The mumbai-based Blue FRog is more than just a club with live music acts. it’s in fact an experience, a record label and to its fans, a way of life.
In place of a defunct warehouse in Mumbai’s mill area now stands Blue Frog, a swanky club which serves as a music lover’s happy retreat. Three years ago, the Blue Frog team — composer-musicians Ashutosh Phatak and Dhruv Ghanekar, film director Mahesh Mathai, producer Srila Chatterjee, and fund manager Simran Mulchandani — based this collaborative initiative on a simple idea: to build a nexus between buyers and sellers of music. What it became, thereafter, was a unique movement.
Blue Frog’s USP may lie in the club itself, attracting a clientele with live music every day of the week, but behind its plush interiors is a brand that contains much more — an independent record label, a production house and studio, and a customised radio service. The company also composes background scores for advertisements, and sound effects for computer games. At the core though, is a touring circuit that takes Blue Frog beyond Mumbai. Simran Mulchandani, CEO, explains, “Opening branches of Blue Frog across the country would have been an easy way to build the brand. What we really wanted to create was the Blue Frog experience.”
The company therefore tied up with clubs in Delhi and Bangalore to have bands and artistes that Blue Frog represents perform there. “Recently, we toured with Midivial Punditz, a popular Delhi-based band, and a band from Paris. As our next step we organised FROGFest in Delhi last month, which had several popular bands play at Magique (an open-air lounge and kitchen),” he says. “In turn, we anticipated that the success of our label will hopefully lead to more platforms opening up for musicians across the country,” adds Mulchandani.
The music business, as we know it, comes with its fair share of woes — the alternative music industry more so — with few sponsors and limited audience. So for Blue Frog Records, an independent record label, and part of the company that focuses on less commercial music genres such as jazz, blues, funk, world fusion, experimental pop and edgy rock, revenue drivers were important. Sanjay Divecha, a jazz artiste, whose album was released by Blue Frog, though feels that at this point of time “they don’t have the kind of expertise required to manage a record label”.
The team at Blue Frog, therefore, carefully follow a business model that keeps this in mind. “We started the club in December 2007 to play live music and eventually F&B became a big part of the venture,” says Mulchandani. It was a sensible decision, in retrospect, for now it is this club with its fine dining and bar that rakes in considerable moolah for the record label. “We had to keep F&B strong to keep the project alive, so we put in place an inventive kitchen and bar to drive our revenue. The business model won’t work if we depend on audio CD sales,” explains Mulchandani. Divecha, on the other hand, feels that in order to make it a viable proposition, the food and beverages are pretty expensive. The downside of it being, as Divecha puts it, “At times, you do feel that the audience doesn’t give the kind of respect you think you deserve.”
The 6,000 square foot warehouse in Lower Parel was converted into a club with acoustics and an opulent design to suit live performances, fine dining and bar. Live music acts now perform six nights a week, frequently featuring international artistes in genres of music ranging from jazz, blues, funk, soul and afro/latin to electronic, club, rock and folk. The design and interiors — by Mumbai-based firm Contemporary Urban Design — incorporated design styles to give an uninterrupted view of the stage. A space-age like seating — circular, mahogany-panelled dining “pods” — are arranged amphitheatre-style around a large circular floor, with a large, elevated stage at one end of it. Munro Acoustics was roped in to design a high-quality sound system meant for live performances, with a quality sonic response, minimal ambient noise and wide-range acoustic absorber. According to Divecha, the live music scene in the country is relatively new and he feels that Blue Frog has invested a lot in acoustics to get it right.
It is design and novelty, notes Mulchandani, that works for Blue Frog. “We have built our weekends around cutting-edge programming, whether they are DJs or bands. Initially, we wanted to focus on jazz and world music. But we realised very quickly that people wanted a ‘scene’ on weekends,” he says. A soaring brand name meant “value propositions for sponsors such as Bacardi, Kingfisher, Tuborg”, which in turn, supported Blue Frog’s touring circuit.
Initially, however, there was criticism that Blue Frog was too expensive for an average person, with an entry fee of Rs 300-500 per person, per event, with no cover. “We stuck to our guns, and for those who could not afford to pay, we kept entry free before 9 pm. So it’s really a myth that Blue Frog is expensive,” says Mulchandani. So there you go.
At Blue Frog, they say, there isn’t a good enough excuse to not have been there yet.