How financially viable are virtual concerts in Nepal?

At the beginning of the pandemic, many artists did live music shows through their social media but they couldn’t continue it in the long run; they were not making money out of it and the audience started getting bored of it, say artists.

Photo: Freepik

Prasun Sangroula

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Manik Maharjan, a full-time musician before the pandemic, now works at an IT company in Kathmandu. Maharjan is a percussionist and he has played for various bands. Despite his will, he was compelled to abandon full-time music as there was no money to be made from performing live music, a major source of income for budding Nepali musicians, with the onset of the pandemic.

“For struggling musicians like me, the sources to make money out of music are limited,” Maharjan says. “Live music shows were my major source of earning but the prohibition on it for a long time compelled me to take up another job.”

With gatherings prohibited for a long time, there have been discussions among musicians and event organizers about the feasibility of virtual concerts. 

But Maharjan is skeptical. He does not believe that virtual shows would be practical as they may incur a lot of technical issues and they would also not satisfy the audience. And with that, it is also hard to find sponsorship for such events, he says.

Sunny Mahat, bassist with The Midnight Riders (TMR Trio), says that for a country where the culture of paying to listen to music is yet to develop, the idea of making money out of virtual gigs may be little more than wishful thinking. 

“It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try it out, but we should do it but with very little expectation,” says Mahat, adding that the focus should be on encouraging the audience to pay for music via digital music shops. Earlier this year, a group of musicians introduced an app—Noodle, a digital music marketplace—wherein audiences can listen to and download songs by Nepali musicians. 

“We can make the audience aware about digital platforms where they can buy songs of Nepali artists and band’s merchandise and encourage them to spend money on music,” Mahat says, adding that the government should provide a stimulus package for all registered artists. 

The prohibition on live shows has not only affected musicians but also those who work on managing events, sounds, lights, and stage management.

The scourge of the pandemic on the music industry is global. The global music industry is worth over $50 billion. Live music is one of the major revenue streams, making for about 50% of total income. With live shows all but nonexistent for well over a year, the revenue dipped to nearly zero.

Ojha believes that virtual gigs may provide some succour to the ailing music industry. To make virtual gigs possible, all the stakeholders and tech entrepreneurs should work collectively, he says.

In Nepal, there are voices among the music fraternity calling for a lift in the ban of live shows. At a time when politicians organize mass protests and jatras and festivals take place freely, it “makes no sense to ban live shows”, says Ranjan Ojha, an entrepreneur and founder of Nepal Music Festival (NMF). 

Ojha demands concerned authorities to immediately address the problems of musicians and let the musicians do their work. “The current illogical prohibition on live music is violating the rights of artists, to make a living out of music,” he said.

Ojha believes that virtual gigs may provide some succour to the ailing music industry. To make virtual gigs possible, all the stakeholders and tech entrepreneurs should work collectively, he says.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many artists did live music shows through their social media but they couldn’t continue it in the long run. There are two main reasons behind it. Firstly, they were not making money out of it, and second, the audience also started feeling monotonous and bored of it, say artists.

The discourse on virtual concerts is happening in different parts of the world, including in the neighboring India.

In an article published in The Wire, Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram said, “Initially people started doing Facebook Live. You can do Facebook Live day after day and nobody can ask you for money. They were just finding an outlet.” He also explains the technical issue of virtual concerts such as the amount of lag between voices and sounds of instruments. 

In the same article, another Indian musician Rudy Wallang also expresses his skepticism of virtual concerts. “When we play live, the energy and love we receive from our audience is amazing and we convert that love and energy into our own and give it back to them,” he says. “In a live stream, it’s one-sided because though we are playing to our fans, it’s via a camera! Half the energy is missing!”

The prohibition in live physical concerts has not only affected musicians and other technical people but also the audiences. Ashis Manandhar, an avid concert-goer, is sad for not being able to participate in any of the live shows for a long time. He says he misses it badly.

“Attending the physical concerts is a big part of my life but now the inability to do it has made me sad,” says Manandhar. “I feel bad for the artists as well.”

Manandhar urges everyone to pay to listen to music and buy the bands’ merchandise through online platforms. Manandhar also does not see any immediate alternative to live gigs. Manandhar doesn’t think virtual gigs would be a productive alternative because they “neither make good money for artists and nor satisfies the audiences”.

With the pandemic showing no sign of getting over anytime soon, artists and audiences are in a “wait and see” mode, despite the fact that it has affected them financially and mentally.

There’s hardly any viable option for now, says Maharjan, the percussionist. “I think for now it is best to wait for things to get normal,” he says.

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