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In a web concert
In January this year, folk rock group Swarathma received a compliment in less than 140 characters. But that's not exactly why they remember it as 'brief'. That day at a club in Bangalore, the six-member-strong band, which usually feeds off the energy of sweaty headbangers and high-decibel cheering, performed in front of a silent camera and a busy laptop which showed their Twitter page. "I'm waiting for Swarathma to play the song Pyaasi, " a user tweeted, and immediately the six members launched into this landmark song, becoming perhaps the first band ever to dedicate a song to a Twitter user id. Then came another tweet which the feisty performers didn't quite know how to react to. "I'm watching Swarathma play in my underpants! How cool is this!"
That, in 'brief', is the essence of a web concert or webcert. No endless queues, no wading through a jungle of cussing strangers or subjecting your senses to intoxicating herbs in the air, the staple of live performances. With many singers and musicians, including Hard Kaur, Shibani Kashyap, Suneeta Rao and India's oldest rock band Parikrama, opting to publicise their music on live webcasts, the concert is slowly turning into a recreational office experience or a real-time bedroom activity. Thanks to webcerts, a live show is something that can now be experienced sans the tyranny of armpits and mosh pits.
Taking a cue perhaps from legendary American band U2's performance at the Rose Bowl Stadium in the US, which was streamed live on YouTube in 2009, ArtistAloud. com - which is digital agency Hungama. com's initiative for musicians - started hosting such webcerts in India last year. Now, the website is eight webcerts old and has almost 125 artists on board.
How it works is simple. After ensuring sponsors and publicity through social media sites and smses, the artist performs in a studio in front of a single camera. This show is streamed live so "any user with a decent internet access can experience it without interruptions", explains Sidhartha Roy, COO (consumer business) of Hungama. com.
While free access to something that could have otherwise been a ticketed event is perhaps the biggest advantage for internet-savvy music lovers, the webcert also serves as a great platform for both established artists and upcoming musicians to connect with fans. The Swarathma webcert in January, for instance, attracted over 18, 000 fans and received around 300 tweets within an hour. "We already have a fairly strong online community whom we engage with when we are not on stage, " says Jishnu Dasgupta, the bass guitarist of Swarathma. "But it's not only them who watched us perform live through the webcert - our fans in cities where we don't play often also tuned in. " This, says Dasgupta, was also the first time that an independent band became a national 'trending' topic on Twitter.
For Hard Kaur, who was asked to perform anything she liked, the webcert was a liberating experience. "There aren't many platforms that encourage the culture of true hip hop in India, " says the Punjabi singer, who is tired of heeding requests at clubs for Bollywood bhangra. "So when I was asked to rap and be myself, it was a refreshing change. I even shocked some of my boys who haven't seen me perform non-Bollywood hip hop in India. " Like many stand-up comics performing in India, the singer cleverly disguises controversy and profanity in her rhyme with politically correct lingo. She did so in her webcast and attracted around 18, 000 fans.
Mihir Joshi, who has hosted most of the webcerts on ArtistAloud. com so far, says that these are usually streamed between 4 pm and 5 pm when people are relatively relaxed. Also, live concerts - even those of legends like Mark Knopfler or Bryan Adams in Mumbai - attract a maximum of 5, 000 fans, while the webcert promises independent artists "an audience of 10, 000 to 25, 000", says Joshi, himself a member of a rock band called The Works.
However, there are certain factors inhibiting the bandwidth of webcerts in this country, whose internet speed is as unpredictable as its traffic. "Bandwidth in certain regions of the country may cause some hindrance in seamless streaming of the concert, " says Sidhartha Roy, who aims to provide simultaneous webcasts of the concert in high-definition quality and upgrade in technology, moving to multiple camera set-ups from the present single camera set-up.
Also, for the artists, the lack of live interaction can be a downer at tunes. Although they do not doubt the reach and access of the webcert, Parikrama's lead vocalist Subir Malik says, "We as a band hate the studio. The energy that a live audience gives you is unparalleled. " That's perhaps why music composers Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar, who fulfilled song requests of Airtel users live in a mobile concert this week, insisted on a small live audience too "to keep the energy going". Of course, none of the audience members came in just their underpants.
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