What’s the next step? How will music events make up for losses? What is the new normal? We asked popular Orlando DJ and radio star DJ Xclusive City and this is what he had to say…
Concerts, events, club gigs and parties may not be a priority during Covid-19 but it is a source of earning for millions of people connected with the music industry. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s (IFPI) 2020 Global Music Report, global music sales grew for the fifth consecutive year in 2019, garnering a total revenue of $20.2 billion. But with Covid-19 cancelling club gigs, music festivals, tours and shows, will it bring the music industry’s lucky streak to an end? Maybe not, as the digital streaming platform technology accounted for more than half of all label revenues for the first time last year.
But if we shift our attention to local artists and DJs, people who have performed in clubs in the city or are listed as “opening acts” for events, it’s probably a time to worry. Live performances played a huge role in getting money into their pockets and now a renowned artist or DJ from the city is facing a loss — in potential earnings — of at least $27,175.86.
More than asking “when can we go clubbing” and “when’s the next music festival”, relevant questions would be: “What’s the next step? Is tech the future of the music industry? How will music events make up for losses? What is the new normal?” We asked DJ Xclusive City and this is what he had to say.
The old ‘normal’
“I was travelling literally every weekend. It was a super booked schedule for me,” said DJ Xclusive City. Almost every club had big artists flying down from different parts of the country every other weekend. And this was at a time when that New York Drill sound was taking over, besides the hip-hop and R&B sound that’s still charting today of course. Names such as the late great Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, King Von, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Toosii, Lil Baby, Megan Thee Stallion, Rod Wave and DaBaby were down in the city to play before the lockdown took place and the discussions of bringing down other artists were taking place too. Moreover, a lot of events in Orlando had come to an end when the lockdown was announced, soon after that all the event organisers and promoters who organised gigs and tours with the artists had to postpone all their plans.
Locked in on lockdown
“A lot of artists wanted to play in Orlando and a lot of tours got cancelled,” said DJ Xclusive City, who is currently one of the biggest most sought out DJs in the city. Although the lockdown has taken a big toll on the music industry, it has had an even bigger toll on the service industry as well. It’s crazy to think that just a few months ago every club had a big event going on but it probably will never be the same even if the clubs start to open back up. “I’ve spoken to a few organisers from different cities and most of them are saying that there is no chance for events for the remainder of the year,” he said.
When the lockdown happened, it caused uncertainty panic, especially for self-employed artists. Other than club gigs and festivals, even corporate and wedding gigs have been cancelled. The peak time for summer season normally begins in the first week of June and continues all the way to October.
Orlando-based DJ Xclusive City normally works 25-plus days a month during this season but it has all “zeroed down”. “DJs haven’t been able to earn their money properly in the past few months and the next year ahead also looks dry. I had bookings till January, in places outside Orlando as well,” he said. But it turns out that all the 35 confirmed bookings, with advance payments already made to the DJ, had to be cancelled. Not only does money play a problem with the lockdown but it will also be long before that old club experience and vibe returns. DJ Xclusive City had to shelve a few of his gigs and even with the concept of music gatherings coming back, it still will not be the same. “The concept of clubbing is about people coming together, exchanging energy, vibing and interacting with one another. That’s the essence. You can play around with the concept but it won’t be the same. For example, you can have drive-in parties but the vibe is gone,” he said.
Moreover, freelance musicians, who are new to the scene, are currently earning nothing. Some resident DJs are still getting their share of payment from their respective clubs but some freelance DJs are given gigs without any formal agreements.
“A huge part of the business conducted goes without contracts, agreements, there’s no standardised guidelines. Within organisations people have protocols but as an industry there seems to be no norms, no standards…” said DJ Xclusive City when asked about the live music ecosystem.
This makes life difficult for not only DJs but for all the artists and live musicians as well as there are no associations to resolve disputes, there is no equal opportunity and no one’s keeping a check on whether people are being inclusive or fair in the way people get paid, given how much time they’ve put in.
