• Singer-Songwriter Kamakshi Khanna on balancing creative fulfillment and paying the bills

    Kamakshi Khanna is a 28-year-old singer and songwriter from Delhi. In 2015, she was one of the top six contestants on India’s first English singing reality show, ‘The Stage’, and has since also released a few Hindi tracks in ‘Duur’, ‘Qareeb’, and ‘Taare’. Kamakshi’s warm dulcet tones are a product of immense love and care for her craft, having spent the last 14 years learning music. The artist, who began as a choir singer, completed a solo tour of the US in 2017, and has also collaborated with well-renowned artists from across the country, including Karsh Kale, Tarana Marwah, Euphoria, Tejas Menon and several others. In this interview with Art Beat, she shares a little bit about her process, and a few ever-relevant nuggets of wisdom, like how making music that takes care of the bills will only help you write that song you really love.

    Art Beat (AB): You started your career in Delhi, how has that helped you get to where you are today?

    Kamakshi Khanna (KK): I’m very happy and grateful that I started in Delhi, and I keep going back. It’s still my home, a place where I feel rooted as an artist and Delhi has a very strong community of artists. When I was growing up, there was something called Artistes Unlimited, where a bunch of artists would sing and perform together at these massive productions. If I wasn’t from Delhi, and if I hadn’t made those connections or been around those people, I don’t know if I would be motivated and happy doing what I do now. That’s why your roots really matter in your artistic process, because where you are is where you make your connections. Without collaborating with people and learning from those around you, art can be really boring.

    AB: Has it become easier than ever before to start a career in music?

    KK: If you are a musician and you want to release your content to the world, everything is so accessible now. Anyone can record music at home and put it on Spotify or Apple Music. I had this really interesting conversation with an Uber driver who heard me singing. He told me that he’s a musician as well and that he would dedicate two hours every day to writing music on his phone, using an app. He would pick a movie and write a musical score for it as if it were his own! That was really cool. He may not have had the resources, but he used whatever resources he had. You never know what hits off, you can put one video on Instagram and people spot you and want to work with you. But at the same time, there’s so much information floating around. The kind of attention that music used to get, where people would wait months for an album, is something our generation experienced but now it’s just, “Yeah cool, next, next”. It’s become hard to hold on to something, which is sad for the music and entertainment industry.

    AB: How did you go about making music that a larger Indian audience would appreciate?

    KK: As an artist, I don’t know what will appeal to the audience. I’ve been in situations where I put something out and thought that it will be really well liked, and I’ve been surprised by how people responded.

    In Bollywood, you might love Arijit Singh’s music, but you don’t know how many composers, lyricists, producers, mixing engineers, the whole army that went into making that song. There are formulas to making a hit – put together a really cool beat, four bars of intro, chorus, and it’ll be a hit song, that’s a fact. They have algorithms for best songs and templates for making hits, it’s a very different process that’s really thinking about audience appeal in a calculated way.

    As an artist, and I cannot stress this enough, it’s really, really important to love everything you put out there. If you do that, then people will see that you like what you do and that energy will transfer to the audience. I go without any expectations and people often end up liking a song different than the one I thought they would, which is how I’ve been finding music that appeals to the audience.

    AB: Have house concerts been a boon to independent artists?

    KK: When you’re at a venue, you’re motivated to have a drink and meet people. There’s lots of freedom to move and you’re not really as attentive. But in a house, it’s so personal, so intimate. That’s why I love house concerts. I feel like I’ve connected the most with people at house parties in the last two years. People can listen to every line in the song, I can even hear people laughing at some parts of the song.

    With someone like a Prateek Kuhad, you can go big and throw a huge concert. But how do you familiarize people with newer artists coming up? That’s where curated events and house concerts come in.

    AB: How do you strike a balance between creative fulfillment and making music that pays the bills?

    KK: I feel most artists go through this struggle of balancing work you do because you love it and work you do to pay the bills and feed your stomach. There’s this whole idea of ‘making it’, you know. The one rule I have for myself is that I feel I’ve made it if I’m doing something I love, paying my bills, and I’m still able to love it at the end of the day. It’s as simple as that. There are some things you do because you love them, and there are some things you do to pay the bills. There’s a lot of work that you may not feel as creatively fulfilling personally but you need to be able to put that investment into your music. A lot of times you have to do it because it’ll help you write the song that you love.

