| 13 Apr 2024
Live music - juggling the highs and lows

With physical sales of the record industry registering a constant decline of almost 44 per cent each year from 2000 through 2007, the live music business gave new hope to organisers, artistes and listeners alike. With sponsors offering 360 degree deals to the artiste, this seemed to be the best option as the record music industry went through the slump. In 2008, the period till September was good, but in the following months, many concerts got postponed or cancelled. The 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai added to the trouble already created by global recession. Industry experts believe that worse is still to come and the situation can only improve by the end of 2009.

Not only organisers, bands too are having a tough time as many have to adjust to the new scenario. "Seven of our shows got cancelled in December (2008) itself," confirmed electronic dance music producers Jalebee Cartel. The band had to let go almost 45 per cent of their earnings, during the year end. "Organisers have been requesting us to cut down due to the recession we too are being considerate" they add.

Pt Shashi Vyas who recently organised 'Heartbeats', a concert featuring Sivamani, U Shrinivas, Shankar Mahadevan and Ustad Zakir Hussain, says, "Considering the situation, classical musicians have been 'accommodative'".However, E-18 CEO Farhad Wadia feels otherwise. "I don't think the artistes have reduced their prices. In addition, we now have to invest in the security, get armed guards, instal metal detectors – the situation has become quite sensitive. See what happened to the English cricket team," he points out. "I think the live business must have incurred losses of more than Rs 40-50 million this year," he notes.

During the year, E-18 organised rock fest I-Rock and towards the year end, arranged the Jethro Tull and Anoushka Shankar concert series. However, the much promoted Deff Leppard concert did not see the light of day. There were also rumours suggesting that the Deff Leppard India tour concert was called off due to lack of sponsors. But Wadia counters, "Deff Leppard didn't get cancelled for lack of sponsors we cancelled it due to security reasons." Apart from I-Rock, there were also reports suggesting that one of the sponsors had backed out of the Great Indian Rock at the last moment. Nevertheless, the event proved to be quite successful, especially among the metal heads. Besides, GIR also introduced two international bands Freak Kitchen and Satricon. The sponsorship for college level gigs suffered the most, leaving only the IIT's and the IIM's (the only educational institutes) to get good sponsors despite the recession.

Live music venues have also faced a similar fate; there are fewer audiences and even fewer funds. "We have noticed that people coming to the pubs have lessened, but last weekend was a positive sign," avers label and studio Blue Frog co-owner Ashu Phatak. It is believed that many sponsors are backing out from investing in live concerts at the moment. "In this period sponsors are not ready to invest in anything. There are lay-offs, cost cuts everywhere" adds Wadia. Though big events had to face the music, some were lucky enough to pull off things as planned. Ashu Phatak successfully completed his mini tour, and is now set to head to the SXSW festival, Texas. "I just returned from a mini India tour and sponsors were quite willing they (the sponsors) still need exposure."

Blue Frog is known to conduct music acts of all kinds. In the past, they showcased some brilliant international acts to the live music hungry city audience. To add to Blue Frog's accomplishments, the album 'Floating Point' by guitarist John Mclaughlin released under Blue Frog Records in June 2008 was nominated for a Grammy in the 'Best Contemporary Jazz Album' category. However in the past month, even Blue Frog had too make quite a few cancellations, "There was an American band that was supposed to play, but that got cancelled – they were advised not to fly to India till January." That's not all - the Jazz Yatra of which Blue Frog were the co-organisers was also postponed due to the terror attacks.

Referring to global recession, Owen Roncon of Oran Juice Entertainment, who has been intrumental in organising worldclass concerts in the country, feels that there are both negative and positive aspects to this situation. He explains, "The negative is that we have very less money to spend, but on a positive note, these situations have made us very proactive and forced us to think of different means to counter them." He adds, "We have realised that artistes are bigger than the brand, people do not come to watch the brands they come to watch the artistes."

If that is the case for western music, one wonders what the classical music scene is like. "Getting sponsors has definitely become a little more difficult but there have been many brands which patronise Indian classical music and we have received consistent support from them," says Pt. Shashi Vyas. "But one cannot compare the classical music acts with the international- both cater to different audiences," he adds. In october, Oran Juice Entertainment organised a charity event initiated by Farhan Akhtar, Ritesh Sidhwani, Arjun Rampal and the Nargis Dutt Memorial Charitable Trust called 'Rock On for Humanity'. The event reportedly generated a whopping Rs 32 million.

