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Rock around the clock

(Published in "Studio Systems" Jan-Feb 2000)


The Leviís Great Indian Rock 2001

The mother of all rock shows took place in Bombay on the 13th and 14th of January and it reaffirmed my belief in the determination of the Indian youth to pursue their passion and overcome all hurdles even though there almost certainly seems to be no clear gains at the end!

Congratulations to all the musicians who put up great performances and with the sound and lights of world standard, thanks to Roger Drego, the show looked and sounded as good as any that I have seen in the developed world. The RSJ and presented Rock Festival saw many thousands of patrons who all seemed to be having a great time and I think that it was the first time after the Simla Beat contests of the 70s that Bombay heard rock bands from all parts of the country, all on one stage and in a single event. Managing the talent from all over the country, and the thousands of organisational details, must have been a nightmare. Truly a tremendous effort on the part of the organisers and to top it all, it all went off relatively smoothly.

On the first day we had Voices-Shillong, Ashotoreth-Delhi, Zero-Mumbai. Bombay Black-Mumbai and Orange Street-Delhi while the second day saw Atma-Kochi, Envision-Delhi, Cadenza-Darjeeling and Parikrama-Delhi. Pentagram-Mumbai put on a powerhouse performance as the guest performers for the last day. The winners were Bombay Black, who go on to perform at a Rock festival in California, USA on an all expenses paid trip. Just a word about the Delhi bands. They were truly great, and after this festival it seems clear to me that the capital of Rock in India has moved to Delhi. Long live Rock níRoll!

Rock through the ages

Rock has been alive in India since its birth in the west, when Bombay saw numerous "Beat" shows in packed auditoriums, and jam sessions in smoky restaurants. Iím sure the other metros of the country had their own Rock/Pop artistes and venues, and for years we heard about the vibrant western music live scene of Calcutta. As the years went by, the bands seemed to flourish and every college social and New Yearís eve dance saw the mushrooming of more and more bands, With names like the Reaction, The Jets, Beat 4 and later the Combustibles, the Savages and even later the Riot Squad, Velvette Fogg, Atomic Forest etc., the music scene was vibrant and kicking, without the aid of MTV and the hundreds of TV channels that exist today. In the eighties we saw bands like the Rock Machine, Sabre Tooth, Exodus etc who rocked the scene. However, I feel that it was in the late eighties, that the local rock music scene started going downhill. The audience became raucous and violent, and the auditoriums banned the staging of rock shows. The very people who love rock, became itís biggest enemy and served to dig itís grave. The negativity was puzzling and even today, the depraved attitude of the audience to try and hurt the performers by throwing bottles etc. is ridiculous. Rock suddenly became synonymous with anti social behaviour, and even the Maharashtra government moved in to stop it. I have always believed that it is a small minority that has given Rock the bad name, but this has virtually served in banning it from the mainstream. Rock musicians like me went on to work in advertising, TV and films, and the live scene further dwindled with strict police restrictions on noise pollution etc. Rock has also suffered a major setback in the West, where it has seen dwindling sales as compared to other genres. However rock has been embraced by other genres, and rock influenced hip hop, pop or country music, has become common. In any case, it is time for the next new star on the western Pop music scene to arrive.

Having Britney Spears as the new superstar does not brook well for the future of World Pop music!

The rise and fall of Music stores.

The last few years have seen an incredible increase in the opening of superstores selling music in Bombay. Besides the ever popular renovated Rhythm House, we have the Groove at Eros, Planet M in VT and Hiradandani, the T series store in Bandra, Hi hat in Khar, the Music Unlimited Cafe, Juhu etc. This retailing revolution was indeed a welcome change from the earlier method of music buying. We now have huge, clean, modern air conditioned stores with CD listening posts, huge collections and knowledgeable sales people. The whole lifestyle of music listeners finds an outlet at these stores, and you can buy your music and relax with some coffee and snacks. Some of them also sell books related to music and musicians, and the ambience is pleasant and invigorating. Then suddenly, two of them closed down recently, within a few months of each other,

