained himself “pretty well” thanks to his savings and the classes, it’s only a matter of time before these too start drying up.  

“I last performed before the lockdown, nobody in my circle has booked a gig during the lockdown. But now clients have been asking for smaller bands for live shows in private parties, and online shows too with singers.   

“Financially I have been managing pretty well so far, but it will eventually run out if things don’t don’t start,” Shori said.   

And that might not happen for a while.

Pianist and businessman Arjun Sagar Gupta of The Piano Man Jazz Club termed the lockdown an “unmitigated disaster” for artistes.  

“Artists from the ‘non-commercial’ arts space, pretty much everyone outside the envelope of the Bollywood industry, already have a really difficult time making a living in a country that seems to barely value art.   

“Access to support, artistic grants, interested audiences, marketing and distribution channels and other such luxuries are sparse in the best of times in this country,” Gupta noted.  

Among the first few venues to bring together music and F&B in the national capital, The Piano Man Jazz Club has remained one of the foremost rendezvous points for the city’s jazz lovers since it opened in 2012. 

The engineer-turned musician believes survival post-lockdown will depend on people’s drive to come in for the musical experience that they offer. 

“Our core product in the clubs at night is the show, and excellent food and cocktails enhance and complete the experience. It's only once the fear disappears from the market will we see a proper return to business.   

“We are counting on people to still come in, driven by their thirst for the musical experience we offer, once we are allowed to open and serve alcohol. But, before everything goes back to normal it’s important to survive the current lockdown, Gupta added.

Apart from the financial toll, the pandemic can also lead to emotional damage, Mumbai-based vocalist Vasundhara Vee said.

“The anxiety or depression that musicians might feel, have personal and social aspects to them. We can take charge of the personal aspects with the help of a proper mental health expert,” the 34-year-old Blues singer said in an email interaction.

Discussing her own experience with mental health issues, Vee said that therapy helps in  “returning functionality to our inner lives”.

“Meditation and journaling have been strong resources for me. I have had my own journey with mental health and I continue to take therapy through this lockdown. In fact, over the last three years, I have seen a change in my singing and lyric writing - because therapy helps us process our reality and return functionality to our inner lives,” she said.

While missing “singing to real people and watching how a song transforms itself from crowd to crowd” during the lockdown, Vee said she is taking this to “introspect and re-evaluate” her life.

“The rush of work doesn't leave much time for reflection. These last few months, I found time to upgrade skills, attend conferences and finish the book I was writing for musicians. It's finally ready to release this month,” the singer said.

Teaching, practicing, and self-healing maybe the call of the hour for young musicians before they go back on stage.