Sounds like an idea

Updated: Jul 29, 2020, 10:45 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Now that studios can operate again, musicians are increasingly using them as a means to enhance the live online experience

A live gig at Glassonion Studios as part of the MMXX series
A live gig at Glassonion Studios as part of the MMXX series

Make no mistake. This period in human history isn't the 'new normal' as it's being portrayed to be, simply because there is nothing normal about the situation we are in. Most things are in a state of flux. We are all at the mercy of government regulations, with the state itself being rendered into a pawn at the hands of an unseen virus. Its approach to the pandemic is changing constantly. And in turn, different industry players are also updating the way they operate, on a regular basis. That's why this period isn't the 'new normal', because normalcy requires a sense of stability, which we don't have at the moment.

Take the music business. The lockdown pulled the plug on live events. So, artistes moved online en masse, playing virtual concerts from home. But even there, a sense of saturation — and even frustration — has started creeping in. There is simply no way in which you can recreate the electric feel of an actual concert by playing instruments for an invisible audience from your living room. Musicians are thus thinking of alternative avenues to enhance the listening experience for viewers, because let's face it — if home concerts remain the 'new normal', they are essentially doomed.

Soutrik Chakraborty
Soutrik Chakraborty

One way of doing this is to shift operations from a home to a studio set-up, now that these spaces are allowed to operate again. And city-based studios are revamping their structures to allow for such gigs. Glassonion Studios in Khar recently started a series called MMXX for instance, where they invite independent musicians to use their facilities for virtual performances. Partner Pradeep Mathews tells us, "We have been researching for the past three months about how we can move forward. And the way we looked at it is that studios can become the live venues of the future, since actual concerts aren't coming back anytime soon."

He adds that with that in mind, they kicked into fifth gear since they already had a well-equipped system in place. "There is a limit to what you can digitally put out with home Internet connections. It might also get stale if you have the same backdrop every time you play. But a studio is a much bigger place that we can turn around for different events," Mathews says, adding — crucially — that they have also figured out a way for there to be video interaction between the performer and audience members. "That's as close to an offline concert that you will get right now," he reveals.

Jehangir Jehangir
Jehangir Jehangir

Jehangir Jehangir echoes this view. The owner of Island City Studios, also in Khar, tells us that music consumers are so used to watching well-mixed videos that they will subconsciously expect the same quality from live streams. "That's why I think that if you are able to deliver the same kind of audio and video production that the end listener has become used to, you are automatically giving them a better experience. But only 0.01 per cent of people will have the wherewithal to do that from home."

It's an arbitrary figure, of course. But the point remains that the number of independent musicians who have sound equipment at home that can match a studio's is as minuscule as the population of East Timor is compared to India's. Mumbai-based Soutrik Chakraborty is the front man of a band called Fox in the Garden. He has played five gigs from his house in Kalina since the start of the lockdown, and he laments, "I sometimes perform with beats and accompanying music from a laptop, and the sound quality isn't good enough even if I place speakers all over the room."

But Chakraborty adds that a studio has mixing consoles and other gear that help make a performance a more accurate description of what people are missing out live. "You also meet other professionals and your band members, who help you feel more rooted to your industry. You then feel differently, so you perform differently, and the audience can also feel like they are watching the acts as they know them to be," he says, indicating that this is a feasible model for musicians to follow at least for the time being. But how long will it sustain? For that, let's wait and see when things stabilise to a certain extent, so that we can gauge what the 'new normal' truly is.

Call Island City Studios, Khar (9820854364); Glassonion Studios, Khar (9769402247)

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