    The one rule I have for myself is that I feel I’ve made it if I’m doing something I love, paying my bills, and I’m still able to love it at the end of the day.

    AB: How does having a manager help you and your process?

    KK: When I started, I didn’t have a manager. I released my first EP independently and I’m glad I did that. Even if I had really good management, I don’t think I would’ve learnt how things work as well as I did without them. Understanding the business side was really fun for me – what does it take to release your music, how do you reach out to people, how do you draft emails. I kind of managed myself as an artist and people showed up!

    I started working with Big Bad Wolf after I went to this show called ‘The Stage’, that’s when people got to know about me and recognized me. It really changed the game for me as an artist. I now have so much time to think about my art and not really worry about things like coordination, planning etc. I also don’t feel as alone as you do when you’re trying to do everything on your own. It can be tricky sometimes, as if you’re losing control of your artistry a little bit entrusting someone else with it, which is not easy to do when you’re so attached to your work. No one’s going to care more about your work than you, someday your fans will, but till then you’re still the person who has to love and care the most for what you do. I think it’s highly recommended to find a good manager to help you through the process. That’s the whole point of management, to guide you through the process, not just book you gigs. They manage you as a whole.

    No ones going to care more about your work than you, someday your fans will, but till then youre still the person who has to love and care the most for what you do.

    AB: Which direction do you want to see the music industry heading in?

    KK: I want my parents to see that it’s possible for an independent artist to get more than ten thousand people to come for a gig. It’s tough, it takes a lot of work and a lot of patience to get there, but it’s possible. At some point, it was literally a fact that if you’re not doing Bollywood, you won’t become successful. But there are people who have broken that rule, who challenged these perspectives. Now, people are not as excited about an International Artist coming and performing in English as much as they are interested in seeing some of their own perform – think Divine, Prateek Kuhad, Rajakumari. India is a superpower when it comes to art and it has the potential to have everyone’s attention in the world, I really believe in that.

  • The lowdown on film festival favourites, trending TV & a special Daytime Emmy

    From the Indian movies making waves on the festival circuit to the news that Manoj Bajpayee-starrer ‘The Family Man’ was trending around the world, catch-up with these five stories from the entertainment industry you need to know before the month is over.

    ‘Pagglait’ creators to collaborate on three more films

    Following the success of ‘Pagglait’, its writer/director, Umesh Bist, and producers Sikhya Entertainment and Balaji Telefilms have entered an agreement to make three more films together. ‘Pagglait’ premiered on Netflix earlier this year and featured Sanya Malhotra in the lead as a widow who is surprisingly unaffected by her husband’s death. The dark comedy is the first co-production between Guneet Monga’s Sikhya and Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji. On the partnership, Bist told Firstpost, “As a filmmaker, all you want is a collaborative ecosystem where the team puts all their might in doing the best for the movie and I am glad I found this in Sikhya and Balaji.”

    YouTube docu-series ‘Creators for Change’ featuring Prajakta Koli wins a Daytime Emmy

    YouTube’s Original documentary series ‘Creators for Change’ recently bagged the prize for Outstanding Daytime Non-Fiction Special at the 48th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards announced on June 25. The documentary featured popular Indian YouTuber, Prajakta Koli (best known on the internet as @mostlysane) and two other prominent YouTube creators—Liza Koshy and Thembe Mahlaba—in conversation with the former FLOTUS, Michelle Obama.

    Titled ‘Why 98 Million Adolescent Girls Aren’t in School’, the documentary highlights the many hurdles young girls in India, Vietnam and Namibia have to overcome in pursuit of education. On winning the award, Koli said in a statement, “So grateful to Mrs Obama for letting me be a part of this wonderful project…What a feeling.”

    Manoj Bajpayee-starrer ‘The Family Man’ trended as the 4th most popular show globally

    Ranking just beneath big hits like ‘Loki’, ‘Sweet Tooth’ and ‘Mare of Easttown’, producers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s show ‘The Family Man’ came in fourth on IMDB’s list of ‘Most Popular TV Shows Worldwide’ after season two premiered on Amazon Prime on July 4. The show, starring Manoj Bajpayee in the lead, beat out popular TV shows like ‘Friends’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ to secure its spot.

