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Can a corpus fund help musicians in times of a COVID-19 type crisis?

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The current situation the world finds itself in, due to COVID-19, has brought almost all industries to a standstill. The entertainment industry is not alien to it. The large scale cancellation or re-scheduling of shoots, recordings, dubbing, live shows and all sectors related to it have thrown a spanner in the day to day life of thousands.

Artists may be better off with royalty incomes, endorsement deals, etc but what about the daily wage earners within the music industry? These include the session musicians, live musicians, recordists, sound engineers, studio workers and a lot of other individuals who are an integral part of music-making. These people are paid on work for hire bases. Most of them are immigrants living on rental and surviving on day-to-day earnings. With the industry in lockdown, there is no work for them, leaving them helpless.

“The present situation with the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown our entire entertainment industry, including the music industry in a pause mode. Nothing that comes close to generating income is functioning right now, unless you count income from royalties coming in from past works of those registered with various collecting agencies and have some decent hits. For most of us I think we can manage for about a month. But what about technicians/musicians and assistants, from our industry, who survived on daily or weekly wages,” said veteran sound engineer K J Singh.

Dealing with COVID-19

The Indian music industry requires a corpus fund for daily wagers as their financial loss will not be recoupable like big corporations or structured companies. Their health insurance and medical expenses should be protected and this is the time to combine strengths for humanity. All businesses and entrepreneurs need to work with their teams, employees, colleagues at their own levels.

“Musicians have been surviving purely on faith since the longest time in India with the constant feeling of being in an existential crisis. An effective contingency plan needs to be executed especially for instrumentalists and independent artists that make a minimum wage freelancing. A big commercial industry like Bollywood, could definitely start an organization or a musician’s union that will look after the well-being of struggling artists and sustain them during times like a pandemic or even war,” opined Sheldon D’Silva, independent bassist.

Artists will adapt to generating revenues online and also have the means to accelerate in adopting the technology. But there is also another income source which largely sustains the industry. The live music industry. Not only is it an earning mechanism for the copyright owners, brands and promoters, etc, it also sustains scores of daily employed man force which is currently affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The implementation

K J Singh is optimistic as well as skeptical towards the idea of a corpus fund.

“There is a talk of having a corpus fund, from which one can dip to get daily rations, food and medical supplies etc. Wonderful. And I am convinced that the collection will happen. My concern is of how we set parameters for screening and who will dispense this and for how long?” asked the veteran.

Adding,

“Do we go by registrations to various unions, collective bodies or do we create our own registrations? Who will head the collective board for dispensing the monies and what is the basic minimum or maximum fund allocation and for how long do we sustain this? If people have any more observations, please chime in. There are logistical questions to be answered before we even take off shouting loudly with ‘bartans’ from our balconies about it. If the intent is good, the spirit to share and help is palpable and there is a transparency that people who are at both the giving and receiving end are convinced about, it may just work.”

The Hurdles

The live musicians have been the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The recording scene with session musicians died in the 90s with the advent of technology. There are a large number of live musicians but they are not represented by any entity. This makes it almost impossible to trace them and pass over the benefits from the funds.

“The main problem is the lack of a union. This can amount to lack of transparency in the entire process and may be the needy won’t get their share. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, there is no work so everyone will stake a claim to the funds. How does one regularise it? If there is a proper system put into place, I would be more than happy to help out in every possible way from my side. I would especially like to help out the working staff in the studios,” said Darshan Doshi, independent drummer.

It is not only the live musicians but the entire workforce has no proper representation. The live sound engineers are amongst them.

Sigmund Quadros, independent Front of House engineer, is behind the scenes at many a gig in pubs and in live shows. His thoughts mirror Darshan’s. Though he welcomes the initiative he is concerned about the process and qualifications required to avail the funds.

“As far as I know, sound engineers are not represented by any entity. The most we have is a messaging group. Though the thought is noble, it would be interesting to see how it can be implemented,” quipped Sigmund.

COVID-19

Though the industry is fragmented, it is still connected through humans. The next month or so will witness a huge employee base working from home. This can be an opportunity for their employers to re-hone their skills or even teach new ones. Brainstorming can yield interesting results.

While the industry tries to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, senior music composer/mridangam player, Viveick Rajagopalan has a small request for the fans.

“If you really want to help musicians and artists please buy their music instead of consuming it for free.”

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