Backstage Pass : Artist Manager Tej Brar On India’s Independent Music Scene.

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We had a chance to pick Tej Brar’s brain, the man behind the artist management agency, Third Culture. He put us up on game regarding his approach and outlook on the music industry. Check it out :

Q) Given that the main revenue stream for artists is live shows, you have put it really well by saying :

“Use your content as a marketing device for your live shows.”

Could you expand a bit more as to how artists can go about this?

Ans. There’s basically two things going on here. The first is that with digital distribution and streaming, revenue from digital downloads and streaming is basically negligible – so that makes those revenue streams basically non-sustainable for an artist to earn a living from. As we have seen in the rest of the world and in India this essentially means that the artist has to turn to live shows to earn a living. Now once an artist puts a release out, there is a certain time frame where that content is relevant and has real impact. Within that window the artist goes on the road to tour behind that material and has the best earning potential off that release. That window in today’s digital world is about a year, at most two years. Once that cycle is complete the artist needs new content in order to be able to draw fans back to their live show, because that is where the money is. Secondly, there are various peripheral content bits that can be made around the primary release (album/single) that help to keep the content relevant, examples of this include behind the scenes, music videos, sync deals or licensing. These peripheral bits can extend the longevity of that particular piece of content.

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Q) Could you expand a bit on an artist’s “Long Term vs. Short Term” goals and how they can take decisions through that?

Ans. The first thing is that whatever is listed down under either of these categories should be practical. For example, someone who hasn’t release a track yet saying I want to be Steve Aoki in the next year is not going to happen. Short term goals are goals that can be achieved in the next 6 to 12 months. Things that can be achieved if the right decisions are made during that time frame. Examples can include, finishing and releasing X album, or playing X number of shows, or getting X company to endorse me, or putting on a show at X venue.

Long term goals are loftier goals, they are the ones that take a serious amount of preparation and hard work in order to achieve. These typically will take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to achieve and are basically a culmination of an individual or group’s aspirations as an artist(s). Examples of these would be signing to a big international label, touring internationally, having enough income coming in for music to be an entirely sustainable full-time job, becoming popular enough within India that they are now an important part of the cultural landscape. An artist really needs to sit down and think about what is important to them, then it’s the manager’s job to chart out that trajectory and what it is going to take to get there. The short term goals that need to be ticked off, in order to achieve the long term ones. The artists needs to be realistic about their expectations and the manager needs to be practical in their approach.

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Q) In today’s YouTube savvy market, artists are finding it tough to put regular content to stay digitally relevant. How can artist concentrate on their creative pursuits and still find balance in putting out content and expand their audience?

Ans. I actually think that YouTube and other digital platforms have actually made it much much easier than before to distribute content and remain relevant. Now, artists and content creators can speak directly to their audience without having to go through a traditional channel like television or radio. They can do it how they want whenever they want. It allows them a lot more freedom to express themselves creatively. To answer your question above on how to find balance, I think the best way to do that is to make their audience part of their creative process, show them what it’s like when working on material with behind the scenes stuff, vlogs, just including them in the journey. That is, of course if the artist is comfortable with that. Otherwise, what we have found quite successful is having someone else who updates social media, just so the artists doesn’t have to worry about that at all. It’s taken off their plate entirely. 

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Q) Nucleya is Nucleya, and his shows are absolutely kickass. But how should say singer-songwriters or the more eclectic and ambient producers go about in putting on a great live show?

Ans. I don’t think it’s all about flash or gimmicks. I think it’s really about what the artist wants to express and how they want to showcase their art in a live setting. There are some incredibly talented people out there in the independent space who are going incredible work in the indie live space and I think the more eclectic and ambient producers can look to them to collaborate and put in something really incredible. Some examples are Ground Control and what they are doing with lighting. Studio Moebius with visuals and animation, Sourya Sen and UT with visuals, VJ Zombie. There’s a bunch of really exciting collaborators. I think it’s important for an act to want to put on more than just a basic stage show and I think the audience is ready for it as well. For example, Nicholson did an entire show where they were just silhouettes behind a mosquito netting that has visuals projected onto it. The artist needs to want to go that extra mile.

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Nicholson/LANDS’s live set-up.

Q) With good quality music being put out every other week, why do the artists across India still have to fight over the same five venues? Is the lack of venues because it is not economically viable from a business standpoint or is the reason something else?

Ans. Those venues are usually being fought over because they are considered the taste maker venues. They are the venues that are usually being frequented by hipper kids who will go on and influence their friends to maybe check out a new act or explore a new sound. Also, a lot of other venues will look at those 5 venues for programming inspiration and take cues from what they are programming. So those venues become important in breaking acts and setting trends, but they are certainly not the only venues to play in the country. I personally think that once an artist has played there once or twice, it’s important to look outside of that circuit and see what other venues and cities might be out there for them to explore. Also, I think the large issue that you indicated in the question about good quality music being put out every week, does not really relate to venues but instead related to how that music is being distributed. I think it’s more important for independent artists to focus on their digital distribution strategies than to worry about playing at one of the “it” venues.

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Q) Is India’s music scene a ‘Bombay-only’ party? How should artists from different parts of the country navigate without say Bombay, or Bangalore, or Delhi’s infrastructure?

Ans. It is absolutely NOT a Bombay only party. Sure, Bombay is where a lot of artists migrate to in order to network and find other work – but the B and C tier cities are really where the opportunity is both as an artist and as a promoter. Bombay is oversaturated as are most of the big metros across the country. Also, there is a sense of people being a little jaded in those big metros, they think they’ve seen and experienced it all already, if not within India then outside of it while travelling. In B and C cities, the game is wide open. There are large numbers of young people who are interested in exploring alternative music and culture. As an artist you can build your own audience first hand and really become a hometown hero and as a promoter there are so many great acts that you could bring down and introduce to that market. Artists wise, everyone is up to explore outside of the big 4 metros they have been touring for the last five years, so it’s really a promoters dream if they play their cards right.

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Q) What message would you give artists who believe they can’t push beyond the ‘glass ceiling’ of the India’s independent music scene? How should they be navigating and make decisions in their careers?

Ans. I think it’s important for them to try and look at the industry from outside the box. Look at how the systems are set up right now and think, how can we do this differently? What else can be done here that hasn’t been done before? It’s really important to not just accept that things are a certain way, but to question why they are that way. Once you start doing that then all kinds of other possibilities become apparent. Other ways of doing things that you could not see right up at the front. Super important to challenge the norm and experiment with other models and ways of doing things and that when the envelope will get pushed.

 

Thank you for reading! If you want to talk about a band you love, or a band you think everyone should know about, please leave a comment or send in your mails to indiebullhorn@gmail.com. You can also mail us if you have any articles you’d like to send. To see more cool stuff like interviews, album reviews, release updates and lots more, stay tuned. Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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