Media Talks Back: Priyanka Shetty
A picture says a thousand words, as the old phrase goes. The iconic image of Paul Simonon from The Clash smashing his bass guitar is an image that will forever stay etched on the pages of rock music history books. The slightly more disturbing image of Ozzy Osborne biting the head off a bat is something one quite literally has to see to believe. The image of Hendrix covering his Stratocaster with lighter fluid, smashing it, and setting it ablaze would make the man an international icon (despite the fact that the first time he tried to pull this stunt he ended up in hospital with burns and a bruised ego – but no one needs to know that).
No matter how hard one might try to describe these dramatic music moments with words – it’s the image that will forever stay engrained in our mind’s eye. It’s the picture that speaks a thousand words.
Priyanka Shetty took this phrase to heart and founded an entire enterprise around these very words – an endeavour designed to support India’s burgeoning independent music culture and showcase Indian talent. An endeavour she calls “What’s The Scene?” – an online portal that photographs performances of both renowned and up and coming Indian musicians.
“During a conversation about the music scene with my friend Sidharth Mohan, who is a musician himself, I realized that despite the fact that there are many talented musicians and bands in the country, not many were aware of them since these musicians were barely getting any visibility on a regular basis”, says Priyanka, “So, the two of us decided to put together a portal that would review music across genres, cover concerts and festivals and write about artists, no matter how big or small, across the country”.
What started off as a team of ten in Bangalore has now flourished into a 130 member army spread out across the country. We chatted more with Priyanka on what the scene really is, and about her contributions to it.
IndiEarth: First of all – can you tell me a bit about your personal relationship with music?
Priyanka: I think the fact that I love and enjoy listening to almost all genres of music has had a subliminal role to play in our early approach towards covering different genres of music without worrying about pleasing a certain target audience. We write about everything from Ghazal concerts to an extreme metal gig and yet manage to keep a loyal reader base that follows us keenly.
IndiEarth: What is the musical vision behind What’s The Scene?
Priyanka: We want to help build an active, cohesive and independent industry for live music in India. While some people insist that we already have one, I think it’s still a work in progress and we’re still in the very early stages of getting there. Covering and writing about the music scene is only a part of the plan in what we intend to do for the scene, there is still so much more that can be done. Four lines of print fame in newspapers and magazines was clearly not enough in helping [a band] build a loyal fan base and keeping fans updated about the band’s activity and progress. There were a few blogs and websites that were dedicated only to a single/limited number of genres.
We started off with a team of 10 in Bangalore and in a few months, we received numerous requests from people in other cities as well who wanted to be a part of this initiative. Today, we have dedicated teams set up in 9 cities across India and are a team of 130 music-lovers who are driven towards making WTS the finest in the field of music journalism in the country. 2014 will hopefully be the year when we’ll be able to contribute substantially in terms of building on the goodwill we’ve earned and taking major steps towards bringing all the elements of the scene together.
IndiEarth: In terms of content – is there a specific reason you’ve decided to place a focus on visual documentation of artists and gigs?
Priyanka: We’re dealing with an audience with short attention spans! The average amount of time a person spends on a website is 3-5 minutes. So a lot of thought has gone into designing our website – making it visually appealing, with a focus on photographs and videos, easily accessible event listings and short news items that make for quick reading. At the same time, if you dig a little deeper, you will find more reading material for the ones who like detailed information. We spend a lot of time in visual documentation of gigs and focus on taking thoughtful, well-executed photographs as well as video content for the ones who don’t prefer lengthy articles!
IndiEarth: How do you choose your content and which acts/bands/events to feature, and offer visibility to?
Priyanka: We keep an eye open for newer, upcoming acts that are in need of visibility. We try to maintain a balance between covering major festivals and regular pub gigs and I think in the last three years we’ve managed to spread our reach geographically as well and are able to present an overall picture of the independent music scene in the country across genres.
IndiEarth: According to you – what should be the ideal relationship between members of the media, and independent musicians and artists?
Priyanka: The most important prerequisite is that, we must not manage the artists we write about! Artist management and music journalism cannot co-exist. There is a measured distance that has to be maintained in order to be objective and stay unbiased. An ideal relationship would be a professional one where we’re easily accessible to each other and work together in relaying accurate information to the target audience.
IndiEarth: How do you find funding for a non-mainstream media venture like What’s The Scene?
Priyanka: It is very difficult. Especially when we’ve abstained from events and artist management and when we’re expected to cover events and festivals for free as the usual do-gooders. But I won’t say there isn’t a way to sustain this without getting into activities that contradict the purpose of music-journalism. Hopefully, the things that we intend to do in 2014 will help make us more self-sufficient in terms of funding.
IndiEarth: Do you believe the media does enough to support independent music culture in India? Where is there scope for growth?
Priyanka: I think we can do so much more. Websites and magazines need to be more unbiased in their approach. Music journalism is a huge responsibility. We are responsible towards our readers who trust us to give them accurate information. We cannot afford to be friends with bands, artists and organizers and write them “good reviews” just to be in their good books. At the same time, we can’t be overly vindictive and resort to sensationalism for increased site hits. We must focus on covering upcoming bands and give them the platform they need. We must encourage musicians and talk about their accomplishments. If an accomplished band with a huge fan following releases a sub-standard album, we must be honest about it. There have been instances where we’ve partnered with festivals and given them honest reviews highlighting the good and the bad aspects of the fest. While they were initially miffed about it, we were pleasantly surprised when the same organizers approached us for a partnership the next year! Organizers, artists, and most importantly, our readers take us more seriously when we put music journalism above everything else.
For more on What’s The Scene, visit www.whatsthescene.com