With the coming of every new year, we all make a mental list of at least two festivals and concerts that we plan to attend and eagerly look forward to. Don’t we all? But have you ever wondered what goes behind bringing them to life and who are the geniuses that do it? Festival Sherpa, in collaboration with The Coalition, got to talking with India’s coolest festival and music promoters and the stories revealed are quite fascinating. Read on.
1. Sachin Bopanna – Storm Festival
18 years of experience in the events industry only made Sachin Bopanna, the founder and conceptualiser of Storm Festival, want to achieve so much more. His musical metamorphosis began with regular events, corporate events and the occasional music event, all of which eventually led to them achieving a promoter’s Holy Grail – their very own music festival. His only regret is hesitating before making the leap –
“I think the biggest mistake we ever made was not starting this before and also, spending our own money to make our dreams come true”.
Sachin firmly believes that certain laws and regulations need to be revisited for the music scene in India to reach its true potential. Finally, there always is a bit of a financial tightrope to navigate, since “sponsorships and investors have always been an issue with all festivals. Since we are living our own dream, we are the main providers for this festival, and hopefully, in the years to come, we might be able to rope in more investors/sponsors, which will make our lives easier.”
All of the hard work does pay off, and Sachin wouldn’t change a single thing.
“Never consider yourself second to any; I have never considered any festival as competition to my festival. Music is a religion, it is meant to be enjoyed and not be dragged into politics and competition.”
2. Keith Menon – Ragasthan
If there is a 4 days experience you can be sure of talking about for an indefinite time to a countless bunch of people; it is Ragasthan. Undoubtedly. It seamlessly binds beautiful music with the core culture of India making the whole event a very enriching one. Keith Menon, the young founder, is an entrepreneur, risk-taker and a hardcore music-lover by nature. With staunch interest in music since early years, he started his first job just when he was 14 at a music store and unknowingly, that is how his amazing journey started. We couldn’t agree more with his theory of experience teaching a lot more than education. While we are the ones witnessing the fast evolution in the music scene, he points out how the perception of what goes behind making the festival happen still remains hazy.
“If you’re a festival promoter people assume you’re making a lot of money. You have 3 days to make money in a year and you have 362 days spent to make sure you do – and in the end when you actually don’t you have to wait another 362 days to try again.”
Keith tells us that India is still taking baby steps in the direction of live music and festivals but with a genuinely enthusiastic audience and talented artists, the show happens. Partners barter and sponsors are made as there is an emerging thirst for festivals and it’s got to be quenched.
“Plan, Be Afraid, Gather Courage, Do It, Fail, Rise, Re-plan, Do it again.”
3. Hermit Sethi – Submerge
If there was a company that foresaw the upcoming demand and growth for music with sharp intuition and accuracy, it was definitely Submerge. The prevalent music scene in India owes a lot to the diversity brought about by Submerge along with a very prominent dance music culture. We were lucky to have a good chat with Hermit, the co-founder of the company who shared with us his rollercoaster of a musical journey..
For those of you who don’t believe in destiny, the tale of Hermit’s tryst with Nikhil will instigate you to think otherwise. Hermit worked as a full time fashion stylist and that is when his paths crossed with Nikhil’s and they instantly hit it off.
“We started a club night with our friend Gaurav, Raman and Vicky Singh who owned a nightclub called Rockbottom. This is where everything changed and Submerge was born.”
He sensed the monotony in the Indian music culture but rightfully believes that there are limitations in the organization of this business including venues. Which is why, he always strives to build trustworthy relationships with the people involved in the circle.
“More and more brands in today’s day and age want to connect to the youth, the future of the country and we have some very interesting ideas to help them achieve this.”
“If you find yourself an efficient and passionate team of people, the right resources and a great support system in terms of sponsorship, venue, production and artist then the world is your oyster!”
