Real India, Real Music

17 Sep,2013


By Rahul Sachitanand


In mid-September, some 3,000 people are expected to make a 450-km road journey from Guwahati in Assam (or consider equally risky routes by flight or train) to make it to Ziro in central Arunachal Pradesh.


They aren’t tourists discovering the charms of the Northeast, they’re music fans headed to the Ziro Festival of Music in this small town about 150 km from the state capital Itanagar. About two dozen bands and a sprinkling of local folk bands are expected to play at this single-stage venue.


For a country slowly but surely warming up to the possibilities of music festivals, the likes of Ziro are a sign of their growing popularity. People aren’t just turning up at the occasional music show they’re spending up to a week making the journey to and from distant places like Ziro. “For a lot of people this is like an adventure with good music thrown in,” says Anup Kutty, an organiser of this festival.


Shows such as Bacardi NH7 Weekender and Sunburn have laid the foundation for smaller festivals to take root. Over the past decade, these festivals have attracted a loyal audience, who act as brand ambassadors for the events, and attract more music lovers to festivals nationwide.


“We are all about treating the 2,000 people who came to year 1 of our event well,” says Vijay Nair, a founder of Only Much Louder, the event management firm which organises the NH7 Weekender. The festival will take place from October to December across Pune, Bangalore, NCR and Kolkata.


Shailendra Singh, joint managing director of Percept, the organiser of Sunburn across four cities (it drew 150,000 attendees in 2012), sniffs at the competition in India.


“We like to benchmark ourselves on a global scale…we’re the largest dance music festival in Asia and the fourth-largest globally,” he says. Rather than just being about a music festival, Sunburn is one big party (especially in Goa, its flagship event), according to the organisers, with people from 40 nationalities attending last year.


According to VG Jairam, joint managing director, Fountainhead Entertainment and director, Oranjuice Entertainment, the past four years have seen a noticeable increase in the interest for live music. “The emergence of conventional and non-conventional venues for live music has led to a healthy demand for both home-grown and international live entertainment in the country,” he says. In addition, Indian audiences are also open to trying out and following Indian talent.


T Venkat Vardhan, founder and managing director of DNA Networks, has been part of the live music industry’s evolution for the past two decades, having played host to almost every global musician to do a show in India. Now, he’s senses that the audience isn’t just keen to listen to these chartbusters, but also to local musicians. To try to tap the opportunity in rock music for instance, he hosted Rock ‘N India, a festival, which featured global giants such as Iron Maiden and Slayer besides local bands. “Crowds have gotten more discerning in their tastes. As promoters we need to evolve,” he says.


Now, Mr Vardhan is looking to expand his presence in music festivals with an electronic dance music show of his own called Sound Awake, the first edition of which was held last year. The festival drew some 15,000 attendees and Mr Vardhan expects a bigger show this year.


With more local musicians branching out beyond the conventional covers of popular Western tunes, and the internet giving them a cost effective medium to distribute their music, their popularity has grown. Says Fountainhead’s Mr Jairam, “Indian audiences are opening up and following local talents.”



While people are experimenting with their music choices, promoters know that there’s little guarantee of success.


Entertainment industry veteran Sushil Chhugani knows quite a bit about hosting music festivals. Five years ago, a few friends and he hosted the Ladakh Confluence to try to bring musicians to that distant part of the country. While year one went well (4,000 attendees and 35 acts), the show struggled thereafter with regulatory and political issues running it aground.


It isn’t easy running a festival of any scale. According to various estimates, it takes around 20 permissions to get a gig off the ground. Some states such as Arunachal Pradesh are welcoming (The Ziro fest is held in association with the state’s tourism department) while others can be notoriously finicky, especially with environmental clearances. Then, there’s the delicate art of balancing your line up with well-known artistes, while making space for emerging talent. Third, there is the science of hosting a music festival. OML’s Mr Nair says his team auditions 125-150 catering units before choosing 25 for their shows. “We treat it like a brand…we curate every little part of the festival,” he says.


Despite the efforts of an organiser,a curve ball can bring a festival to its knees. Storm, India’s largest camping and music festival in Coorg (best known for growing 50% of India’s coffee), was a nonstarter the first time in 2011, due to an unseasonal deluge. Trucks carrying equipment and buses bringing people couldn’t make it to the venue.


Despite this blow, Lavin Uthappa, managing director, Liquid Space, the show’s organiser, was undaunted. The second attempt in 2012, had two stages, 36 artists and 3,500 people, and in 2013 four stages, 40-plus artistes and over 6,000 music lovers.


“Festivals provide a mix of various genres of music, adventure and loads of fun activities where the whole family can take part,” says Mr Uthappa. “The line-up in terms of strength as well as talent certainly grew… we also added a never-seen-before collaboration between Shankar Mahadevan and Indian Ocean.” To try to stand out in a competitive market for music festivals, Storm focuses on billing itself as an environment-friendly camping destination.


From coffee country to Naukuchiatal (lake of nine corners) in Nainital, Uttarakhand, there’s seemingly few places music fans won’t travel for a good gig. In this case, it’s the Escape Festival of Music and Art held in May every year with the pristine lake as its backdrop. Started in 2009 with barely 60-70 attendees, this festival saw over 4,000 people make the trip in 2013. “Escape was not intended to be a mass audience event, but rather catering to a smaller niche group of musicians, artists and aficionados,” says Lalrinawma ‘Mama’ Tochhawng, the festival director.


Despite the promise of hosting a live music festival in India, hurdles abound. OML’s Mr Nair says that there’s a temptation to ape a successful event like Weekender or Sunburn by organisers of emerging events. “You need to do something interesting and arresting,” he argues.


“There are a 100 different ways you can produce and position a show.” The problem with the me-too shows is that all the stakeholders bands, audience and sponsors quickly lose interest.



The Damocles’ sword hanging over festival organisers today is sponsorship, which accounts for at least 50% of the show’s revenues. Ziro’s Mr Kutty says that the festival has been struggling with sponsors, even though it signed up adventure gear maker Woodlands to support its event. “It is hard to convince a sponsor that a music festival in Arunachal Pradesh is a good investment,” he admits. Escape too has struggled on this front, given its focus away from mainstream talent.


Mr Jairam, whose firm organises shows such as Live From the Console and Mahindra Blues Festival, too thinks organisers have plenty to think about. “There is still a mismatch between ticket revenues and cost of talent acquisition,” he says. “Live entertainment cannot just survive on ticket revenues alone.”


While music festivals have sprouted around the country to tap this audience in new and live music, keeping the show going year after year remains the biggest challenge. For every Weekender and Sunburn that grows with every edition, there are many festivals which die a quiet death, starved of funds and interest from fans and musicians alike. Ensuring that their festivals are well positioned and have enough sponsor backing for the long haul will be the biggest challenge for organisers yet.


Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2013, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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One response to “Real India, Real Music”

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