Common Roots: Streaming music for a cause

Common Roots Online Music Festival, featuring Indian and international musicians, aims to raise money through donations for Give India, India Foundation for the Arts and Voice of Stray Dogs.

With the lockdown in place, digital concerts seems to be the order of the day. Though the vibe of a live music festival can never be replicated, these initiatives definitely prop the scene up. Common Roots festival, which had some noted names in the music industry performing, was recently conducted online, on May 9. It will be held every Saturday of May from 2PM to 2AM.

Artists performing at the festival include Grammy winner Ricky Kej, Raghu Dixit, Aabha Hanjura, Al Parkinson, The Chronic Blues Circus, The Tram Lines Project and internationally renowned sitarist Ustad Chote Rahimat Khan.

We spoke to the curators on how they pulled it off and about the challenges they faced. Here are some excerpts from the interview with Bonny Fernandes, Festival Co-founder.

What was your vision behind the Common Roots project? 

With the COVID crisis only gaining momentum, there was a deep desire to help the COVID hit sections of society. While we did not have the financial means to assist all of them, we still were very concerned and wanted to do a lot more. And instead of a one-time donation to one such group, we felt our experience and skills could be put to better use to gather support for a bigger impact than our individual contributions.

From an audience perspective, we also saw and felt the huge disconnect among general people with a lot of their normal routines disrupted and lack of space and connection now being the norm. Entertainment options also were now limited and did not serve as a good escape for everyone’s taste. Binge watching online shows was anyway done before COVID and do not know anyone who wasn’t tired of it now, re-runs of other TV shows and Ramayana did not work across the board, Bollywood music shows is now everyone’s cup of tea.

From an event and experiential background, we noticed musicians (except for the celebrities and especially Bollywood) could not reach a wider audience with their support and were restricted to a few and in fragmented ways. Musicians also come alive when they have the audiences that they play for. We also learned from some of them that they wished they could have done more but they themselves are impacted by cancelled shows and other factors.

In thinking of a win-win situation for all three groups, Common Roots, the platform was an attempt to provide relief to all concerned with something in it for everyone.

For NGOs

Support daily wage workers through Give India (humans) + Support Artists & Arts through India Foundation of Arts (the expertise we are using as platform) + Support rescued and stray dogs through The Voice of Stray Dogs (Animal Welfare). Using Music to create a sense of community and relief, we were hoping people will feel good and also spread that goodness with the NGOs.

For Audiences

Provide a breather to people with a feel of a festival, play on the binge watching aspect with 12 hours, address ADD mentality when all of us goes online by keeping shows limited to 20-30 minutes for each artists, move them also from one artist Instagram handle to another and provide a discovery mechanism of new music and genres for them (just like a festival would) and the option to watch it on mobile as well as a computer/TV to make it a group or an individual experience.

For Musicians

Keep them all on one level playing field with 20-30 minutes for all. Because the online experience would also not be as rich and immersive, the time slot allotted would be enough to establish the connect and entertainment without diluting it as it went along. Also, CR provided a platform to consolidate all their support, expertise and time for the benefit of the audiences and the causes while also giving them a medium to express their art and self-care in these tough times. With also as a way to reciprocate for their generosity, we are pushing traffic to their handles and possibly increase traffic and followers too. Give love, Get love back.

Bonny Fernandes, Co-Founder

How has the response been like in the first week? 

The first event was on 9th May and we have another 3 to go! Since the charities and support is for Indians, this would primarily be relevant to Indian audience. However, the artists performing are from Zimbabwe, Australia, Singapore, France, US, UK and many more. And not all are Indian-origin. It is difficult to predict audience numbers for couple of reasons:

Since we have no sponsors, the organic reach is limited to the support the musicians and the NGOs provide, apart from our own efforts.

The intense surge of other online entertainment options from Music, Comedy and what not also takes away crowds from our event. Saturday is the peak day for all such activities as well as a day to rest from the increased WFH pressures so adds to the challenge in a way.

Again, our audience will not be the masses so we are cognizant of that. The impact we aim to create is through the donations and that’s the metric we are looking at in terms of impact that considers all 3 stakeholders here. And we are hoping we reach that target pledged for the 3 NGOs. And even if we don’t it will definitely be significantly more that none of that collected without Common Roots platform.

While there are multiple virtual events including some in the music genre, this is how we stand out:

  • 12 hours non-stop festival and not 3-hour performance

  • Representing all genres on one platform

  • Celebrating all artists and genres

  • Celebrated by musicians from abroad and not just India

  • All coming together for a cause without borders or prejudice to taste in music

  • Not a onetime support charity event but across 4 weekends

  • Social Cause Music Festival that supports 3 charities and not all linked to one

  • Diversity that is celebrated and demonstrated by audiences, musicians and donation partners – A Win Win situation for all

  • Format of going from one artist handle to another (this could change subsequently to deal with audience aggregation issues – being discussed)

Mustafa Parvez, Co-Founder

With the entire nation under lockdown, tell us about the challenges you had to face from an Operational point of view.

Plenty of them in fact. Ranging from an intense surge of online events to get visibility for this one to a fatigue of sorts for charity based events, to cannibalising other similar efforts to even not being seen as a value generator as there is low mass appeal since it is not linked to main line entertainment or celebs (think sponsoring cricket vs support for other sports).

Lack of sponsors also means we cannot support the musicians and teams behind this event who are donating their expertise and time ranging from a one-time engagement to a month-long engagement. Internet Bandwidth issues. Band members unable to collaborate together and if they do the collecting, collating and editing make the effort unsustainable.

Plenty more too :). The list is definitely long.

What's next for you? Can we expect more of this in the coming months? 

We have a similar offering in the Classical Performance space with the elite and best of Indian and western classical and cultural performances and plenty of other ideas and events planned for June.