4. Dev Bhatia – UnMute
UnMute, a conceptually unique artist management agency started out with the aim of creating the most stunningly fulfilling experience for the artist as well as the audience. Killing the EDM scene in India and continuing to bring about innovations in the business, the founder Dev Bhatia gives us some memorabilia from his journey. Unlike many entrepreneurs, Dev’s leap into music was a calculated and well thought out process with a mixture of happy and surprising accidents.
“I was working two jobs at the time. My day job was as a Creative Head/Producer in Radio (93.5 RED FM followed by the Ibibo Group) along with my night duties as manager of the fantastic Jalebee Cartel.”
Fate took charge and Jalebee Cartel happened by chance for Dev. He met the right mentor at the right time and instinctively started to learn and discover the inside of the music movement.
He is of the opinion that promoters need to get the balance between the ‘line-up vs. fan experience’ right and should shun ideas of just calling booked line-ups – festivals.
“It’s a 24-hour job, but managers and agents can only help you if you help yourself first, so if your manager is working harder than you, it’s always going to fall apart.”
5. Kenneth D’Souza – LUCID
Kenneth D’Souza, founder of the electronic event boutique – Lucid Asia, grew up in Saudi Arabia, where he spent his days tuned into the country, retro and rock music being churned out on the American Oil station on 91.4. This genre deprivation made him set out to research other sounds, armed only with a dial-up connection. After a whole day of downloading, he listened to his first track – ‘Traffic’ by Tiesto. Immersing himself in “the story being told without words”, he moved to Canada, where he began going out and studying the electronic music and event market. Lack of experience played spoilsport, and he found himself putting his business plan on the backburner. He reached a massive turning point in 2008, when a near-fatal disease made Kenneth sit back and take stock of life.
“Call me crazy, but it was the reality of me dying and not having accomplished something that I am proud of and not being remembered which made me want to live.”
Inevitably his thoughts turned to the only other country he knew, India. The scope was massive, and over a year of blood, sweat and tears resulted in ‘Lucid’ being born, with the help of his business partner, Martin Prihoda.
Bad business deals, being naïve and unprepared, losing sight of the company’s vision and financial instability proved to be stumbling blocks, but not for very long. Currently, Kenneth believes that the greatest problem the industry faces is the monotonous sounds made famous by mass media, which every second event company is programming and filling in for, because they’re sure shot ‘money-makers’. His advice?
“If you believe in your abilities and truly want to create or do something, then you just have to dive right in head first and learn along the way…..You don’t want to end up starting a business with no milestones to cross and achieving success rather easily, up until one day a very serious issue presents itself and you have no idea what to do.”
6. Prateek Pandey
PrateekPandey, the founder of sLick and an exceptional DJ; embarked upon his musical adventure as a DJ after being spellbound by hearing Paul Van Dyk live in Dubai. Very soon, he found himself bagging gigs at Blue Frog, Pebble, Stone Water Grill and many more. In a short stint itself, Prateek became an integral part of the Indian dance music scene and started experimenting with deeper and techno-ier sounds. On sensing an absence of electronic music’s new genres, he boldly kickstarted sLick to get the artists he loves, on board. When we spoke to him about the challenges faced by festival promoters in India, he tells us:
“Depending on people in India who cant keep up with timelines is a major hassle. Ive also realised that despite Dance Music being big in India – it still has a long way to go. In terms of the business aspect – delayed payments are a major issue. As a startup without investors – it is a major hindrance when sponsors or club owners delay payments which in turn make you delay a few payments & it is a vicious cycle”
When we started chatting with Prateek about investors and partners, he mentioned how he singlehandedly manages sLick but has plenty of investors and sponsors involved with Enchanted Valley Carnival.
As a firm believer in being passionate and driven to last in a chaotic yet fascinating business of music, he signs off by telling us –
“I’m really very curious to see the direction in which the dance music scene in India takes. I can see that more & more people are getting into it – audience & organizers. More & more people are getting into the mainstream & a sizeable number is trickling down towards the underground.”