Arts suffered a massive blow because of the pandemic. Theatres and cinemas were shut, music concerts were cancelled, and the conventional audience experience disappeared. However, for some artists—who never did anything conventional— digitization was a blessing in disguise.
India’s lesser discovered independent musicians got the much-awaited fame and leverage over big labels. A lot of bands who were already used to making music from their homes, such as ‘When Chai Met Toast’, found it easier to work digitally. Smaller artists like Prateek Kuhad leveraged the digital medium to increase their popularity. His music single ‘Kasoor’ which featured people from all across the country in June 2020, quickly became a huge trend on social media platforms as soon as it was released.
For other independent artists, COVID-19 brought more streams and listeners. Several unknown music artists who had no chance to enter the unwelcoming global music industry previously shined as more people tuned into streaming platforms such as Spotify and Wynk. As these platforms introduced better playlists and recommendations featuring indie artists, their listenership prominently increased.
Perhaps, the most unprecedented impact was brought forth by the domestic ban on Tiktok and the subsequent launch of Instagram Reels. Instagram Reels was greatly responsible for the growing popularity of Lo-Fi music, alternative hip-hop, and the increased fan-base of indie musicians such as Anuv Jain, Nucleya, Shirley Sethia, and Bangalore-based band Parvaaz. Spotify and Apple Music introduced playlists dedicated to trending songs on Instagram. Stunnin’ by Curtis Waters became a sensation on the social media platform in the span of a midnight, while other artists such as Emily Watts received impending appreciation and love for her old song cover ‘La Vie En Rose’.
Artists developed more space to express themselves in the label and Bollywood-music -producer-dominated industry. Most digital platforms allow artists to release their music for a nominal fee without the need of a producer, the backing of a known industry name, or the favour of mainstream artists or managers. These platforms utilize algorithms to provide artists with the amplification that they deserve.
One such artist-centric programme is Spotify’s Radar, through which Spotify actively looks out for emerging musicians and collates their music into different Radar playlists, depending on the geographical region. Indian artists like Divine, Ritviz, and Prateek Kuhad have experienced great benefits from the Radar programme in India. While Kuhad had only 36,000 followers on Spotify in February 2019, the number increased to 1.7 million with Spotify in the mix.
Jio Saavn has a similar programme under the name ‘Artist Originals’ through which fresh artists can receive help in releasing their music. Several artists such as Chhavi Sodhani and Goldie Sohel have greatly benefited from this programme.
The dearth of mainstream films also proved advantageous for low-budget and lesser-known filmmakers. OTT platforms became a haven for film stars, directors, or screenwriters. For the first time, talent dominated the content industry, and not big-name productions. Of course, certain performing artists were sidelined but independent filmmakers had more space to explore the industry and deliver content, than big-budget productions. Independent film organizations like Kino Lorber, Magnolia, and Oscilloscope opted to put out their movies online and pay cuts to theatres to publicize their feats among their loyal patrons.
Evidently, the pandemic levelled the playing field for the expression of arts. With the pandemic subsiding, we can only hope the playing field becomes more diverse, exploratory and a fairground of genre-blending and breaking barriers.