Discussion 02: Towards a balance between artistic and financial concerns at live music venues in India

Discussion 02
June 26, 2017
New Delhi

People like to listen to a story. These stories are not being told enough because it is an effort to understand new music. Sarthak Kaushik

When?

The second edition of Artists’ Corner took place on June 26, 2017 at Depot48 in New Delhi, where we partnered and co-organized the panel discussion with the venue. This discussion was a milestone for Artistik License, not just because we ventured out of our comfort zone in Bangalore, but also because we collaborated with Depot48’s fantastic and very co-operative team comprising of Girjashanker Vohra, Nishad Pandey and Vikas Narula.

What?

Keeping in mind Artists’ Corner’s purpose of creating a dialogue amongst creative professionals whilst ensuring accountability pursuant to the discussion, the agenda was similar to our earlier Bangalore panel discussion, with a few modifications. In the broad sense, we continued to focus on how venue owners/programmers and musicians balance artistic and financial concerns at live music venues in the country’s capital. Additionally, we looked into the frequency of performances at a venue, audience interaction, timely payments, the need for a third-party manager or booking agent, and professionalism in the music industry.  

Who?

We had four distinct panellists leading the discussion, which was moderated by Artistik License’s founder, Manojna Yeluri. Girjashanker Vohra (sound engineer and co-founder of Depot48) represented venue owners and programmers, Ujwal Nagar (Hindustani classical vocalist, member of Advaita, and teacher) contributed from a musician and academician’s point of view, Sarthak Kaushik (radio jockey and host of Sarthak Café on Radio One, and curator at Teamwork Arts) as our unconventional panellist who was (in his own words) “an outsider with the luxury of a viewpoint”, and the multi-talented Subhadra Kamath (vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and music teacher at Music Basti and One World College of Music).

(L-R) Girja, Ujwal, Sartak, Subhadra and Manojna

The discussion

During the first half, the panellists shared their personal experiences on topics ranging from the exclusivity clause to the risks both venue owners and musicians were willing to take to put up a show.

In programming and curating performances, Girjashanker insisted that diversity of artists was not an issue. Subhadra also felt that at least in the recent past, there were more spaces and opportunities being created around the experience of a live performance, with good acoustics and appreciative audiences.

As a vocalist part of an eight-member band, Ujwal identified two of the biggest problems they faced as the size of the stage, and proper sound systems. He also emphasised on the need for venue owners to foster personal relationships with musicians, take a personal interest in the genre of music played at their venues, and most importantly, to be passionate and knowledgeable programmers.

The exclusivity clause was something that both the panellists and invitees unanimously agreed was no longer an issue. Arjun Sagar Gupta from The Piano Man Jazz Club pointed out that while venue owners would be keen to include the clause to generate more revenue, it wouldn’t be fair to the artists.

Sarthak hit the nail on its head by initiating a heated discussion on the lack of (and need for) a “buffer” in the form of an agent or manager, between artists and venues. Subhadra along with the musicians present at the discussion expressed the lack of professionalism within the industry — most often, no proper legal documentation, contracts or even MoUs exist between the artists and venues — musicians did not receive timely payments, minimum wages had become maximum wages, and there was a looming disparity between cities with respect to payments. This segued well into the open forum discussion.

Open forum

An intermediary body between artists and venues in the form of either a manager or a booking agent was one of the biggest demands. Suyash Gabriel (drummer for multiple bands including MOSKO and The Yellow Bucket) strongly voiced the need for a proper music distribution infrastructure to be in place. The dearth of good managers made expanding the reach of indie music and conversations with venues a difficult one.

There were also apprehensions about the lack of sufficient income by being in the independent music scene as opposed to the commercial, mainstream music industry, as voiced by Anindo Bose (Shadow and Light, Plug ‘N’ Play Studios), amongst others. Sarthak and Ashutosh Sharma (co-founder, Amarrass Records) insisted musicians needed to “soldier on” with conviction in their music.

Srishti Das (Sofar Sounds, Delhi NCR) and Sarthak were two of the many invitees who suggested indie musicians identify the function of their music rather than compare indie music to the commercial Justin Bieber or Coldplay. As Fakhroddin Ghaffari put it, “Do you want to make lots of money or stay true to your art form?”

There was also a point of discussion between Ritwik De (Ghar Ka Records, The Yellow Bucket) and Gaurav Chintamani (Quarter Note Studios, Advaita) on the role and necessity of an album in a band’s career. Gaurav shared some figures relating to Advaita’s investment in albums, implying that the investment simply wasn’t justified. The albums didn’t do much for the band, as people don’t buy albums all that much anymore.

Manta Sidhu (The Manta Sidhu Ensemble) and Jayant Manchanda (bassist with multiple bands, including Kitchensink) both re-emphasized the urgent need for artist managers who were concerned with a band or artist’s journey in the long term, rather than booking agents, who often call themselves artist managers, but are mainly concerned with their own income in the short term.

Takeaways from the discussion

Overall, this edition of Artists’ Corner highlighted the need for collective representation and bargaining, especially in the context of establishing benchmarks with respect to artist or performance fees, and artist management — points that are indicative of the gaps in the contemporary independent music scene infrastructure in Delhi/NCR.

Our key takeaways from the discussion were — the presence of miscommunication between artists and venues, some misrepresentation of genre(s) of music performed, the potential creation of a musicians’ union, and the urgent need for artist managers as opposed to just booking agents.

Discussion 02: Task

Our intention following every Artists’ Corner is to share action points/tasks in order to maintain accountability and direction — this edition revealed the need for a broad and serious rehaul of practices from within the industry, and so to begin with, we would like to hear from musicians in the region, about their expectations from:

  1. Artist management and representation
  2. Each other as a creative collective – this includes relationships between artists, managers, agents, venues and other key stakeholders in the independent music scene.

We aim to collect information via a survey sent out to those who have attended the session, followed by a detailed discussion on our findings in the next edition of Artists’ Corner, Delhi, where we hope to focus on these issues and further streamline the conversation.

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