The month of August was a treat for musicians, when Bhargava Music and Sandeep Chowta brought together Australian guitarist Brett Garsed and drummer Virgil Donati for a concert –cum-workshop gig which proved to be quite a hit among musicians. There were no tickets or big sponsors here, "We do this for the love of music and not for branding," asserts Brijesh Bhargava, the proprietor of Bhargava Music. When most of the concerts rely on travel, online or hospitality partners, this gig-cum-workshop didn't have any.

Bhargava Music displayed their new products for the musicians - since it was more of a musician's concert. But the question is - who pays for the costs like travel, accommodation and remuneration of these musicians? "Bhargava music pays," says Brijesh Bhargava. "Most artistes don't reduce their prices, but I have noticed that they do have 'special' prices especially if it's India," he adds. When most organisers are keeping their plans of bringing new artistes on hold, Brijesh Bhargava is hopeful that he can organise at least two concert –cum-workshop gigs in each metropolis in the coming year.

This year's new players in the live music business scene were BEAMS or Bajaj Entertainment Arts Music & Sports – a strategic business unit of Bajaj International Pvt. Ltd, a part of the established Bajaj group having a annual turnover in excess of US$5 billion. BEAMS signed up with three talented artists, including a Canadian singer-songwriter Lorelei Loveridge, an enthusiastic Indian musician Jataveda Banerjee and the multi-talented Dave Crane. In mid August, BEAMS also organised a concert featuring jazz pianists Jean Francois Maljean, sitar exponent Niladri Kumar and Bollywood's best discovered vocal talent Sonu Niigaam, in Mumbai.

Television music channel Vh1 also saw the potential of live entertainment and started the Rayban Vh1 Global Music Xpress - the purpose was to bring six artists and conduct 24 gigs over the period of nine months. GMX was promoted extensively through visibility across viacom networks, channels and websites. The first artsite they got was hip hop artiste Jay sean followed by British song-writer Laura Critchley.

On the clssical front, the 56th 'Sawai Gandharva Mahotsav' was held between 11 to 14 December in Pune. Many Well known musicians and practising artists gathered to pay homage to the great musician. The festival saw performances by artistes like Pt Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor), Pt Jasraj (Vocals), Pt Rajan and Pt Sajan Mishra (Vocals), Pt Ronu Mujumdar (Flute) to name a few. Every year, the festival is organised by the disciples of Sawai Gandharva with the support of Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal and continues for four days. This year, however it was special - Pune's own Pt. Bhimsen Joshi had just been chosen for 'Bharat Ratna' - India's highest civilian honour.

2008 was definitely not the best for Bangalore – the country's rock capital, as far as live music goes. "You dare not ask what's the live music scene like to anybody, the new rules have changed everything," says Gina Braganza, Owner of Opus, one of the prime venues in the city. It is believed that many pub owners who conducted live acts are now investing in other businesses. "People in Bangalore are dying for live entertainment – there's huge scope for live gigs but the government rules have ruined things," says organizer Arpan Peter. Despite the Bangalore police stretching the late night hour deadline by one hour, the scene in the IT city still looks very bleak.

With low budgets and mass cancellations, event managers in the city have never had it so tough. Many feel the time till August- September was great for the live act scene, until the government changed the rules and disallowed music in indoor events where liquor was served. "The present government here is too narrow minded we can't do much about it," adds Peter. International bands are showing great interest in India, especially Bangalore. Owing to the response heavy metal band Iron maiden got during their India tour, the band again plans to perform in February- for the second time. Far from terror tremors, Shillong in North east witnessed two internationally acclaimed bands 'White Lion' and 'FireHouse' perform together for the first time, on 13 December 2008 in front of a record 20,000 fans. Shillong has proved to be a great place for bands, with consistent number of listeners this was Firehouse's second coming in Shillong. The tickets were modestly priced at Rs 400. It is well known that the king of Tripura, Pradyot Bikram Kishore is himself is an avid fan of rock music and has previously been involved in organizing shows such as Mr Big, Firehouse and MLTR. The metropolitans surely have a rocking crowd but its the rocking 'king' like Pradyot Bikram Kishore they miss!

Most organisers start putting their live acts together from July onwards. The unpredictable monsoon season doesn't allow much to be done - at least not the open air concerts. Bangalore, apparently the country's rock capital has too many restrictions - be it inside or outside. Protests from the bands haven't changed much, the situation continues the way it is - there's no freedom to jam and no longer festivals like Freedom Jam. One of the things that has affected the live concert business the most were the bomb blasts and terror attacks. On the flipside, there were also a few who used this as the reason to cover-up lack of sponsorships. Industry experts believe that the situation is likely to improve by the end of 2009. "Post terror attacks, security issues have surfaced, people are not in a mood to enjoy, this is not been the best of the year for live concerts. we hope that the next quarter would be better," says an optimistic Owen Roncon of Oran Juice Entertainment.