    Another feather in the cap of the show’s creators, the trailer of the hotly-anticipated second season of ‘The Family Man’ (that released in June earlier this year) racked up over 50 million views on YouTube. Which begs the question: is season three in the offing? While Bajpayee said it is at least two years away, Raj & DK confirmed “We are behind this time.”

    Pan Nalin’s ‘Last Film Show’ wins the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival

    Indian-origin filmmaker Pan Nalin’s ‘Last Film Show’ (‘Chhello Show’) was the runner-up of the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival where it also had its world premiere. Produced by Dheer Moya of Jugaad Motion Pictures, the Mumbai-based boutique production house behind Prateek Kuhad’s ‘cold/mess’ music video and indie movie ‘Teen Aur Adha’, the film follows the life of a nine year-old-boy who falls in love with the world of cinema. Partly autobiographical (for Pan Nalin), the film is set in Saurashtra, Gujarat and explores the time when India’s cinemas bore witness to the transition from celluloid to digital films. Pan Nalin on July 14 took to Instagram to share that Samuel Goldwyn Films had acquired all US distribution rights to ‘Last Film Show’ that is represented internationally by Orange Studio.

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    Highlights reel: India at the 74th Festival de Cannes

    Director Payal Kapadia’s ‘A Night Of Knowing Nothing’ is the Film and Television Institute (FTII) alum’s second film to be screened at Cannes. She made her debut at the film festival in 2017 with a short film titled ‘Afternoon Clouds’, the only Indian film to compete at Cannes that year. ‘A Night Of Knowing Nothing’ was screened as part of part of the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 74th Festival de Cannes in July, and won the prestigious Oeil d’Or award for ‘Best Documentary’. The film’s logline reads – “L, a university student in India, writes letters to her estranged lover, while he is away. Through these letters, we get a glimpse into the drastic changes taking place around her. Merging reality with fiction, dreams, memories, fantasies and anxieties, an amorphous narrative unfolds.”An Indo-French production, the film also received backing from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund Grantees.

    Marking director Rahul Jain’s Cannes debut, a 70-minute-long documentary on the terrible impact of climate change called ‘Invisible Demons’ premiered in the ‘Cinema for Climate Program’ at the Festival de Cannes on July 12. Speaking to Times of India, the filmmaker said he felt “physically compelled”to make the film after a 2016 visit to his hometown—and one of the world’s most polluted cities—New Delhi. The filmmaker said he fell extremely sick on this trip because of the city’s dangerously-poor air quality, and was forced to take precautions to safeguard himself. This motivated him to document New Delhi’s abysmal climate health in a film that was co-financed by well-known, LA-based production company, Participant. On his decision to focus the impact of climate change within Delhi’s geographical boundaries, Rahul said, “If the film…is focused on one city…in the news for being the most polluted spot on earth, and also my hometown, it just felt like the right limit or structure to pursue.” ‘Invisible Demons’ was produced by Toinen Katse and Ma.Ja.De. Film Produktions, with the support of FFF-MDM-YLE-AVEK.

  • Hoop artiste and dancer Eshna Kutty on flowing to find your style

    Eshna Kutty and her trusty hula hoop caught everyone’s attention last year when the 24-year-old’s ‘Genda Phool’ video went viral. Dressed in a saree and sneakers, the Delhi-based dancer conjured lovely shapes out of thin air and performed perfectly-timed twirls to the sounds of ‘Dilli-6’, leaving lakhs of people awestruck. Since then, the young dancer and movement practitioner has continued to challenge the hula hoop’s perception as a plaything – with more viral videos, a hoop-ing course for beginners, and joyous experiments in sound and style.

    In this conversation with Art Beat, Eshna talks about her love affair with the arts, the ever-evolving nature of genres, and the future of dance in India.

    Art Beat (AB): Can you walk us through your artistic process?

    Eshna Kutty (EK): I binge everything, including practice. Sometimes, I practice for seven or eight hours daily, for a week or so, and then I get so mentally exhausted that I hate it and don’t feel like picking the hula hoop up for a whole month. I think this is a counterproductive way of practicing and finding creativity because you’re restricting yourself to just a few days when you spend all of it (inspiration). So I’m trying to find a balance. To learn to be regular with my practice, even if it’s just five minutes a day. It’s only in the last year that I have been able to put in place a routine but it’s already helped me improve so much.

