Dance music, DJ’s and the pandemic – the good, the bad and the bankrupt
Mark Stent · Mar 29, 2021
It’s December 2019, the busiest month on the gig calendar for many South African and international artists. It’s a time of ‘stocking up’ on gigs and making money for the quieter parts of the coming year. Catching flights, late nights, little sleep and a growing bank balance is the standard outlook for active circuit DJ’s and producers.
The season ends and it’s time for a well-earned break, get back in studio and refuel for the March/April season…
It never arrives.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the world.
At the time of writing this article it’s been just over a year since our very first full lockdown. A time where clubs, festivals, events bars and even alcohol and cigarettes became illegal. It hit just about every industry in the world and unexpectedly closed down and evaporated many industries and livelihoods from restaurants, to schools, to small business, to the whole nightlife industry.
This article is about the effects and damage caused in my industry, from my point of view and my filter. I don’t claim to know about other industries or even to speak for all of mine, this is just my view.
In the past year I have seen many in the music industry go from confident and popular, secure and financially rich to quiet and shy, insecure and broke. I have seen busy and commercially successful clubs and bars close down. I have seen suicides, I have seen people that have given their lives to their craft fall apart in desperation.
The clever ones had some money saved for a rainy day, but rainy days don’t usually last for a year and, at this point, there is no end in clear sight. Many figured out early that the industry is over for the short term and moved on to different ways to make a living and find security, but many also have been trying to hold out, waiting in desperation for the only thing they know to come back again.
There has been little help from the government. They set up a find for artist relief that apparently paid some artists out a monthly amount. I personally don’t know a single artist or musician that received a cent.
How are they surviving?
Thousands upon thousands of people in the industry, from DJ’s to producers to event owners to bar backs and bouncers have literally been forced to stop work, with no clear plan in sight to restart. Some have sold assets, studio equipment, some have gone to live with family or friends, many are living on literally R200 per week.
What’s sad too is that many talented and gifted artists have thrown in the towel, never to share their genius with the world again, all in the name of survival.
It’s been very sad to watch the world wide destruction of the dance industry.
The optimist in me believes (and hopes) that the pandemic has caused a reset, something that many believed we needed, even before Covid.
There are some advantages and good that has come from this dance industry genocide.
The playing field has been leveled, big name artists and small name artists have become one and the same. No one is performing. It has allowed space for new faces to enter the scene and break the monopoly that has been controlling our lineups. It has forced DJ’s to learn to produce music and for seasoned producers to up their games. It has spawned a new creativity for events for when they are allowed again. It has brought together many sectors of the industry that were segregated before. It has opened doors to new creative cross pollinated genres of music and has given the gift of time for creation.
On the other side, the pandemic has forced music fans to find other styles and genres of music and scour the streaming sites for new music. Artificial intelligence algorithms like the Spotify music suggestion playlists have been an essential part in introducing people to new music and new artists. DJ’s have built brands by streaming on social media for their fans.
There are still so many challenges facing the dance music scene globally. Many people take the DJ’s, producers, promoters, club owners, barmen, bouncers and others for granted.
So when you see your favorite DJ again, be it performing, educating you with new music on his social media or doing a stream for you, give him a high 5 and a nod of approval as he has probably had his life turned upside down but he continues to do what he does best and keeps the dance music industry flag alive.