Veterans can still bank on savings for the coming months but for new artists in the game, times are tough because they’d be earning only a few thousands, some of which remains unpaid and delayed. There are a lot of musicians that still have pending payments due to the lockdown. DJ Xclusive City says, “DJs and artists alike still have not been paid and they have been given Covid-19 as the reason, which I believe is kind of crazy from the owner’s standpoint because once a customer walks into a club or venue, he or she pays his cash and consumes whatever he needs. So why do DJs get paid so late? It is beyond my understanding and something I always wanted to know. DJs, on the other hand, don’t really open up about it just to get more gigs and this is how owners use them.”
Social media and live streaming
With few public venues available for the music scene, most DJs and artists have taken their talents to social media or online… to at least earn something. This sure has taken a good turn for DJs, live musicians and producers as they are able to share their music to a huge crowd. While some are still going live using their (social media) accounts, many are also creating events and line-ups for which a minimum fee needs to be paid for entry. Although most of these events are linked with charity, some are just for the sake of entertainment.
Besides, DJ D-Nice and some others, DJ Xclusive City was among the first to start going live on social media to stream their DJ sets during the lockdown to help people get through the hard times with some good vibes which would eventually lead to monetised gigs on other platforms like Twitch. He has been trying to stay a step ahead in the music industry by using all the latest tech and social media to his advantage especially since almost all his work is done online. The lockdown didn’t affect our work or our creative process but it made us more active online,” said DJ Xclusive City.
Although monetised gigs provide a “something is better than nothing” situation for live acts, it has taken a different turn for DJs. Due to copyright issues, social media platforms are muting or taking down DJ sets when a song used is recognised to be under a label.
“So does that mean I can’t use someone else’s track? That’s what a DJ does! And most of my music is either sent to me directly from the label themselves or I buy all my music, so it’s not like the label or artist is getting zero credit,” says DJ Xclusive City. But a lot of DJs seem to be opposing the idea of going live because a proper revenue model is missing; everyone is doing it and there’s no fun watching “a person push buttons for an hour”. But going live also opens up opportunities, such as being noticed by big name artists, record labels and even big brands which could easily lead to future collaborative opportunities. Many DJs have also collaborated with visual jockeys to give their viewers something to watch while they mix their set.
The way forward
When asked what the way forward is, musicians and DJs have no definite answer. According to DJ Xclusive City, the virus is a fear that has been put into people’s minds. “Authorities need to realise that partying is a way of release and understand the importance of nightlife. We have never got that support. It helps in revenue and alcohol sales,” he says. The DJ and radio star who is currently residing in Orlando says that the city survives on tourism and entertainment.
DJ Xclusive City says that small weddings are still taking place and he hopes that by next year things will open up. “Some places have already opened up but are not serving alcohol,” he says. He also advises other DJs to start working on their music production and believes that now is a good time to work on sets and skills rather than worrying about how to earn money.
“I believe the audience will have to follow a new dress code with their masks,” laughs DJ Xclusive City. The club party scene will never be the same as there will be fewer people, although silent parties could be a way forward. But, Xclusive City has one request: “No guest list! Please pay for your entry.”
According to DJ Xclusive City, a major step the industry can take, even if it’s at a grassroot level, is formalising the structure of how business is conducted. For him it’s not only about bringing content to people but also about monetising it for their livelihood. “It’s going to be the same as putting together an actual show where revenue is the backbone of the music scene. Anyone with a camera and sound card can potentially do a live stream but it’s the content that matters,” he said.
For DJ Xclusive City the way forward is via personal gigs through tech like Zoom for anniversaries, birthday parties and other celebrations. He believes that live streams are probably not the future but it definitely adds to the mediums. According to him, the indie live music scene was already a hard place to make money but taking to social media has helped them create a deeper connection with fans and has helped in receiving feedback from demos that they launch at times.
Xclusive City says that the future is not bleak for the music industry. “This is a change, you either adapt or fall behind.” With the lockdown no one is looking at how one can get a variety of music at home; there is no drinking and driving involved… This is the only way to be safe and keep others around you safe. “This pandemic is teaching people how to use gadgets. People are evolving with the situation,” he says.
What about losses? “Who will compensate for my personal loss? One of my friends had to cancel two world tours and I had to cancel 19 gigs within the first week of the lockdown. At the end of the day we will get everything back other than the time we have now. So we might as well feel for each other rather than point fingers.”
In these uncertain times, all music lovers can do is support musicians. Support your local scene, share and buy your favourite musician’s work, clear their payments and collaborate on different projects.