    In addition to being regular—and more importantly—the artistic process I engage with is that when I’m not hooping (or practicing my main art form), I’m indulging in all other kinds of art forms. That’s where I find my inspiration. My artistic process is to just absorb and imbibe different kinds of art forms and, very involuntarily, I get so inspired by them that hints of them come into my own work.

    AB: What do you wish people talked about more in India’s dance industry?

    EK: I wish people would normalise having a career in dance. I remember that being a dancer and dancing was such a big deal in school. Dancers were the popular kids, they had great bodies and were very fit. Everyone wanted to be a part of the annual day function or the assembly performances, to be a part of the dance, as opposed to the music choir or whatever else. But that changes the minute school’s done. It’s so weird that when and if these people decide to pursue dance full-time, others are surprised by their decision. As opposed to, for instance, if someone good at math became a chartered accountant. That’s not surprising. So I think I would love for it to be normalised and the only way to do that is by talking about it. Dancers don’t talk about it which is probably why this is happening. I mean even I didn’t talk about it. I would just take the easy way out and say something like, “I like to dance, but I’m into therapy work.” I’ve seen so many of my dancer friends do the same thing. Now I want to try and consciously and mindfully accept that I love dancing and that I’m going to pursue it. That I’m going to tell people about it. And if they don’t understand, then either it’s not worth explaining or I want to take my time to explain it so that I can help shift one person’s perspective. If hundreds and thousands of dancers do the same thing, then people will realise how much body movement can change your life.

    Now I want to try and consciously and mindfully accept that I love dancing and that I’m going to pursue it. That I’m going to tell people about it. And if they don’t understand, then either it’s not worth explaining or I want to take my time to explain it so that I can help shift one person’s perspective.

    AB: What’s missing in the arts space/industry?

    EK: Authenticity. I think it does exist but it’s not enough. Platforms like reality shows, corporate functions, weddings and big budget events want glamour and other things that don’t necessarily come authentically to artists. I have a lot of friends—dancers and actors—who end up doing a lot of corporate work just because it pays. That just makes art like any other corporate job. You chose the art field; you chose to be a dancer because you love dancing but you ended up doing performances that you don’t enjoy because those pay the bills. As a result, you couldn’t do stuff that you deeply believe in, soulful stuff, because then you would truly be a struggling artist. I think if a safe, non-judgemental space can be created for artists in India, then they can express themselves completely. They can expand and create something so unique that the community would have something new to offer to the world, rather than us imitating the West. This is, of course, the general view. There are people who are doing things in their own niche way. But then again, it becomes a niche. Authenticity becomes a niche thing; I think we can normalise that.

    AB: What has your journey been like?

    EK: It’s been a whole adventure! Back in school, I never would have imagined that I would be giving an interview about my journey as a hula hoop artist or advising others who want to pick up the hoop professionally. It’s crazy because this toy right here (showing the hula hoop), is something that has been with me for almost a decade but what it means today is so different from what it meant back then. It is now a way for me to explore the world. I think right after I got into hooping, I also got into a dance society and was exposed to dancing. Hooping led me to capoeira which I was, dedicatedly, in to for three years. That took me towards juggling and Levi (Levitation Wands), poi (swinging tethered weights through different rhythmical and geometric patterns), slack-lining, surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding! All kinds of adventures, really, and now I see myself hopping from one adventure to the other – all because I hula hoop. Hula hooping has also become a bridge between my love for adventure and anything related to the social work that a movement therapy practitioner does. Like conducting hoop workshops for inmates in Tihar jail, for instance. I’m so grateful for that.

    I can never talk about my journey with hoops in isolation from the other things that have influenced me to do it as well. Even in my practice, I work on other kinds of movements around 80% of the time and on hooping in the balance 20%. These other movements enrich my practice as a hoop artist. The kind of balance needed for slack-lining, the focus you get with acro-yoga, the perseverance you get with surfing, the pointed feet you get with gymnastics…it’s all helped my hooping practice. I love it when art forms just mingle, I think it’s the best.

    AB: How have you dealt with the stigma that comes with doing what you do?

    EK: I think the stigma I have encountered is a bit different from other dancers or creatives in the space who might face body image issues and things like that. In fact, I think it was the other way round for me because (with hooping) the body becomes the last thing that people look at and that’s why I picked it up. As someone with a perpetual hunch, poor body image and low self esteem, I used to always feel very conscious. I found comfort in the fact that hooping takes the focus off my body and onto the ring instead. Initially, it was my way of not being looked at. I would feel less shy with a hoop in my hand.

