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A day job for day dreamers
About ten years ago, most middle class kids who picked up guitars on their sixteenth birthdays made peace with the fact that they could never make a career out of rock and roll. The job market - Bollywood - was not equipped to absorb their novelty. Rock, the folk music of the electronic tribe, was seen as nothing more than a distraction for those who had the time to indulge in it. But that changed in the noughties when the internet fully delivered the promise of a world of information shrunken to a point on a home PC. In the process, making music got a whole lot easier.
As a result, there is now a yearning for an organised musical underground movement, with its own independent reportage, clearly mapped touring circuits, professional hands, including managers, and so on. This is enough to indicate that the current music scenario has all it takes to create an infrastructure that will absorb and fuel the forward thrust of a scene that is ready to rock. The age of the cover band and weekend rock star has passed.
The new crop of musicians isn't as quick to abandon the bandwagon in favour of monthly paychecks as their predecessors. Instead of treating music as a hobby, they're choosing to take up paying jobs within the music industry that allow them to continue playing in bands. "I do see more people taking up music as a career these days, but only a small percentage of the urban youth, " says Nikhil Rufus, bassist for Delhi-based band Another Vertigo Rush. "Though, compared to a few years ago, there's definitely an increase in the number of fulltime musicians in the scene. " His band, an eclectic mix of psychedelia, ambient and rock, gigs occasionally. Rufus would have found it tough to support himself on the earnings of an underground circuit band in a place like Delhi. But he finds other ways to supplement his income. "A lot of people provide music for fashion shows, DJ at pubs, do ad jingles and scores for radio, film, TV, etc to get by so that they can focus on their kind of music at the same time, " he says. Although he plays the bass guitar, these days he is setting aside time to learn the ropes of making music on a Mac in order to exploit other avenues of income. For Rufus, finding the balance between pursuing his passion and his job is a must. "There are a few hurdles to cross like anywhere else, but I think it's for the sheer love of it that people find a way to balance and not give up on their art, " he says.
Musicians have been able to strike this golden mean with a little help from technology. According to Nikhel Mahajan, an active musician in the electronic music circuit and the creative head of the Delhi-based alternative media house Audio Ashram: "It is a combination of cheap, accessible technology and accelerated communication via the internet which is making possible the birth of this unique aesthetic milieu. The electronica scene has now definitely evolved to a point where on any given weekday, apart from Monday or Tuesday, there are gigs happening somewhere or the other. " Audio Ashram - which includes a music label, an internet radio channel, an alternative music and lifestyle magazine and an artist management company - is a fine example of indie ingenuity. Mumbai's Only Much Louder, which is led by Vijay Nair, and Delhi's Music Gets Me High (which rents out a plush rehearsal space in the Okhla industrial area) run by Ritnika Nayan, are two other such organisations that manage artists and organise events. Using inventive entrepreneurial skills, they not only generate income for themselves and the people they work with but also do the much needed work of improving the quality of dialogue in the community.
For instance, in 2009, Rock Street Journal in collaboration with The Goethe Institut organised the Global Groove Conference and Festival in which industry veterans from across the globe were invited to foster new business relations with Indian musicians and screen some of the best electronic artists India has to offer. This effort, one among a handful of similar initiatives, sought to bridge the gap between the Indian music scene and its international counterparts giving Indian artists much needed exposure and a taste of global standards.
The need for professional and dedicated production personnel, who work hard behind the stage or in the studio, has generated a lot of freelance work as well. Anupam Roy is an established music producer in the rock and metal scene. Roy, who operates Grey Studio from a computer in his bedroom, was one of the first few to tap into the demand for techies who had the know-how of music production along with a sensitivity for the nuances of recording rock and metal music. "It is a case of people becoming more aware and business minded and hence more willing to take risks, " he explains. These days he trots around the country with his gadgets at the behest of eager musicians who need his expertise in recording their music. At home he likes to write songs for his death metal outfit, Narsil.
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