When most of the world stopped going out, government-mandated non-essential events were halted and unfortunately, this included your favorite party night. Amid shelter-in-place regulations, we can’t help but think about what the future holds for live music events.
The crowds have thinned out, gone home and stayed there for now, but will they be back and how will DJs continue to interact with them if they don’t?
Photo by Leo Su of OKOKOK.
Photo by Nabeel Pervaiz
Arthur: My name is Arthur Bray, or Arthur Yeti. I’m the co-founder of Yeti Out Collective.
We’re a music collective based out of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London.
Our projects include events and pop-up parties, record releases and designs that can live on flyers and merch.
Josephine: My name is Josephine Cruz. Some people know me as Jayemkayem. That is both my social media handle and my DJ alias. I am a music entrepreneur based in Toronto, and I’ve been working for myself for just over five years now.
I’ve started using that title recently cause I feel like if feels like a decent kind of like catchall for all the things I’m into. My job encompasses a lot of different aspects of music, from DJing and performing to running an indie record label, producing and promoting events.
I’m consulting with brands on music activations, both real-world and online and heading up a community radio station called ISO Online radio station. I was also the managing editor of a music and culture startup publication called Beat Root, but I was recently laid off due to this whole COVID situation.
AB: A typical month for us would consist of production work and actually being on the road DJing and playing at parties. So from the production side, we would probably be communicating with vendors, taking meetings with clients, checking out venues, location, scouting and working on more logistical details to help make a production come to life.
JM: My months are always kind of different, but they’re a variation of the same things. On a normal month, I’d usually have two to three DJ gigs per week minimum. Those are usually made up of my residencies, meaning places that I would play regularly here in Toronto, and then that number would fluctuate based on the season.
Busy seasons are the summer where I’ll have way more daytime events, parties, festivals, and things of that nature. And then the holiday season is usually really busy too. That’s where I’ll be doing more sort of corporate parties and brand activations. So a busy month, I might have like 15 to 20 gigs total.
That in itself takes up a lot of time, traveling to and from gigs, and then there’s actually doing the gig itself. I usually have a few events per month that are produced and promoted by myself or underneath my label umbrella. Those are usually a bit more work because you’ve got to do things like organize staff, get artwork made up, book a photographer, coordinate with the venue, set up any social media campaigns, ticket links and things like that.
And outside of all that production and promotion work, I’ll usually have at least five or six hours a day of screen time where I’m answering emails, working on the label on Slack, chatting with the team at the radio station, sometimes being at the radio station, downloading music, organizing music, and doing research.
AB: We’re still doing a lot of production, and logistical work, but obviously now stuck at home doing emails, so anything that requires us to be out we obviously can’t do anymore.
We’re just making the most out of the quiet time, catching up on backend stuff that maybe we put off for a while or haven’t gotten around to doing. So that could be getting stuff registered, invoicing, and then, obviously catching up with a lot of music as well.
As DJs, a lot of times we have to play what works really for the club, but being music fans first and foremost, now we’ve got a lot of quiet time to listen to records that we haven’t been able to digest previously.
JM: I think I’m still really getting used to kind of this new reality. The first few weeks were honestly incredibly jarring and stressful. I literally watched all my work and income for the foreseeable future just evaporate in a matter of days. And as a creative entrepreneur who puts all their efforts into building something and creating momentum, that was a really hard pill to swallow.
But I think my grieving period is kind of over now. And, this week I started trying to get back into it a bit. I can’t really do many of my usual tasks, especially because I’m not really working towards any event or any certain date or deadline. I certainly can’t DJ but one thing that I can do is research and plan.
So this week, now that sort of initial depression and shock has worn off, I started trying to carve out time for that. I’ve also been working a lot on making my own music, which is something that I really always wanted to do, but felt like I never had the time for it before.
The first few weeks when I was kinda stressed out and a little bit out of it, it was hard during that time to even like work on music or make music, but I’m starting to like feel those creative juices and that desire again.
So that’s really exciting.
AB: A lot about DJ culture and club culture is based on what clubs you play out of as a DJ or what label you release music on. There’s a lot that’s based on this idea of clout and co-signs. If you’re constantly touring, you’re constantly making noise, because every time you do a gig, you have to push a flyer and you have to promo. So inadvertently, promo and promotion are integral to every DJ’s life already. So how are you able to do this if you’re not getting any gigs?
I think the tables have sort of turned. Before, a lot of the DJ’s that didn’t get gigs were just sitting at home practicing. So now everyone has the same equal opportunity to make as much noise as they can or to show off the skills given the fact that everyone’s in the same circumstances and the same scenarios. There’s a saying that’s been going around saying the playing field’s now equalized.