    The stigma I have faced is more to do with my art form being treated as something that five-year-olds do. People have said things like “Don’t you have better things to do?” or “Isn’t this something that’s done in circuses?” or “Isn’t this something they do at cabaret shows?” I think the worst thing you can do is believe what other people say because that makes it true to you. It’s only recently that I’ve realised that the fact that I persevered with this ‘toy’ is proof that it means a lot more to me than what it would to a 5-year-old. I think the stigma slowly goes away if you stop believing in it.

    AB: What does it take to build or develop new genres or art forms?

    EK: Imagination and a lot of hit-and-trial – especially for the hooping industry because hooping is so new, and there are so few people who do it that you could honestly be the creator of a move. It’s possible because it’s just two decades old. I think collaborations go a very, very long way. When I was exploring acro-yoga or slack-lining or different dance forms, I was putting my knowledge of these art forms and sports into hula hooping. As a result, my movement would turn out a certain way and it would be very unique, as opposed to something that I would’ve learned or practised in isolation. Do that enough, and you have a whole new style. That’s how a lot of art forms evolved as well. For instance, jazz was born out of rebellion against classical ballet and hula hooping has had its own journey as well. Women used to do it on the beaches in the 50s. From there, it went into rhythmic gymnastics. Now it’s become hoop dancing. They don’t even call it hula hooping anymore! I’ve started calling it the hoop flow because I just flow with it, wherever it takes me. So it is evolving while also involving new ideas and imagination. The idea is to not stop that imagination, to let it flow through you. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to practicing an art form, and that’s the best part. You can just experiment with it!

    When I was exploring acro-yoga or slack-lining or different dance forms, I was putting my knowledge of these art forms and sports into hula hooping. As a result, my movement would turn out a certain way and it would be very unique, as opposed to something that I would’ve learned or practiced in isolation. Do that enough, and you have a whole new style.

    AB: How do you hope India’s dance industry will evolve in the future?

    EK: I believe that dance and music have the power to bring people together. They foster a sense of community and belonging. And we’ve always known this. Centuries-old cave paintings depict folk dances, people holding hands and moving together. There’s an undeniable, constant happiness that comes from it. With the way things are right now, including the political scenario and COVID-19, I think everyone can do with a little more dancing! I think we also need to collectively change the way we perceive dance, and careers in dance, in India. I don’t think it’s been given the kind of respect it deserves. When you think of folk dances, classical styles, even Bollywood dancing, everything is about coming together. If we keep that essence of dance, then it takes away all these preconceived judgements. I think dance has the power to revolutionise, and I do wish that the industry would move towards that collective consciousness and awareness, as opposed to minting money in a very individualistic, capitalistic kind of way.

    (This interview was conducted virtually in June 2020, and it has been edited for length and clarity.)

  • A COVID-19 relief workshop series for artists, by artists

    During the worst of the second wave of COVID-19 earlier this year, critically ill patients were left gasping for oxygen as city supplies ran dry amid a surge in infections. The stench of death permeated our everyday lives as the daily casualty count rose steadily. Citizen-led fundraising drives (like Mission Oxygen) were set up overnight to support medical infrastructure. Social media influencers began collating and sharing verified leads for oxygen concentrators and ICU beds across India’s metropolitans. “It hit us all one day, on Instagram,” a young, Mumbai-based screenwriter Nisha Kalra says, who started dedicating her time to COVID-19 relief by helping people in need make sense of the different resources and options available to them. She tapped into her own network of friends with followers to amplify requests and PSAs at a time of great uncertainty. “I was on Instagram continuously and then my brain broke.”

    The idea to run a series of arts workshops called ‘Art For Oxygen’ came to Nisha while she was still struggling to think of ways to aid COVID-19 relief efforts in meaningful yet mental health-friendly ways. “I thought to myself, ‘Remember that initiative last year that combined community interaction, education and donations? Let’s do that,’” she says, referring to a series of workshops conducted by national award-winning filmmaker (and Nisha’s mentor) Satyanshu Singh in May last year. These included sessions on character-building, screenplay writing and the art of post production, to help raise funds for things like PPE kits and food supplies. Nisha, who attended several of these sessions, said, “I could understand how it ends up, of course, helping the cause, but it also kind of helps the general people because you get a break from it (the despair), you learn something, and you are forced to engage in some sort of community.”

