Discussion 01: Striking a balance between financial and artistic concerns at live music venues in India

Discussion 01
April 12, 2017
Bangalore

Change has to be effected, and only if it starts at a micro-level will it make a difference on a larger scale. — Kabir Ahmed

When?

April 12, 2017 saw the official launch of Artists’ Corner. Amidst the chaos and the rubble (courtesy of the facelift Church Street is currently undergoing), we found a safe space in Rooster Guitars that Akshit Garg (proprietor) very graciously agreed to let us use for our inaugural panel discussion.

What?

After putting considerable thought and research into identifying an area which needed discussion, we ultimately chose to discuss how venue owners and musicians strike a balance between artistic and financial concerns at live music performances in the city.

Who?

Participating in this insightful and productive discussion were panellists Ajay George Joseph (guitarist with the bands Aathma and Space Is All We Have), Arati Rao-Shetty (Vocalist and Head of Programming, The BFlat Bar), Prarthana Sen (City Expansions and Training Co-ordinator, Sofar Sounds), and Suraj Mani (songwriter and frontman of Suraj Mani and The Tattva Trip, and founder of OO Heaven). The panellists brought four diverse perspectives to the table, with our founder Manojna Yeluri moderating the discussion.

(L-R) Manojna (Moderator), Arati (BFlat), Ajay (Guitarist), Prarthana (Sofar Sounds) and Suraj (00 Heaven & Guitarist)

The discussion

The two-hour discussion saw a healthy mixture of difference in opinion as well as much nodding in agreement to the concerns raised. We had Arati and Suraj pointing out the difficulties in running a live music venue, including the expenditures incurred in bringing down musicians from other cities, the redundancy of the exclusivity clause (especially in a city like Bangalore where distance is really measured in terms of traffic), and the importance of making timely payments to performing musicians/bands.

We also had Ajay and Suraj giving us a musician’s point of view, highlighting the uncertainty in a musician’s life — unsure of when and if one would get paid for a performances, doing corporate shows which helps ensure a constant flow of money, listing the pros and cons of an audience that insists on covers over original music, and the trying task of keeping an audience engaged.

Lastly, Prarthana from Sofar Sounds gave us a completely different angle on live performances, where live music is solely about the music, and where the venue and artist line-up are undisclosed prior to the event, with a select few attending these secret gigs. These music performances, as organized by Sofar Sounds, are all about the music; the stature/fame of the performing artists is irrelevant, venues are unconventional, neither the musicians nor the organizing team are paid, and the entire event is crowdfunded.

What did we take away from this discussion?

We definitely learnt a lot from the panellists’ personal experiences, and our invitees played a major role in rounding up the discussion by pointing out some areas which are still unexplored. For example, Mana Contractor (Vocalist and Vocal Instructor at MELA) emphasized the need to raise awareness about the importance of music education in India, and to encourage the faith that a career in music can be a successful one.

Kabir Ahmed (Photographer and Creative Consultant) also mentioned that while panel discussions similar to Artists’ Corner had been organized before, no active steps had been taken at the end of the discussion, with people often just making empty promises. He did, however, appreciate the fact that the panellists and invitees were all from the local Bangalore scene. How can we effect change at a national level if we don’t start on our home turf?

After taking into account the points raised and the suggestions made, we concluded that panel discussions such as Artists’ Corner are of most value if all the attendees are collectively held accountable. Thus, after every discussion, we will propose a task which we will follow up on, to help ensure promises are kept, and steps are taken towards change.

Discussion 01: Task

We had four panellists/invitees at this discussion who hold powerful positions at various performance avenues across the city. They promised to ensure that at least amongst their venues, they would remove the exclusivity clause, allowing musicians to perform at all their venues, which would in turn, see more musicians from other cities performing in Bangalore. We are definitely holding them to their word and shall be closely following the developments on that front.

Update on Task/Action Points:

1. The proposed discussion on the removal of the exclusivity clause along with a preliminary conversation on sharing artists and the inherent expenses to enable their performance, did not take place, as we learnt from our follow up. Unfortunately, this continues to be a sore spot which we hope to touch upon in our next Bangalore edition.

2. Our edition did see the beginning of a working relationship between one of our participants who was able to connect with a venue, in order to transform the former’s premises into a performance venue for an evening. This was a bonus and we were happy to hear about the developments. 

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