Back in March of this year, I started a weekly live-streaming concert series with my musical compatriot Kees van Boxtel from Netherlands. Our effort we dubbed ‘Peace at Home’ and we performed 10 concerts that resulted in our album by the same name, released in April, 2020. At the time, it seemed like the world was falling down around our heads as we spent long, meandering days cooped up inside. There was no one on the streets, suburban Mumbai was eerily quiet and each day the news was worse. Like many, I felt helpless and generally hopeless. What help is a musician in a global health crisis? The concept of Peace at Home was to offer some moments of respite, calm and strengthening through the wonderful power of Indian classical music. The encouraging and thankful support we received from the public over social media caused me to continue the project with my own weekly series, called Ragas for Peace & Happiness. This started in May of 2020 and continues today.
Since March, I have produced and performed 30+ live-streaming concerts to date. All of these concerts have been made available completely for free, requesting donations from those who are able. Many musicians and peers have asked me why I’m “giving away concerts for free” and expressed that they are worried for me, that because my music is available for free, that no one will pay for my music going forward. This is an intentional choice I have made, rooted in my philosophy of music and life, and I will attempt to explain it here.
My music is an offering and a process at the same time. It’s an offering to the world, to this existence; a reality that has given me life and the power to positively affect people through my art. I am grateful for this life and I wish to spread that vibration. My music is a process in the sense that I am practicing in order to transform myself to be more in tune, more in harmony, more connected, in better relationship with humanity and the natural forces of our planet and universe. My goal through my music is to develop myself so that I can understand and transmute the pain, suffering, and negativity of our collective experiences for the benefit of all beings and energies.
The forces of global capitalism and the free market do not value such an endeavor because the transformation and evolution of our minds and hearts is not a product that can be bought or sold. As musicians, the market encourages us to sell recordings, concert tickets and merchandise. But the monetary values of each are all mixed up and have nothing to do with the energy, intent and efficacy of the art created. One of my albums, over an hour of music you can listen to over and over again for the rest of your life, sells for $9.99 USD on iTunes. A typical concert ticket may cost $20-$30 USD for a two hour concert. These days artists are charging around $35 USD for T-shirts with their likeness or logo on them. What absolute mayhem.
The albums that you can buy of my music online, many of them we spent 50-100 hours of work on and contain original, creative music that you can hear literally no where else. There are expenses for studio time, production, promotion, design and musicianship. In a concert, you’re hearing the spontaneous expression of thousands of hours of collective preparation, study and experimentation. And the T-shirts? Mostly they’re printed and shipped by other companies and have little to do with the artist beyond the graphic design. The point is, a system of capitalism is not capable of rewarding my artistic efforts and it’s naive to think that it can ever be otherwise. The best we can hope for as musicians, is that our art will be valued enough by the market economy so that we can sustain ourselves while we pursue the true purpose of our music.
Simply put, charging money for my weekly series ‘Ragas for Peace & Happiness’ doesn’t match up with the goal of this project and also has limited scope to compensate based on the value of the concerts. The concerts are for morale, for peace and calm and to explore the special qualities of Indian classical ragas that heal and bring connection. Charging money for these would actually diminish the desired effect because I would be narrowing my audience to those who are able and willing to pay for an online concert. I want to reach people who have no idea about classical Indian music. I want to reach people who are lost. I want to reach people who need help and people who just enjoy listening while doing something around the house. I want to reach people who can appreciate and relate to the mission behind the music as well as the sound itself. All are welcome!
I still need to eat and survive myself and when someone financially supports my music they are allowing for my material existence. Just as importantly, when you buy a download, CD or pay for concert tickets, you are sending a message, you are speaking, saying “Yes, this music is important to me and I want the artist to thrive to continue to create this art.” With so many ways to consume music without paying a penny to the artists, it is becoming increasingly crucial to support artists directly. It is most beneficial for the artist and the audience to be directly connected with each other, for the energy and money to flow between them, without anything in the middle. My weekly live-streaming concerts are an attempt at cultivating this relationship with my audience and creating a new channel for how we connect.
In short, my weekly series ‘Ragas for Peace & Happiness’ is available for free because that is the way that it will most effectively achieve its goal: to grow good relationship, to calm, strengthen, inspire and share in music and tradition. When I receive donations during my streams, that gives more power to the endeavor and helps to sustain me materially. Charging a fee upfront however, would be a hindrance to all of this: creating barriers for people who don’t have the means to pay or aren’t willing to pay while not really addressing the issue of fair compensation for all the art anyway. It’s time to transform the way we relate to each other and to music so that we can create the world we want to be in. The concept of Ragas for Peace & Happiness has been carefully incubating along these lines and now has expression. Let it be known.
Last, I want to say, all this time performing from my room has really helped to hone my skill…I can’t wait for you to see my stage shows in 2021! Tatasthu.
— Joel ‘Veena’ Eisenkramer, Dec. 27, 2020