| 14 Jul 2024
Mandar Thakur on moving with the Times

MUMBAI: One of the largest conglomerates in the country – Times Group – ventured into the space of music publishing and distribution near to the dawn of the 1990s. The equation had changed with the start of new decade, and pop artists like Baba Sehgal and Alisha Chinai, could not enjoy the same magnitude of space and time on television sets – as in the 1990s. For a country with a fairly voracious appetite and a highly competitive atmosphere, Times Music created an ideology that ensured the right sound reaches the right market.

In 2010, the organisation appointed Mandar Thakur as the Chief Operating Officer, and the young entrepreneur issued a promising and ambitious statement upon his arrival – "I look forward to unlocking the hidden value within the various areas of the music business." It would be unfair to judge if Thakur had delivered on his promises (and a deeper look into Times Music catalog would answer the question), but an interaction with the COO proves the wealth of knowledge he managed to obtain and share.

“I hate the term ‘indie’. ‘Indie’ is a cheap social currency. I would like to call it 'new music', or alternative music. What continues to remain vital, throughout the decades and generations, is the necessity to refine your art. And that is where labels like Times Music are effective. Metadata is the life blood of the digital industry, and, I firmly believe that ‘new music’ is the life blood of the music industry,” spoke Thakur on the ingredients that could reshape the near future of the music industry in the country.

There are no strategies

Thakur rubbishes notions that labels sign artistes with a plan B to rest upon. However, he does believe extensive homework and a detailed understanding of the market play vital roles before associating the label to any musician.

“There is no plan B for any music label. If something works, it works. No one writes strategies at music labels, to be honest. Any label’s job is not to create music. A label’s job is to market, distribute the product and help the musician’s career. Any musician’s career is not the label’s responsibility.”

Musicians have mom-agers, not managers

Several giants of the industry called for labels’ taking over the artist’s booking responsibilities and other factors, thus ensuring proper structure. Thakur has, over the years, emphasised on how ‘only talent’ does not answer one’s craving for success.

“When you look around these days, certain artistes arrive with certain demands. From the label’s perspective, you know the idea will not work. Suddenly, it has started to feel that there are no managers, there are mom-agers. Getting your musician a show is not what makes you a manager. We need a broader perspective. It’s probably world’s biggest mistake is to believe if you have talent, you will be successful. It’s unfortunate to think that talent alone could be the answer to everything. Talent is only good as the consumer’s needs. If you have talent, ensure you are putting it out. You can’t do an MBA and think you have made it large. 500 million people can write a song. But there’s a difference between writing a song and writing a hit.”

For a label, there's only good music and bad music. No genres.  

India tends to adapt to a trend pretty late. And that stood true for the elitism of genres. Although that sounds necessary, and an integral part of the culture, the music labels’ approach towards music is not genre-driven.

“For the record labels, there are no genres, first of all. Genres are created to compartmentalize music. At the end of the day, there’s good and bad music. The competition does not end with genres. People often compare the alternative music scene to the mainstream (Bollywood) music scene. Why does either industry need to trump the other? If 1.1 billion people want Bollywood sound, so be it. Why change it? I mean, you do not have to look far back to understand, that several composers (today) used to be ‘rockstars’ or ‘indie’ musicians.”

Who is anyone to decide what people need?

Mandar Thakur does not beat around the bush. Everybody loves a Robin Hood. But an emerging market - like India, of course – cannot afford to have one, yet, or maybe ever. In an industry where there are no big players, who’s Robin going to target? The independent record labels, the musicians or the disinterested mainstream audience? Mandar Thakur is no Robin Hood, and neither should he. Times are changing, and although they do offer a lot of challenges, options have arrived as well.  

“I have not seen or heard of Baba Sehgal’s new music. But, I am aware, he’s regaining the popularity he had earned in the 90s. Would Times Music want to work with an artist like Sehgal? Why not? We are not here to do charity or create social conscious. Wrong thing to do is have a personal bias towards certain genres or artistes. You cannot predict what people need or want, that’s a childish assumption.”

So, what does Thakur advise to the people involved in the community?

“The way I look at record labels – on one side you help make the content and on other side, you act as the bridge between artistes and consumers. Some labels have a glorified 360 degree view. Others, like us, are narrow and focused. Strategies are structure driven. In India, record labels think whether they want to stay indie or go mainstream. I believe that if you like something and you are in a position to make most of it, then do it. The only people who are successful who do not bother about this rut. Our role has now sort of been – at one point we were end distributors. Now, we are the ‘in between’ agencies who cook everything. Our job is to find someone capable to become a star, and not nurture every talented guy there is.”

The sound of Bollywood has reformed today, partly because of the fact that most of the musicians from the ‘scene’ have found a way into Bollywood. Not only has the sound of Bollywood reformed, the model has too. The difference today is the film is not dominated by five or six people in every category. With multiple composers for a single album, film music allows exposure to a wider audience. The industry is going back to simpler melodies. The level of maturity in writing of the music is encouraging – Bollywood or otherwise. The music has gone beyond cheesy songwriting and compositions. People are multi-genre composers now. Consumers have multi-genre tastes now. Writers in Bollywood have melodies and tunes that resonate among millions of people. Just writing a song is not enough, as Thakur suggests, refining and working with right bunch of people is equally vital.

“Strictly speaking about Bollywood music, it's a cycle. They have been churning material, writing music in a particular manner for years and years. Touring and all is cute, but keep refining your art,” he finishes.