RadioandMusic
| 26 Feb 2021
Live music on a different beat

Live music scene in India has grown, branching from sporadic open air ground events to new age music venues.

The Indian live music scene has become more buoyant now than one can ever remember it. Though the bigger acts are marred by state differentiated tax policies, 10 PM deadlines, and overgrowing corporate dependence. The smaller live music venues are having an upper hand as they satiate the hunger of live music lovers by bringing down lesser known international acts and local Indian bands at much affordable prices.

THE SLOW DOWN EFFECT

Due to market slow down, tours to Asia have reduced and hence the knock down effect on India. Certainly, putting on �big name' international act has become an expensive affair. And though the market for international performers has not diminished, the correct offering of artist has become more important as the customer has become discerning,... says DNA Networks MD T Venkat Vardhan.

The last big act to perform in India was heavy metal band Iron Maiden which was brought down by DNA Networks in February this year. According to industry experts, an act like Maiden would cost anywhere between $350,000 – 400,000. Besides Iron Maiden, DNA Networks has been instrumental in bringing down acts like Beyonce, Kenny G, Aerosmith, Shakira and many others. Vardhan believes that one of the reason behind the cut in the number of  international acts is not having enough paid audience, Customers buying tickets have also reduced in numbers, hence the risk of putting on big acts and not having enough paid audience has contributed to the scarcity of big shows,... he says. Meanwhile, concerts featuring mid level musicians are preferred more by event organizers  According to industry insiders, average revenues earned through such concerts can be anywhere between 30-40 million.

INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES

The lack of venues, and the need to build-up a venue from scratch have increased the production costs by twofold. The organizers now have to additionally invest on creating venue out of open grounds and deck them with light and sound. One of the prime reasons which are holding back the live scene is lack of infrastructure feels EEMA Executive Vice President Brian Tellis, For anything to flourish, you need infrastructure. First, we don't have any venues in this country; we don't have arenas, and our culture of restaurants or clubs with live music is still growing. Though we have few clubs now, compared to what we had before – I think for live music to freely flourish, we need much more venues,... he adds. Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA) is a body that represents the voice of some of India's prominent event companies.

CORPORATE DEPENDENCE

The varying tax structure on live performances in the country is another deterrent. The entertainment tax differs from state to state – 10 per cent in Bangalore, 25 percent  Mumbai and 25 per cent in Delhi. The event company has to pay these taxes in advance against the tickets printed,... says Tellis, Therefore, it is not only a challenge about the high percentage of taxes, but it's also about raising funds to pay those taxes in advance. Hence, one has to resort to corporate sponsorship,... he adds.

More than 95 per cent of the concerts happening in India are sponsored. Some of the key sponsors in live music business have been Nokia, Airtel, Idea, Pepsi and liquor brands like 100 Pipers and Johnny Walker. Besides the liquor brands, I don't see any one else investing in live acts,... says E-18 CEO Farhad Wadia. E-18 has been instrumental in bringing down acts like Jethro Tull, Anoushka Shankar and Scorpions. Wadia is primarily known in India as the brainchild behind one of the oldest rock competitions namely the Independence Rock which has been around for more than a decade. On the present condition of sponsorship, Wadia adds, Most of the sponsors today are investing in television, cricket and IPL series, and that has changed things to a great extent for live music business....

Needless to say, sponsors want returns on their investments – in the form of reach, number of listeners the draws and more importantly, the kind of awareness the act can produce across media. And though corporate sponsorship can be a contributing factor, DNA MD T Venkat Vardhan adds, The entitlements for sponsorship for the artist must be tasteful and subtle or else it will lead to artists not agreeing....

As far as international concerts featuring the big names go, industry insiders believe that a big level concert might only happen by next year owing to the huge cut in sponsorships. However, this does not deter Columbia Music Label Head & well known bollywood music composer Sandeep Chowta who plans to bring jazz band �Yellow Jackets' by the end of this year, I will invest the money I make through one film in bringing the band,... he says. An avid jazz music enthusiast, Chowta has brought down several artistes like Brett Garsed, Virgil Donatti, Frank Gambale and most recently jazz band �Metro' mostly on his own expense without having any strong sponsor to back him up. The composer believes that compared to international market where listeners pay a high value for concerts, in India, the culture of paying high value money is still growing.

