KK's death spotlights singers' safety at concert venues, say experts

Singers, tour managers, and artist managers draw attention to the lack of paramedic support at concert venues, and how budgets and strenuous tour schedules pose health risks.
Singer Krishnakumar Kunnath's untimely demise highlights a need for better safety measures during concerts and tours.
Singer Krishnakumar Kunnath's untimely demise highlights a need for better safety measures during concerts and tours.

Concerts are one of the most visceral and memorable forms of music engagement. It is why live performances are more about the spectacle rather than just the music. However, what goes behind holding these grand events is a different story altogether, unknown to the audience enjoying the show.

Preparing budgets, applying for permits and allowances, finalising the dates and the timings, picking a venue, deciding on a talent or performing artist… a lot goes into making sure that the event is a success. Amidst this, if any accident or mishap occurs, who is to blame?

Singer Krishnakumar Kunnath or KK’s autopsy doctor had revealed that a timely CPR intervention could have saved the star’s life. This incident has brought to the fore some important questions: Do the organisers need to be better prepared for any medical emergencies? Does gig management need to be improved to ensure the safety of the touring musicians and singers?

According to music director and singer, Salim Merchant, the management can't be blamed. He says, “It (KK’s death) was very unfortunate. However, we cannot call out the show organisers for it. It’s upon the artist; if s/he requires any medical assistance, it can be included in the large entourages. Organising such grand events is, in itself, a tough task. The artist is not different from the concert organisers because they both need each other, equally.”

Pointing out another issue, one of ‘freebie culture’, singer Sona Mohapatra says, “Event organisers face tough times having to deal with red-tape, payouts, bribes, huge entertainment taxes, as well as the audience, which is used to getting music for ‘free’ and a no ticket- buying culture to support artists or the event industry. Hence, the on-ground challenges can never be anticipated.”

Not all that glamorous

Underneath the ‘seemingly’ glittery lives of musicians lie stress, panic, and a whole lot of pressure, says Yama, artist manager, Big Bad Wolf. She says, “It appears that living out of an airport, and touring around is a great job but it takes a toll on the performing artist’s health. Doing 50 shows a year might be a consistent means of earning a livelihood but, actually, it hugely affects an artist’s physical and mental health. You’re constantly on the go, and barely find any time to rest due to tight schedules.”

Drawing attention to the taxing schedules of concert tours, singer Jasleen Royal says, “As an artist, you want to tour the world and play in front of huge crowds. But as fulfilling and larger-than-life it appears to be, it isn’t easy. Non-stop travel and large gaps between meals, sometimes because of delayed sound checks or flights can cause a lot of chaos. One hardly gets sleep and you have to wake up at odd hours to catch flights back home or to another city. Even if, at times, you’re feeling sick, you just go on because you don’t want to disappoint your fans.”

Jasleen reveals she had fallen ill right after a show in Hyderabad and was rushed to the hospital. “This happened late in the night, and that evening, I had another show in Bengaluru. So, I was quite worried. My team arranged a wheelchair for me in the meantime. I couldn’t have cancelled the show given the audience’s anticipation and the fact that a lot goes behind making these events happen,” the singer recounts.

Budget bargain

Sarthak Kulshrestha, a founder of Bengaluru-based live entertainment and booking agency, Bohemian Entertainment (earlier, Bohemian Live), believes that budget constraints can pose huge risks to safety. He says, “Arranging for ambulances or mini paramedic tents at a venue can cost a lot and usually, exceed budgets. While large concerts and festivals like the NH7 Weekender or Super Sonic do make sure to have medical safety provisions, it’s hard to say the same for small-budget events or club gigs. Those venues, at times, do not even have proper fire exits, to say the least. While some do, some of the prominent gig venues in India do not. But little can be done about it.”

Yama Seth, a former tour manager for Vir Das’ Alien Chutney, and who is presently managing Indian Ocean, reveals that often there are ‘petty’ accommodation issues, too. “Sometimes, just to save on some expenses, the hotels that are provided to the artists are so far off that even if one considers resting after a gig, travel takes up most of their time. By the time one reaches the hotel, it’s already time for the next show, and, perhaps, even time to leave the city for another,” she observes.

Sarthak recalls Danish football player Christian Erikson’s collapse during a game, wherein he was provided immediate medical support, and he survived. “There have been such instances in the past, however, it’s sad that an artist’s death was what led to a wake-up call for prioritising such provisions,” says Sarthak who adds that there is little to no anticipation of such mishaps at concerts.

Sona Mohapatra says, "The exertion of a lead performer at a live event can be compared to that of a world-class athlete during a game". Certainly, when paramedics for the latter are deemed necessary, why can't the same be made for performing artists, too? One hopes there is a change in the situation sooner than later.

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The New Indian Express