Truly a telling story on the shaky music business of today. The recording company executives talk about the clutter in the market, and the lack of originality in the products. Frankly, it is they who are to blame, as a lot of them would not know a good product if it was right under their noses! Also the sidelining of the artistes in the marketing of the albums, have resulted in the promotion of pretty bodies who will fade faster than their looks. Surely it should be obvious to the head honchos, that good marketing cannot save a bad product. Still the emphasis on Marketing far outweighs A&R. Their relative budgets should give you an idea of the importance that Recording Company CEOs place on Marketing, as it is always many times greater. Media is expensive, but so is good music and if a fraction of the tens of lakhs spend on marketing and advertising can be spend on the Music itself, you will see results that will far outweigh the investment. Good music sells itself, and the market is not so stupid as to be fooled by gloss all the time.

Unfortunately, in order to recognise good music, you need skills that are not taught in business schools. To know the pulse of the music market at all times, is indeed an incredibly difficult task and needs people who are in touch with the masses and with their own feelings. The sensitivity levels have to be high, and such people are few and far between. These people can often be poor communicators, and this is precisely where the skills acquired in business schools help. The MBAs are good communicators, and are used to working in corporate structures, and that is the reason they score.

Marketing and Advertising in the Music business

In all fairness to the Marketing professionals in the Indian Music business, I have to say that Marketing and Advertising has become a very important aspect of the Music Industry in todayís media driven world. A lot of them are doing a great job, and are very successful in what they do. My complaint is just this lopsided emphasis, which needs to be corrected if this industry has to produce great and long lasting music. As Peter Asher said at the MTV Music Forum in Mumbai recently " My idols in the Music Business are all former A&R men who went on to be CEOs of their companies". I guess it will always have to be the music that counts.

The role of Marketing in the Music business has steadily increased in importance all over the world, and has also resulted in artistes who are naturally adept at it to succeed in this competitive business. However it does not follow that they are necessarily the best. At times, an artiste like Madonna would emerge who, with her marketing wizardry, succeed in ruling the music charts of the world for decades, through smart collaborations and the clever use of media hype. These are the artistes who have expanded the world of Pop to include films, books, fashion, photographs, art and theatre. The whole lifestyle of the artiste serves to guide their business interests, and the whole world is tuned to their various dalliances! Hats off to these wizards who have made life interesting for millions of people all over the world! Yet Madonna always tries to make strong musical statements, and stretches her creativity in order to be on the cutting edge. She knows that the source of her power lies in the music that she makes, and she will always try to be different and new. This is the secret of her success.

In the West, artiste management is a well accepted practice, and the selling aspect of the business is taken care, on behalf of the artiste, by professionals who would interact with professionals from the recording company. An artiste would not be caught dead negotiating with his recording company, unless he is with his manager, lawyer and CA. In fact, the recording company would insist on proper representation as their contracts are ironclad and cannot be broken. They know that an unhappy artiste cannot make great music.

Unfortunately in India, Artiste Management is still in the hands of shady star secretary types, but this is bound to change as soon as the artiste educates himself, and realises the importance of good Management in his career.

Underworld nexus

The arrest of Bharat Shah has send shivers up the spine of the entire entertainment industry in India. It seems ridiculous that one man can control so much, in an activity that wants to call itself an industry. Surely the concentration of so much power in one hand, is a sure case of things being wrong and yet we always glorify this impropriety, and hero worship the "successful at any cost" types. The last case in India was Harshad Mehta, who turned the stock markets of India topsy-turvy with his arrest. On the other hand, in the "exploitative" capitalistic West, the AOL-Warner Bros. combine has taken more than a year to be ratified! I guess the ghost of Feudalism refuses to leave the shores of India inspite of years of Ďfreedom", and it will still be some years before we can call ourselves a successful democracy.

God bless India.

Nandu Bhende

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