Palash Sen, founder/lead singer of the Delhi-based music band Euphoria, rues that music companies aren’t willing to take the risk of producing and promoting non-film music. Newer bands like Element 21, Five8 and Shadow, to name a few, admit that the going — what with rampant piracy, the lack of interest from companies and meagre funds — makes the going, well, tough. What’s worse is that the content of music channels like MTV and Channel V remains dominated by reality shows and Bollywood chartbusters.
No wonder, then, that numerous music bands in India, both young and old, are turning to newer methods in a bid to get themselves heard. Helping them, of course, is a clutch of alternate music-related enterprises trying hard to get them noticed. Rock Street Journal (RSJ), a monthly magazine dedicated to rock music and related happenings, is one of the oldest platforms for ‘underground bands’. Anoop Sebastian, event manager, RSJ, confirms, “We organise five music festivals every year and do more than 150 shows to provide opportunities to lesser-known bands.” RSJ’s Great Indian Rock Fest — one of the more popular gigs — travels to as many as eight cities across India, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Shillong, Pune and Kolkata, while its Pub Rock Fest covers as many as 20 Indian cities. Adds Sebastian: “All our festivals cater to different genres of music. We promote fests and shows through social networking sites.”
Online initiatives, in fact, are the new trend in promoting music. Take Tempostand.com, an initiative that began in 2007 with a commitment to provide a platform for Indian bands by organising — believe it or not — online shows. The website, explains Aditya Thakur, its co-founder, organises theme shows four times a year in which bands of varying genres participate. “The first step requires music bands to submit their original compositions online. We then shortlist 16 top performers,” adds Thakur. Tempostand.com invites celebrated musicians to judge these bands. “While 70 per cent weightage is given to the decision of the judges, 30 per cent of the marks are devoted to online votes cast by music lovers across the nation. This helps to increase the visibility of various bands on the Internet. Also, the judges interact with the bands online and give them suggestions for improvement.” In a bid to sustain music bands, Tempostand.com also has a prize purse of Rs 10,000 for the winning team. “We are in our third year and already we have around 500 bands participating,” says Thakur.
If Tempostand.com is creating a platform for young Indian musicians, BabbleFish Productions, a Mumbai-based production house, is contributing to music in its own unique way. The two-year-old production house focuses on music-based content, essentially non-Bollywood. Samira Kanwar, founder of BabbleFish, says, “We do live events, we track concerts, do album launches, create music videos and music documentaries and put the content online.” The company has worked with popular artistes like Raghu Dixit and bands like Pentagram, Them Clones and Superfuzz. What’s more, BabbleFish has also made three music documentaries. “We charge a nominal fee from the bands who want to join us online and try and promote them in the best possible manner,” adds Kanwar.
While music web portals like myspace.com, muziboo.com, uhooroo.com and jukeboxalive.com actively promote non-Bollywood music and empower music bands/individual artistes to independently create account pages and upload music, veteran singer Shubha Mudgal’s Underscorerecords.com is a unique model that balances both, the offline as well as online music model. While listeners can hear portions of music online, they can also buy albums online. Underscorerecords.com stocks over 100 albums music CDs and essentially encourages tech-savvy artistes from India to use various Net applications and share their work commercially or free of subscription on the Internet.
Since the logistics of making non-film music albums remain difficult and costs amount to a couple of lakhs — it requires recording, editing, mixing of songs in a professional sound studio, apart from preparing music videos and promoting albums — Shiv Ahuja, member of music group Five8, agrees that his band, too, prefers the online model to promote its work. “Making commercial CDs is not a viable option. People want music for free. We promote our music on our website… and other social networking sites,” he says. Ahuja’s band is now working towards a unique model wherein fans can download music for free and ‘donate’ money if they like the band’s work. But will it work? “Many international bands do that, and if people who like our music want to give some money to the band of their own accord, it will be welcome,” he adds.
Interestingly, on the Net, too, there are awards organised for the promotion of musical talent. Say Vineet Malhotra and Rajan Adlakha of Shadow, a relatively new band which stood third at the Asia Pacific VOICE Independent Music Awards (AVIMA) in the Electro/Dance category, “Bands in today’s time are in dire straits because of the ‘commerce first’ attitude of the people.” For the record, AVIMA is organised by Voize.my, an Asian lifestyle-entertainment site, which recognises genres of music produced across nations.
While Sen admits that music companies hardly invest in music bands, Taranpreet Kaur, artiste manager of D Records (the music label started by artiste Daler Mehndi), says, “Music labels are lethargic about putting money in non-film albums. There is a cacophony of sound, no direction.” Perhaps, that explains why bands are also investing in unique offline models to promote their music. Take Element 21, a rock band, which, along with numerous other Indian rock bands, will perform at a two-day festival called Escape at Naukuchiatal, Uttarakhand, in the third week of May. It’s a unique integration of music and local tourism, what with Makemytrip.com also stepping in to offer packages for the event. Rahul Chugh, a member of Element21, says, “One needs to sing in the language of the masses — not just limiting yourself to rock music, but also foraying into pop music for the masses. We are also no longer willing to be bracketed in set genres and try to experiment with music.” I P Singh, lead singer of the five-member band Faridkot, adds, “The Internet is helpful only to an extent. We need to improvise on our music all the time.” Radio, he feels, can be utilised better in promoting music. Abhishek Mathur, band member of Advaita, another fusion band formed in 2004, for instance, sold 3,500 copies of their album Grounded in Space recently. Released by EMI Records, India, this showed that bands could succeed if they worked hard and reached out to fans through social networking sites.
The going may be difficult, but innovative measures on the Net, and offline too, ensure that the music continues to play on.