Now everyone’s a bedroom DJ, which is totally true because, if you have a good agent and you have a good manager, often you could come off bigger than you are in the sense that your skill sets might not really be of a certain level, but because of your co-signs and all the clout that your manager and your agent has gotten you they’re able to charge “X” amount.
But once you take all that away, everyone’s just back to the basics of how well can you mix and how well can you blend a track. You’ve basically gone back to focusing on your selection as a DJ.
JM: This has definitely equalized the landscape. No matter who you are, no matter what you were doing a few months ago, the truth of the matter is no DJs in the world have gigs right now.
I saw an amazing tweet the other day from a DJ in LA named Sha Sha Kimbo and her tweet said: “Richie Hawtin and I have the same number of gigs this month.” And Richie Hawtin is one of the most famous, always booked, always touring DJs and musicians. So in a way, it’s kinda sad that we’re all unemployed, but at the same time it is kind of hilarious and you can’t really feel bad about it because it is happening to absolutely everybody. Nobody’s safe.
AB: A thing needs to be said first and foremost, that live streaming is never going to be as good as the real thing.
It can be a placeholder for now, but we’ll never be able to substitute the sort of emotional connection that you get from seeing your favorite DJ or your favorite artists live.
But with that said, it has sort of allowed DJs that have been not been making new music to be able to resurface by connecting with the fans through another channel.
Now with live streaming, Twitch, Zoom, and TikTok, Flux Pavilion, a dubstep DJ, or Diplo, a well-known DJ, they’re able to connect with their fans another way, which is basically using their personality to be charismatic online.
So I guess now in a situation where if you’re more than just music if you’re good at emceeing or you have good hosting skills, I think now it’s a time that DJs and artists have to step up and do more than just playing music.
JM: Well, they say that music is the great unifier, which I always thought was a little bit corny, but it’s totally true.
You look at what someone like D-Nice did early on in this North American isolation period. He really honed in on the fact that people wanted to be connected by some shared experience, and they especially wanted that because they were feeling so isolated. So he created this positive experience that everyone could take part in.
And it absolutely blew up. He gained a million Instagram followers in a matter of days, and I can’t even really think of anybody who’s gone “viral” that’s had that kind of like growth in such a short period of time. So I guarantee too that he’s going to be able to spin this into something that lasts beyond this quarantine period.
I think that by the time that happens, whenever that happens, the widespread hype of D-Nice will definitely have worn off, but he’s for sure going to be able to get booked for some big gigs that he would normally not have otherwise. D-Nice prior to all of this was like very known and like the classic hip-hop world, but most people didn’t know him, so that’s no longer the case anymore. Everybody kind of knows him.
I also think that these producer battles have been another really interesting thing to watch materialize. It all comes back to that same idea of people wanting to partake in some shared experience that’s not only relatable to everybody.
Everybody knows all these classic songs that are being played, but it’s also a really good conversation topic.
I see people watching the battles and live-tweeting during, and it’s kind of a similar thing that happens during like award shows and sporting events. That’s been really interesting to see.
“As DJs, a lot of times we have to play what works really for the club, but being music fans first and foremost, now we’ve got a lot of quiet time to listen to records that we haven’t been able to digest previously.”
“I’ve even stopped checking my email every day because there’s literally nothing going on in there. It’s just press releases I don’t care about. There’s no sense of urgency.
There’s no deadlines or demands and that feels really good and really freeing.”
AB: Obviously with the live streams, Instagram Live, TikTok and Zoom, you’re able to plug your webstore link. So that’s a direct way you can drive views into currency.
I think Spotify and Apple music, this whole evolution of streaming music was meant to allow artists to have more of the percentage of the music that was being streamed.
But in reality, unless you’re a huge artist, you’re not really getting that much coin. Do you know what I mean? Which is why Spotify is sending you a check every quarter because in reality, you’re only getting like cents monthly. So, Bandcamp is a great way where you can get a lump of money right away: If you upload an LP or a nine-track album, they can literally buy it for a $100 Hong Kong dollars ($13 USD).
That’s the equivalent of selling some merch — that’s a direct transaction. So I think a lot of people have been plugging their Bandcamp page during the live stream and then other ways are using, YouTube and Instagram Live. But I think again, that goes back to streaming, which takes a while.
JM: So this is one thing that I kind of have yet to see in a really organized way, but I do think it’s coming: There’s this collective called Club Quarantine. They’re a group from Toronto who have been organizing a nightly online queer dance party, and it’s been really been blowing up.
The other night. I saw they did a partnership with Paper Magazine where they had Tinashe perform. So I can’t speak to like what exactly that par partnership entailed, but I mean, I would hope that Club Q got compensated in some way for it.
That was kind of an example, and I think we’ll see more of those. I have yet to see someone paywall a stream. But I feel like that’s maybe the next step.
