Music maestros, Bollywood veteran Asha Bhonsle and the digital pitch

SUKANT DEEPAK Singer Asha Bhosle, sitting at home with her grandkids is quite amused observing their technological prowess. And she is ensuring that they put it to good use. While the veteran singer may not be doing any online concerts, much in rage ever since the lockdown was clamped, recording experiences is high on her agenda. “Thanks to these kids, I have been introduced to a new world which allows me to leave behind my diverse encounters of 86 years. Maybe some people of this generation and those to come will find them interesting,” she tells IANS.

Ever since Zanai Bhosle, her 18-year-old granddaughter, started her YouTube channel, the singer, who has given memorable numbers that have been a hit for people across generations has been feeling a new energy in these depressing times. “I have decided to put in the many stories of my life which can remain for posterity. Interestingly, the new technologies which have come to the forefront in these times are allowing interactive content, something which has completely bowled me over,” she adds.

Even as online concerts, which seem to have become a norm in these past few months have graduated from singing via phones to musicians adopting newer technologies that allow split screens, no lag and zero editings, singer Sonu Nigam feels that the technology is still evolving and there is quite a long way to go. “I did a concert from Dubai on March 22 during the first lockdown. That time, Dubai wasn’t closed, so I had the option to formulate a method to go live without any glitches. It needed a lot of trial and error and we used technology to its fullest. There was a time-lapse of only 20 seconds. There was online editing on a multiple camera set up and we went live on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram — all together at the same time.”

Stressing that it is passe to say “I am tech challenged”, sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee feels that the current generation of classical musicians has been somewhat aware of the need for staying up to date. “Of course, the level of awareness is nowhere near what is needed. For our own sake, we need the help of technology to bring quality music to the digital audience.”

Adding that learning how to play live in the digital space is a different ball game altogether, he says that one cannot beat latency; and have to work around it. “We are bringing this to the world via our project ‘Live and in Sync’ which has created waves in the world of entertainment. Grammy winners and top-grade entrepreneurs alike are giving us a thumbs up. In fact, we are negotiating several contracts to bring such concerts regularly to people.”

Chatterjee also feels that online concerts are here to stay. “It will be like watching a cricket match from home. Of course, people still pay top dollar to go to a stadium to feel the vibe there, but then there are lots of people who prefer watching from their living rooms.”

But speak to sitar maestro Shujaat Khan and he feels that the only word to define these concerts is “ridiculous”. Insisting that most of the music being presented through online concerts is bunkum, the ustad elaborates, “Those who seldom got concerts are now using this opportunity to force their music upon us. Let’s not forget that music consists of seven ragas and appeal to our diverse senses. If you want to listen to me, make an effort — get up, get dressed, negotiate traffic and come to the physical space where I am performing to feel the energy.” Stressing that digital concerts are already dying, Khan feels that live will once again rule in the post-COVID times. “Of course, certain precautions will become a part of our lives — for example, many concerts will be held outdoors.”

Admitting that did take a little time for musicians to adapt to online performances, Indian classical violinist, Ambi Subramaniam feels that it is in the interest of musicians to see these circumstances as an opportunity to learn and experience new things.

Remembering his collaboration with Aditya Srinivas and Akshay Anantapadmanabhan a few weeks back, where they played live together on Facebook without a backing track or metronome to keep them in sync, Ambi remembers, “It was a challenging experiment because, in this set-up, the musicians cannot hear each other. We decided to push ourselves, and it was so exciting to see that it worked.”

“Of course, playing live is a different feeling. To be on stage, have the energy of a nice, receptive audience around us, cannot be replaced. However, performing online is nice in its own way. For instance, Bindu and I have been able to set things up in the comfort of our home and control the setting to some extent. Additionally, we see comments in real-time and get to engage with the audience more. I think online performances might reduce in frequency, but will not completely fade away once the lockdown is lifted completely.”

Convinced that technology has become a huge enabler for artists in the current challenging times, Rohit Kaul, Head, HCL Concerts feels that social media platforms are the new hubs for artist performances, live concerts and have also helped to increase the artists’ interactions with their followers.

He says, “The current crisis considerably shortened the learning cycle for artists as well as organizers and things like RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol ) servers, OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) editors, rich media landing pages, etc. are now the new buzzwords.

Now, connoisseurs of music across many countries have the opportunity to watch their favorite artists performing live, which was not possible with the live physical formats. We are witnessing this with HCL Concerts-Baithak as well where music enthusiasts from 45 countries, including the US, UK, Australia and the UAE, are logging in for the performances. We have organized 25 concerts as part of HCL Concerts-Baithak to date.”

Akshay Ahuja, Founder of Big Band Theory, a music company that started in 2015 and curated over 2,000 shows in about 14 cities besides managing musician Susmit Sen have created the digital ‘The Inside Session’, which is witnessing participation of independent artists from across the country. Stressing that they have the tools and software that lets them take control of the system and manage things virtually in case the artist is not technologically savvy feels that it gets more real when there is no editing, he adds, “In an actual live concert, there are no retakes or edits. This makes it far more spontaneous and gives an impression of an actual live concert.”

Admitting that nothing can replace the scale and magic of a live concert, Akshay’s company plans to hold digital concerts even after the lockdown is lifted. “We just managed one of the country’s most successful online ticket shows during the lockdown. The show was with Susmit Sen for the US audience. Tickets worth over a lakh of rupees were sold. Of course, a lot depends on the artists’ popularity, too. All that is required is a vision to make it a successful model, though the number of shows and frequency will certainly go down, but gradually there will be time when it might become a new normal or popular showcase medium.”