SLOW AND STEADY – Indian classical music ups ante

Meanwhile, the classical music front remains the most original in the Indian live music scenario. With bodies like Indian Music Academy and Pancham Nishad, the scene has pepped up with regular concert series, There are about 1000 shows of classical music a year,... says Vikram Shankar, co-founder of Art and Artiste Association, an organization that focuses on reviving the Indian classical music among masses. This industry is growing rapidly, says Shankar, On an average, we spend around 50,000 per show for 1000 shows which equals to 50 million industry.... Just like all the other genres if music, the classical music scene is also largely dominated by corporate sponsorships, but unlike other genres, classical music has been consistent and steady in all spheres.

CHANGING TRENDS – club boom & tribute acts!

In the absence of performances by the �big' artistes, the latest emerging trends in the live music scene have been the tribute acts. They are affordable, comparatively easy to organize and we can follow the ticketing model,... says Oran Juice Entertainment founder Owen Roncon who recently brought Eric Clapton's tribute act that went house full as soon as it was announced. Apparently, an equally good response was received by Les Zep, the all female Led Zepplin tribute band that performed in India earlier this year for an fundraising concert organized by E-18. However, DNA Head Venkat Vardhan is a little skeptical of the tribute band trend, Tribute bands are a passing phase when normally held in clubs, however the positioning of tribute bands as the real thing by promoters here in India may do harm for the real performing artists in the long run,... he says.

Amidst the changing trends, local club owners have been reeling 'n' rocking from the economy just like everyone else, but there are, at last, welcome signs of an upsurge. Many clubs have ridden out the storm by becoming more open-minded and varied in their bookings – and it's starting to pay off. Clubs like Blue frog, Hard Rock Caf?©, Opus and many others have come to respite for the live music enthusiasts. Obviously, the big acts may not be coming, but upcoming international rock bands, fusion bands, jazz bands and solo musicians have shaped the scene in the last two years. While most metro's have deadlines of 10 PM on outdoor events, clubs are allowed to go on till 1:30 midnight as per law, which has worked well for the business. As far as taxes go, closed venues hosting live music are required to pay monthly taxes, about which not many club owners are complaining.

Mumbai has been in the forefront with clubs like Blue frog and Hard Rock Caf?© that have been popular among live music enthusiasts. On an average, a club like the Bluefrog brings down at least two international acts, and has close to 700 attendees on weekends. Though there are sponsors who have been showing interest to invest in gigs, Bluefrog has largely been following a ticketing model as most sponsors have limited budget. The only way to pump up the scene is to create more venues says Bluefrog co-founder Ashu Phatak, We need a lot more venues, because that will increase the number of opportunities. Eventually, this can reduce the costs as the venue owners will then have the option to share costs of an international act that come down,... he explains. Founded by composer-musicians Ashutosh Phatak and Dhruv Ghanekar, Bluefrog has become a revolutionary night club of Mumbai since its launch in December 2007.

Giving a taste of international music to its audience, Bluefrog has tied up with the Norwegian Consulate for artistes exchange program, according to which four bands/artistes from Norway will perform in India, while four Indian bands go to Norway. Additionally, the club has its own music business arm called LeapFrog' which essentially ties up with major music venues across the country through this arm, acts performing at Bluefrog, tour at its various partner live music venues that are part of LeapFrog. The idea behind this venture is to cut down on the costs, especially when it comes to bringing down international acts,... says Bluefrog co-founder Ashutosh Phatak. In the last two years, the club has branched out into Blue Frog Records, Blue Frog Production, Blue Frog Soundlabs and now also plans to expand nationally and internationally.

Opening of the cult restaurant Hard Rock Cafe in Mumbai certainly added an international appeal to the city, however, most international acts performing here are upcoming international acts who come on multicity tour to promote their music. Hard Rock Cafe has its presence in Bangalore, Pune, Delhi and Hyderabad and has been host to events and artistes like Outlandish, Kardinal Offishall, Jay Sean, Wyclef Jean, Prime Circle, events like Jack Daniel awards and others. The local musicians who have performed at HRC believe it to be the best venue for live performance. The venue has two stage areas live-acts and features bars on two different levels besides the private section which is ideal for corporate events.

The scene in the southern part of India, particularly in Hyderabad and Bangalore is fast growing. One of the popular joints, Xtreme Sports Bar, Hyderabad has found a unique 'easy on pockets model' which is hit among the IT and BPO going crowd, We do not have separate gate charge, the entrant has to pay the minimum amount of 200-300 rupees which he/she can redeem once they are in,... says the manager T. Mohan. This one-and-half year old venue  allows new promising bands to play at the venue. And though the newer bands do not get any remuneration, they do get a chance to showcase their talent and free food on the house,... which the manager feels works well for both business and the bands. Xtreme Sports Bar has one of the most state of the art performance stages in the country with two outlets in Bangalore and three outlets in Hyderabad. Many bands who have performed at these venues swear by the sound. Says the Manager of Xtreme Sports Bar, If we do not have dates by our preferred sound engineer, we most likely postpone the act,... he says.

