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The Economic Times: Indian concert goers spoilt for choice with new Western & indie music festivals

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on January 15, 2012

Yusuf Begg, ET Bureau Jan 15, 2012, 12.36AM IST

Shakespeare’s Duke Orsino wondered if music was the food of love. Four centuries later, a clutch of Indian impresarios are busy trying to crack the code that would make music, and especially western and indie music festivals, the source of their bread and wine.

Music festivals have been money spinners for decades in the West. Forget Woodstock. Think Bonnaroo, Summerfest, SXSW, (all in the US), Sziget (Hungary), INmusic (Croatia) or Benicassim (Spain). The scene is just beginning to unfold.

“When we started playing in the early ’90s, there were hardly a couple of fests. Today there’s been a mushrooming of these,” says Subir Malik of Delhi-based rock band Parikrama. Music industry watchers say at least 8-10 big music festivals are being organised every year over the past few years.

“Last November, there were 16 non-classical music concerts over one single weekend in Chennai alone. I’ve been in the music business for over 25 years and have never seen anything like this,” says Saroop Oommen, manager (arts), Unwind Centre, an organisation given to the promotion of music.

Different Tunes

So have Indians suddenly become concert goers? Surely, yes. And fest organisers are hoping to ride this music wave. “The aim of course is to make money. But a festival is an investment and you have to be ready to invest for the long term. Over the years our profits have been in the range of 15-25%,” says a Sunburn spokesperson. Sunburn, a five-year old electronic dance music festival, has been at the forefront of the indie music concert revolution in India.

Like the concept itself, the business model of fests is in its initial stages. A bulk of the money comes from sponsors – from liquor and telecom services companies to the government. Most of the fest organisers ET on Sunday spoke to, put a ballpark figure of 60% of the total budget. Ticket sales account for 25% and sale food and beverages on the festival grounds add another 15%.

What most organisers hope for is the day when they could move away from the fickleness of sponsors and depend more on gate receipts. “Over a period of time as the industry matures, we will move away from the 15-25% revenue from tickets to a more healthy 60-70%. It would mean that the fest has established itself as a brand,” says Girish ‘Bobby’ Talwar, co-founder and director, OML Entertainment that organises the NH7 Weekender Music Festival in Pune. Agrees the Sunburn spokesperson: “Historically events have been sponsorship driven in India. Our aim from day 1 was to position Sunburn as a ticketed event and we are succeeding in it.”

Sponsors can pump in anything from lakhs (as in the inaugural International Guwahati Music Festival) to crores (as in the much bigger NH7 Weekender or Sunburn). Budgets have also gone up over the years. A festival in south India that had a budget of `6-8 lakh in the late 1990s, had something close to `40 lakh in mid-2000s.

On the Debit Side

Nearly 50% of the expenses (see graphic) are related to production costs of a festival. This includes the whole caboodle of setting up the stage (multiple stages now) with props, lights and sound system. Artists’ fees take away another 40%. However, with more and more organisers looking to rope in an international act to headline their festivals, little money is left for the home-grown artists. Indian performers say they only charge a fraction of their normal fees.

“For smaller bands festivals are for networking. Maybe to expand the fan base. In most cases organisers pay for the travel and stay. A small honorarium if we are lucky,” says Satish Warrier, formerly of Delhi rockers, Menwhopause.

The remaining 10% of the budget goes to media and publicity, various taxes and miscellaneous expenses.

Will the Tune Hold?

“Absolutely. What we are seeing is just the beginning. And the music consumer will have more choices with more and more cities organising their own festivals,” says Ashvin Mani Sharma of Jalebi Cartel, an electronic dance music quartet.

Musicians and festival organisers have junked the romantic troubadour act. Besides the guitars and synthesizers are spreadsheets and laptops. “Festivals are like any other business. You don’t expect to earns pots of money in your first year. You grow your brand and then hope to break-even after 3-5 years,” says Lavin Uthappa, managing director of Bangalore-based Liquid Space Entertainment, organisers of Storm Festival in Coorg.

The changing face of entertainment in India, greater access to Internet and thus to various cultures, a young demography, willingness to splurge are all growth drivers of the indie music festivals. And the numbers tell the story: Uthappa is expecting nearly 2,500 visitors to his two-day camp-out music jamboree. NH7 Weekenders’ audience count jumped to nearly 10,000 in 2011 from the 3,500 daily in 2010.

These numbers could just swell as the festivals strike the right (commercial) notes.

(Source: 01/2012 – The Economic Times | Media/Entertainment |  Collections)

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