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OPINION: HOW MUSIC COULD SURVIVE ANOTHER CATACLYSMIC SHIFT

In a time of uncertainty, death and confusion, music has to reinvent itself. Composer and sound artist Hasan Hujairi asks important questions about where music fits in a post COVID-19 world.

We are in the middle of a pandemic, and the situation is serious.

The COVID-19 outbreak came at a time in which the weather and social activities are generally at their best here in Bahrain, so it feels like the outbreak came at the worst possible time for those involved in the music scene. 

I don't know if I could speak on behalf of the entire music scene here in Bahrain, just because that entails artists, platforms, audiences, technicians, promoters, vendors, studios (in some cases), and others who have a stake in this matter but I fully believe that everyone needs to be extra careful in these times. Health and safety always come first. What most of us seem to be doing is staying at home to prevent picking up the virus from anywhere and spreading it to others.

The COVID-19 outbreak, I imagine, may have many different impacts on different groups of people depending on how they engage with the music scene and music in general. Audiences, for instance, will have no 'physical' place to publicly gather in large numbers to enjoy live music.

This change in behavior will affect businesses/institutions that host live music whether as a main income source or not. Audiences may start consuming/experiencing live music in different ways for the time being if they are really interested, and perhaps webstreams of live music would be a possible, temporary alternative.

I don't have the impression that many musicians in the local scene are engaging much with webstreaming yet, but I expect them to get into it as the general lockdown extends in duration. This extension of the outbreak may bring a longterm change in people's behavior towards watching live-streaming events, meaning that perhaps even after the worst of the outbreak is over, people will still continue enjoying live-streaming (and this may become a more active source of income for performing artists).


Streamed performances are not necessarily a 'new' thing per se, but they have taken centerstage over the past few weeks. I do think that it's an interesting development, and I am very curious to see how creative some people will get over time once it becomes more normalized given the current situation.

The more complex and more interesting side to me personally is how all this will affect musicians in the short and long term. Musicians are caught between psychologically and physically trying to survive a very serious outbreak while also trying to pursue their music.

Musicking, just like any other job, is not easy to produce in stressful and uncertain situations. Musicians who go through this time, trying to produce good work and moving their career forward certainly need resolve and a nearly martial discipline to see this through. They also need to show an adaptability to the circumstances, especially since none of us really know long the situation will last and and how bad it will get. Musicians will need to adapt to the circumstances, and need to look for new ways to engage others through music.

This might mean things like podcasting, self-publishing their music, teaching online, writing for websites, blogging, and/or vlogging. Musicians will also resort to connecting with communities online, whether it's for their own self-development (by learning new skills or sharpening older ones) or to engage with audiences. Musicians will need to change their approach to the internet, and this may be difficult for people who don't have access to a good internet connection or to technology. Many will be excluded, it seems. Only the privileged will be able to pursue these avenues. 

But then again, maybe I'm wrong in my assessment of what artists will/should do. They certainly have every right to do nothing. This is a psychologically difficult time for many of us. Maybe it's okay to sit at home, and not think or produce music. Who knows, really.

I'm not quite sure if the time we have now is in fact spare time. Spare time would suggest leisure or relaxation. I currently see this 'time' we spend at home instead of being stuck in traffic, commuting to work, going out for coffee, socializing, or whatever it is we normally do outside our homes as a time to prepare.

I've recently completely rearranged my working space, hoping that this would lead me to become more productive. I now have a room that I think is ideal for my practice as a composer/musician and as an artist: a no nonsense room with zero clutter. Other things I've been doing is rethinking my website and my activities online (currently preparing a few collaborations with different platforms online which I cannot just yet publicly announce). I've also been revisiting my journals and my study notes, rethinking about all the projects I had in mind that I never had a chance to realize. I've also been dabbling with some musical ideas and trying different instruments/electronic music tools in different combinations to see what I get. I don't know if what I'm doing is the right thing to do or not in circumstances such as these.   

There have been other interesting developments in regards to music consumption. One example is the campaign led by BandCamp on March 20, 2020, in which they said that 100% of their income from sales will go to the artists who made the music. I also noticed many campaigns online in which governments, non-profits, and other institutions express their concern for the sudden drop of income for people in the music industry, and have started talking about ways to financially support them in these difficult times. I'm a little sad that this talk hasn't received much traction within this part of the world. Such calls for action to support musicians generally comes from a place in which people want to be ethical and supportive to those in the music industry.

Those whose livelihood comes from music are vulnerable, and times such as these show this. I strongly hope that consumers of music consider this in their consumption and listening patterns of music.  

Hasan Hujairi is a composer, sound artist, and independent researcher. His sound art performances and installations build on his academic interest in Historiography and Ethnomusicology. To learn more about the author, visit hasanhujairi.com and the record label @qarar.sound on Instagram

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