As far as sponsorships for such music venues go, industry insiders say that liquor brands who are most likely to sponsor, invest as little as 0.3 millions annually. As part of the deal, the liquor brand usually pays for the sound. Besides this, a liquor sponsor typically demands their brands to be served during the 3-4 hours of the live performance,... says the source.

Bangalore is the city dusting the scene with new melodies and old tunes. Most international acts perform here first because the taxes are relatively lower, however, one of the main open air venues Palace Grounds is marred by monopoly – at least when it comes to organizing bigger acts. Anybody who organizes live acts there has to inevitably give the contract of building stage to the vendor of Palace Grounds – that's the part of the contract and it can cost anything from 0.6 – 0.8 millions depending on the size of the stage to be erected. Of course, for the bigger concerts, one also needs to prepare 2-3 months in advance sorting all the various permissions required before the actual act – that, needless to say, applies to all metro's,... says an organizer on condition of anonymity.

In the past years, the Bangalore's pleasant weather and enthusiastic crowds have drawn visitors and musicians from all over the world to perform year after year. However a major blow to the rock capital of India came last year when the new law introduced by the Government of Karnataka banned serving of alcohol at venues playing music. The law was mainly to impede the dance bar scene which authorities' believed was giving rise to prostitution and crime, but live acts too were affected by this law and several music festivals had to be cancelled. In spite of the present scenario, sponsorship from liquor brands at many such live venues still continue, albeit, on the sly,... says a source. Bangalore still remains the most lively when it comes to music. It's a city with most number of rock bands where one can enjoy major national performers, tap feet's to the rhythm of classic rock music or sing the blues at bars like Opus, newly open theatre bar Kyra or Bflat.

INDIAN ROCK BANDS GROW, BUT STILL SLOW

The growth of these smaller venues across places is offering a lot of visibility and opportunities to the home grown talents. Earlier, Indian bands were more or less reliant on US and British acts for inspiration, but that is changing slowly  At the moment Indian bands look very promising and we are creating properties around them,... says Oran Juice Entertainment founder Owen Roncon. Founded by V.G. Jairam and Owen Roncon, Oran Juice Entertainment has brought down acts like Paul Van Dyk, Bernard Allison, Chico and The Gypsies and Buddy Guy among others.

Though there may be organizers claiming to focus on Indian bands, Rainbow Bridge guitarist Sanjeev Thomas says things are not always candy floss for Indian bands, Often the organizers make it look big and ask the bands to compromise on their remunerations, but hardly an article is written about these bands,... he says, It's only the top five bands who earn out of playing music,... he adds.

Often the organizers make it look big and say the concert will offer the performing bands exposure, and ask them to compromise on their remunerations, but hardly an article is written about these bands. It's only the top five bands who earn well out of playing music,... Rainbow Bridge Guitarist Sanjeev Thomas.

Bands like Raghu Dixit Project, Shaair n' Funk, Pentagram are big acts today– sponsors are beginning to identify them with the brands they can relate to,... believes Only Much Louder (OML) founder Vijay Nair. Apart from Nair's many credentials of being a core part of the growth of indie scene, he is also the winner of the International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year 2009. One of the emerging trends among bands is to use the various available online mediums like networking sites to help promote their music, says Nair.

College fests like IITs, IIMs, and independent events such as Great Indian Rock, Campus Rock Idols and Independence Rock (I- Rock) have helped boost the quality of participant bands. While the average cost of organizing a small scale rock act can go up to 50,000, the one featuring a line up of top five Indian acts can go up to 0.8 -1.2 million. According to a source, established acts like Parikrama or Pentagram can charge around 0.3 million per show, the relatively lesser known bands (mostly performing at closed venues) charge around 10-15000 rupees, while newer bands are happy to get a break and play for free. The audiences supporting the Indian bands have too changed over the years – earlier it was all about how precisely a band could pull off the �Highway Star' star solo, thankfully, now it's about the originals. Though the audience may not be booing the local bands the way they did a few years ago, they still remain the most discerning lot.

With scores of challenges, emergence of new trends is obvious – like growth of smaller and affordable music venues, performances by inexpensive international acts, tribute acts, and experimentation by organizers on various models that help boost their capital and the number of the listeners. Though everybody wishes that a Clapton or a Santana plays, the listener habits till now also suggests they are skeptical to pay a high price to watch their hero's. And while it's still remains a long way before Indian bands to start choosing music as their livelihood, the only way out, perhaps, is dancing to these different beats.