It’s really funny cause even in the live event setting, we as producers and promoters are always trying to figure out a way to make people see the value in an experience that you’re providing and get them to be comfortable with paying $15, $20 $25 a ticket to be part of that YouTube and Instagram life. But I think again, that goes back to streaming, which takes a while to grow. From past experiences, they could just as easily go to like a bar down the street where there’s no cover.
That’s something that I’m thinking about a lot. What is it that I’m providing that I can warrant charging a certain amount? And I think we’ll see a similar phenomenon with like the whole live streaming trend — how do you make people be okay with paying for something that they could maybe get for free elsewhere?
AB: I think like when all this blows over, there’s going to be a lot of big parties. But also a lot of people are going to continue to enjoy streaming at home because I think this period is going to birth a lot of radio DJs and home streaming radio channels.
I say that in the sense that like before you might have NTS radio or you have Eaton Radio or BOILER ROOM, where the guys are holding down the majority of the market, but because we’re stuck at home and a lot of people are figuring out how to get an adapter, a webcam, and connect that to WiFi and just stream from home.
Suddenly, the choice is massive. Obviously the aforementioned examples are still the popular ones, but that’s not to say that people aren’t going to be streaming to these other choices that are available. So with that, I think that this creates a whole different genre of entertainment.
People are still going to enjoy going out, but now if you’re someone that’s a bit more introverted and still like music but you don’t like crowds or a smokey bar, then this is another way we can enjoy good quality music by streaming onto a platform that might have started during the coronavirus.
JM: For one, I think that events and nightlife are probably going to be one of the last sorts of industries to bounce back per se. If we’re like being real, parties are not an essential service of any kind.
They’re of course important and they can provide a lot of cultural value. But I think one thing to remember is that they really do rely on people having disposable income.
I think it’s going to be a while before the economy, jobs and people’s financial situations kind of get back to a good place and even when they start having a little bit of disposable income again, people are more likely to go to like a restaurant or something like that than they are to a party.
With that being said, maybe it’s just up to event producers to get creative and think about how they can make things really financially accessible, knowing the climate that we’re in.
I think this is also a huge opportunity for brands who love to talk the talk about supporting culture, to really walk the walk and support it at a time when you know we’re really going to need it. And I do also think that people are probably going to be pretty paranoid of germs.
People are going to think twice about going into small, cramped spaces where they’re around a lot of other people ’cause they don’t want to get sick. By the time this kind of period is over, the whole distancing thing is going to have been hammered into our heads , it’s going to take a little while for it to wear off and for us to get back to normal.
AB: 100%. I think now is the time where anyone that has sort of been slacking, if they are able to switch lanes and use this time to make as much noise as possible, then I think when all this blows over, they’re the ones they’re going to be booked.
If your agent or your manager or you and your crew aren’t active online and are not adapting to online streaming, you’re just as good as what happened in 2019 but this pandemic could last the whole year and no one’s really referencing how good your CV was in 2019.
They’re really seeing how you were able to adapt to technology. So I think a lot of new styles are going to be born right now, people who are learning how to use technology to their own advantage.
JM: Yes. I honestly hope that we do see a bunch of quarantine stars. I think that’d be so cute. I think that the people who are really poised for success during this time are people who just have some type of talent, charm or charisma that really translates well across digital mediums. Because that’s basically the only way that we’re really consuming anything or connecting right now.
I think that people who can like really hone in on something unique that they can offer, those people are going to be really prime for success. The thing about digital space is that it’s actually almost more limiting than physical spaces.
With livestreams, for instance, there are only a few places to host an online party or performance, and each platform has its own quirks. You look at Instagram Live for instance, you can’t even get an audio feed into your phone unless you have an external like device.
So it’s learning to work within those limitations and those quirks but still execute something that’s to a certain standard. If people can crack that nut, I think they’re going to be the ones that win.
Photo by Drew Yorke. Co-Werk at The Drake in Toronto, produced by Jayemkayem.
AB: I think it’s gonna be a huge defining factor as to whether you’re able to evolve. And once we go back to normality, I don’t think anything’s actually going to be normal. Budgets are going to be different.
I think clubs will take different priorities and I think everyone’s going to have had a bit of time to reflect on where they are, where they’re spending the money: A lot of clubs that were booking DJs to go to tour.
In the meantime, as clubs figure out their own streaming platforms and stuff like that, they might not even need to book foreign DJs anymore. They might be able to find local versions of those DJs or work out a deal with those foreign DJs to stream on their own platforms that they’ve created during this pandemic.
Everything’s going to change. And it’s almost like any work that you’ve put in before the coronavirus has some sort of relevance, but right now it’s like biblical scriptures: it’s like AD and BC. I think now is where the lines are being drawn within history.
