Surfing the Crowd: India’s Path to Musical Democracy?

“Music is where democracy lives, every note is equal.” – Vince Gill.

 We used to be the kind of people who thrived in codification; a kind of formulaic existence that promised nothing if not certainty in mediocrity. But it appears the risk-taking virus is spreading rapidly and India’s independent music scene is proving most susceptible to it. Not that anyone is complaining. This is the kind of virus that destroys the little labels or big boxes that many artists could otherwise be forced into in a bid for survival. controlaltdelete2 revisedTo put it simply, Indian crowdsourcing portals like wishberry are proving to be just the democratic approach artists needed to quite literally shatter the proverbial glass ceiling. Given its relative nascence however, we were keen to investigate its sustainability within our own little bubble. So we found the perfect trio to prick it.

Crowd financing is hardly an ancient approach of revenue sourcing but India wasn’t first in line either. Control Alt Delete’s--the gig that allowed fans to pay whatever they wanted to see a stellar lineup of alternative rock bands last September—organizers could perhaps be considered the first to open the floodgates. But did its overwhelming response necessarily translate into the same for independent artists attempting to fund their own projects? “Absolutely,” asserts classically-trained singer/songwriter Vasuda Sharma, who’s fusion project Attuned Spirits managed to raise 5 lacs 60,000, even exceeding her goal in three short months. “If your product along with your presentation is appealing and honest, it will always work.” vasudasharma2Naturally, Aazin Printer (ex-vocalist of Something Relevant) who became the first successful user of the campaign when he tried to fund his debut solo album The Original Mr. Printer, resonates with her sentiment. “It’s bound to help other artists know that there are other avenues/possibilities to do what we love and make it happen,” he adds.

Then again, it’s easy for two musicians with years of exposure and loyal fan bases to feel confident about its possibilities but if we’re looking at this as the spark that ignites the revolution of musical democracy, how viable would it be for a complete newcomer to try the same? Sohail Arora, veteran and representative of the Independent music scene through his alternative booking agency Krunk, not to mention a soon to be a proud wishberry campaigner himself for BBC’s Genomusic project, certainly seems to think so. BBCphotocreditNamanSaraiyarevised“As of now, I think it’s incredibly  viable for anyone. It’s in such a nascent stage that people can promote it within their own circles, keeping their goals realistic. But at some point, as more people attempt to use it, I think the question of how interesting the project is will be far more important than who is doing it. Of course, at that point being a popular artist can only help (case in point, Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ experiment) but I believe if people see potential, they’d like to be a part of a project they want to see flourish.” He shrugs hopefully as he continues with a line of thought i’d begun considering myself: “I know our audience’s mindset isn’t necessarily considered up to par with how things are internationally but I’ve seen it really evolve. I think this is just what our live musicians needed because it’s becoming increasingly hard to achieve those dreams. Sponsors have always preferred to stay clear of direct association with musicians, playing it safe with properties or events and DJs have it much easier so this provides the perfect encouragement. Plus it means more great music for us.”

 Despite the fact that these three make up a reasonably good representation of the current Independent scene, full-fledged bands like alt-rockers The Circus and Spook have also given crowdfunding a shot, even if the latter faced a bit of a reality check when they fell far short of their two lac goal. It would appear that this–setting realistic goals–may be one of the system’s challenges. BBCgenomusicproject1Others include Arora’s belief that “making it worth your supporters’ while by offering creative incentives that people would actually want” or Sharma’s less simplistic viewpoint of: “targeting the right people. Attracting and maintaining the right kind of audience is especially vital in India because the concept is new. As such, it may take a little more time for that collective culture of giving to develop.”

 It’s not just bands that are looking to this light either. Much like Control Alt Delete, other properties and festivals such as parts of Delhi’s multi-media festival Unbox resorted to fan support to make their visions a reality. Plus considering this is a two-way street, audience optimism is just as important. Frequent gig-goers Renuka Fernandes and Bijou Fernandez feel certain they’d be financially supportive of an act they love or even venues they prefer though the latter allows some doubt to creep in. “I don’t think it’ll work with a more general audience. They may be too cynical,” he says.

 One way or the other, guerrilla-styled anything and independence have always shacked up well together. If its love child in this particular case happens to be the promise of more DIY projects by talented, independent artists, why wouldn’t we want to jump on that bandwagon? As it happens, it already appears to be getting pretty full. We can only hope that the wonderfully positive (and cohesive) outlook that seems to be pulling it along doesn’t tire anytime soon.

Mandovi Menon

Mandovi Menon has worked as a journalist with Times Of India Internet Limited, Mid-day and Digit9.0. and on film scripts for production houses such as Pritish Nandy Communications, Full Circle Productions, NuMobster and Visual Narrator. She frequently contributes to some of India's more reputed Indie/Alternative music blogs such as The Wildcity and Border Movement and also freelances for IndiEarth. She has also garnered interviews with eminent artists from Dub FX and Koan Sound to Shaa'ir + Func and Sandunes.

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