News & Cues: Celebrating indie music and film via Indiearth Xchange 2014

I had the wonderful opportunity of being invited to participate in the annual trade event, the Indiearth Xchange 2014 hosted at the Park Hotel, Chennai between December 5th and 7th, 2014. This post is a brief summary of the insights I gained from 3 days packed with panel discussions, workshops and performances.

Indiearth Xchange 2014; hand chain from SOZO

Indiearth Xchange 2014; hand chain from SOZO

What is Xchange?

Xchange is an annual trade event for independent musicians, film-makers and members of the media, hosted by Indiearth. To those of you who are not familiar with it, Indiearth is a platform dedicated to connecting independent musicians and film-makers across the Indian sub-continent, with various media and performance opportunities. 2014 witnessed the third edition of Indiearth Xchange, which featured about 27 conference sessions and workshops; 27 musical showcases; 26 film-screenings and over 200 domestic and international delegates coming from various spaces in the independent arts scene, and congregating for 3 days at the Park Hotel, Chennai.

Sessions and performances that really stood out for me:

The need to create networks between different participants of the independent music, film and media scene was an underlying theme that cut across nearly all sessions of the conference and made obvious the distinction, Indiearth CEO Sonya Mazumdar reiterates time and again – being independent doesn’t necessarily mean staying disconnected and isolated.

On the first day of the event, attendees witnessed an exciting discussion that took place among venue owners, supporting live performances. In the panel, were Krish Kumar (SMVSR – India), Mahesh Mathai (Blue Frog – India) and Frederic Robbe (L’Astrolabe – France) with Sonya Mazumdar, moderating the discussion. This session raised some interesting questions that deserve some thought – To what extent do sponsorships play a role, and is there a need to rope in more corporate sponsors? Is the live performances scene struggling due to a lack of resources or a lack of talent? How and when does the indie scene start showing interest in cities and towns besides the metros? Is there need for more organized networking among venues across the country, and of course finally, do the artists and managers themselves, need to take a larger initiative with respect to growing the live performances scene?

Another riveting session dealt with media and the indie arts. Titled “Making the Space for Culture”, the panel for this session comprised Radhika Bordia (NDTV – India), Nikhil Udupa (Pepsi MTV Indies – India), Ajay Prabhakar (Score Magazine – India) and Verhnon Ibrahim (Independent Media – India). This session had a lot of exciting interaction between the panellists and the audience members, with many arguments on why and what deserves the attention of ‘mainstream media’. Working their way up from basic questions such as whether indie music ceases to be indie, once supported by mainstream media; the panel attempted to explore and explain the media’s role in content dissemination by way of emphasizing the fact that media picks up on trends, and may not necessarily be creating the trends itself. In a sense, re-iterating the questions asked in the earlier session with venue owners, the panel asked whether there was a need for better content, which might in turn ensure better representation of the indie scene on mainstream media avenues.

(L-R) Sonya Mazumdar, Gerald Seligman, Min Kim and Romuald Requena

(L-R) Sonya Mazumdar, Gerald Seligman, Min Kim and Romuald Requena

One of the most insightful sessions of the conference took place on Day 2 of the Xchange and consisted of a panel featuring Gerald Seligman (Borneo World Music Expo – Malaysia), Min Kim (Asia-Pacific Music Meeting – Korea), Romuald Requena (Sakifo – Reunion) and Sonya Mazumdar (Indiearth Xchange – India). With an emphasis on highlighting the utility and existence of regional networking in the indie music space, this session really drove home the essence of the Xchange, namely the need for collaboration instead of competition and an emphasis on strengthening domestic and international networks so as to enable the growth of audiences, across borders.

The session on Digital Journalism featuring a panel comprising Priyanka Shetty (WhatsTheScene – India), Anita Iyer (Soundbox – India), Anand Sethuraman(Piping Hot Review – India) and Rohit Panikker (Deccan Chronicle – India) offered interesting insights into the interaction between indie artists and indie media. Besides grappling with the challenges of creating a sustainable business, the panel also shared their experiences with having to ensure responsible journalism and the need to strike a balance between producing engaging content, without compromising on quality or objectivity.

Maya Kamaty

Maya Kamaty

Finally, the workshop conducted by Samir Bangara of Qyuki was very helpful in letting participants in on the workings of SEO and the monetization of digital content. Through a number of examples, digital and international, Samir did a great job of guiding the participants around the creation, monetization and management of Youtube channels, with of course, an insight into the work of MCNs or Multi-Channel Networks.

With respect to performances, Maya Kamaty from Reunion pretty much blew the audience away with her amazing compositions and alluring dance moves. Bangalore based bands, ‘Parvaaz’ and ‘Until we Last’ created some beautiful, live music with the former just exuding energy through their compositions and the latter creating gorgeous soundscapes.

What did they get right?

As you might have gathered, Indiearth Xchange made an attempt to be comprehensive and inclusive with respect to the acts, screenings, workshops and sessions it curated. Besides reaching out to stakeholders from across the globe, Indiearth also made an effort to include many domestic players from the indie scene, including students. On all three days, it was a delight to see a number of students, especially from Chennai’s KM Music Conservatory and the Asian School of Journalism, participating and engaging in discussions.

What to expect from efforts like the Xchange?

DIY Law Session at Indiearth Xchange 2014 feat Manojna Yeluri from Artistik License

DIY Law Session at Indiearth Xchange 2014 feat Manojna Yeluri from Artistik License

Hopefully, the connections made at Xchange survive well into the next year and the years to come. My only grouse with the Xchange has to do with the overlap of many sessions and the screenings, although it is understandable that conflicts are inevitable considering that a day has only so many hours. Lots of applause for the hardworking Indiearth team considering the effort and care they took in ensuring the comfort of those attending, as well as the smooth functioning of the entire event. Looking forward to next year’s edition of the Xchange as well as efforts towards working for a brighter future for indie music and film.

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