JM: Honestly, I don’t know if I’m just wishful thinking, but I think that this experience has the potential to weed a lot of people out.
If you aren’t really that creative of a thinker, if you’re doing a recycled version of what you see other people doing or you’re not really able to think of ways to expand your offering beyond one thing, then you’re not going to last long in this landscape.
I’m not against influencer culture per se, but I absolutely have no respect for that shallow brand of influencer, We all know exactly the kind I’m talking about that has no unique voice, no unique offering, and no unique perspective to share. And they’ve essentially just figured out a way to work the system and create content that they think a certain level of brand wants to see.
I absolutely hope that this is the end of all that nonsense. However, like the real people who are actually dictating culture, I think they’re not only going to prevail, but I think they’re really gonna create some like innovative and amazing things that are going to set a new standard, and perhaps even create new revenue streams and ongoing projects for themselves that are going to live beyond this quarantine period.
AB: I think for the most part it’s been really good to just take a step back and reflect on what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. And also just be able to get organized and I think above all, look at what the ethos of our crew and our label is.
If it’s community and sharing, can we still obtain these sorts of objectives by doing it differently be it streaming or running podcasts. How do we continue to connect with different crews across Asia? So again, it’s going back to ideating and thinking on your feet, but I think that at the same time, it is very much something we do anyway.
When you’re ideating for an event or you’re curating or your programming, it’s the same thing — it’s only now that we’re not checking out venues. We’re reaching out online, DMing DJ friends and being, “yo, do you want to jump on my podcast or live stream?”
We’re still using the same brains, it’s just that the execution is different. In this time, we’ve been quiet, we’ve been catching up, but we’ve also just continued to brainstorm new ways of connecting with our audience.
JM: Honestly, it was really, really hard to accept at first. I touched on it earlier, but I felt like years of hard work just came crashing down in a couple of days and I was having such a hard time wrapping my head around that.
I was like, ‘how does something that you put so much work into and work so hard at creating sustainability in just get like stopped in an instant?’ I thought I was doing all the right things as a creative entrepreneur. I was creating multiple revenue streams, not putting all my eggs in one basket.
And even still, it just all just stopped. I just had the rug pulled out from underneath me.
So, I also think that growing up kind of poor instilled this fear in me of ever being unemployed or not having enough, but I’m doing a lot better now. The initial shock has worn off and obviously, I still have some anxieties around the whole financial aspect of it, but I’m so thankful.
I live in Canada. I’m so thankful our government has been announcing different measures and benefits that are going to help people like me who don’t have employment insurance, and so once I have my financial ducks in a row a little bit, I think I’m going to really be able to enjoy this time off and instead of forcing myself to work or forcing myself to problem-solve my way out of this, I’m really just trying to like fill my days with things that I never normally have time to do.
I’ve even stopped like checking my email every day because there’s literally nothing going on in there. It’s just like press releases I don’t care about. There’s no sense of urgency. There’s no like deadlines or demands and that feels really good and really freeing.
“This is the time where it’s really gonna show the difference between people who are just hype and people who have substance.”
“I think that the people who are really poised for success during this time are people who just have some type of talent, charm or charisma that really translates well across digital mediums.”
AB: Yeah, I think for sure because you’re homebound and you’re forced to be creative using technology. After this blows over, everyone’s going to be very much on the same level, hopefully.
In terms of communicating and using streaming sites to stay connected, I also think it’s a humbling experience putting everybody on the same level. You have people like Peggy Gou, who are the biggest DJs in the world, and the Australia Tour Day is canceled and they’re forced to be at home creating playlists the same way a college student is creating a playlist.
So now it’s ‘okay, the big DJ might have more reach,’ but if you’re putting a playlist together on Spotify, how is the big DJ’s creation really better than another person who’s doing their research on the Internet?
This is the time where it’s really gonna show the difference between people who are just hype and people who have substance.
JM: There is always a silver lining. Honestly, this, this virus is super scary. It’s made a lot of people sick and has killed a lot of people all over the world, and it’s still moving extremely quickly in some parts of the world. I know people who have it. I know one person who’s passed away from it, so that made it real and scary.
It’s hard to find a positive and things like that, but overall it really does feel like humanity did need to slow down a bit. It feels 2016 or so, we’ve just been moving forward at this crazy pace and so many negative things snowballed with the world of politics and economics. I just don’t see how else the entire world would ever slow down besides something drastic like this virus.
So I’m trying to be grateful in that sense. And I know that it might sound a little bit wishy-washy and hippie-ish, but I do believe that the universe has a plan for all of us. This is all part of our destiny and I think this is just a really amazing time to get in touch with yourself and really ask yourself, ‘what do I want my future to look like?’