    Conducted over a period of two months, Nisha’s ‘Art For Oxygen’ workshops have included a bootcamp on comedy writing led by Abish Mathew, jazz funk dance classes conducted by Bhakti Makhija, a film direction workshop by ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’ director Singh, a feedback session where participants could have their film scripts critiqued by director Vikramaditya Motwane, and a special edition of Kumar Varun’s popular ‘Kvizzing with Comedians’ format show. The last batch of workshops comprised primers on improvising by Neville Bharucha and social documentary photography by Vicky Roy. And Nisha is keen to carry on with ‘Art For Oxygen’ for as long as she can, in part because of the response to these workshops and also the very real threat of a third wave. Nisha has raised and donated a total of ₹8.41 lakhs to organisations like Feeding From Far, The Hemkunt Foundation and Help Now 24×7. The second wave felt like a total collapse of systems and “when that happens, kindness, empathy and the arts save the world,” the young, Mumbai-based creative affirms. ‘Art For Oxygen’ is a manifestation of this belief. It is also a time-stamp for that moment in history – during a global pandemic – when we had to scramble for oxygen, Nisha concludes.

    The next ‘Art For Oxygen’ workshop will be conducted on Sunday (July 4, 2021) in collaboration with Kommune India. Led by Kommune India Founder Roshan Abbas, Kommune India Director, Tess Joseph, and Kommune India Community Manager, Shantanu Anand, the session is designed to help participants discover their creative voice.

  • Comedian Daniel Fernandes on the art of writing jokes and the business of releasing specials

    The first Indian stand-up comedian to release a special on YouTube (at a time when most others were vying for over-the-top or OTT platform deals), Daniel Fernandes has navigated India’s comedy industry largely by his own rules. Over a nearly decade-long career, the comic with a flair for dark humour has experimented with different formats – including a marathon six-hour crowd work show – and introduced a pay-as-you-like model for online comedy content in India. All the while retaining his unique voice, unflinching perspective, and commitment to satire (even if it sometimes led him to controversy). In this hour-long conversation with Art Beat, Fernandes breaks down his writing process, the financial viability of being a stand-up comedian in India, and the pros and cons of releasing a comedy special independently. Here are some edited excerpts:

    Art Beat(AB): Can you break down your writing process?

    Daniel Fernandes (DF): When I’m writing a (comedy) show, it starts off like a movie in my head. I know what it looks like and who the characters are, but it’s always hazy in the beginning. The frame clears up as I start thinking about it more and more. I decide which parts of my life I’m going to use, the people I will include and the things I want to talk about all of which form the premises of the show. Sometimes, I think about punchlines and then work backwards to craft the premises. I put it all together in a very raw kind of arrangement and then organise trial shows which are a good way to test if other people find the material as funny as I do. I’ll do a bunch of those and then put together a multi-city tour.

    But the process of creating the show is never really over for me. Even with ‘Shadows’ (Fernandes’ first special that he released in November 2019), I took stock of it and decided that I was 99% happy with it, that it was ready to go out. But writing comedy is an ongoing process for me. In my opinion, you don’t do nine trial shows and then the show’s suddenly ready. It’s never ready and it can always get better. If you’re a painter, your painting is complete once the paint dries. With comedy, you have the opportunity to go back and change things, rephrase your jokes, or remove what’s not required. It can always be improved, and that’s what makes the process so beautiful for me.

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    AB: What do you think is missing from the arts space in India right now?

    DF: Infrastructure. If we’re talking about comedy specifically, we don’t have good venues. Comedy clubs in India don’t draw crowds; the comedians performing at them do. Fans will come to watch their favourite comedians even if the infrastructure is not great. But that’s 10% of your market; the other 90% go to places that look great, that have a good crowd. Right now, live comedy is an event, not an experience. As an industry, we need to understand that the audience experience starts right from the moment someone looks at a poster and buys a ticket. They’re already looking forward to the show, thinking about what they’re going to wear or who they’re going to go with. But meeting them with a bare-bones set up of a few lights and chairs is not enough.

    Producers really need to step up their game. We need people who know how to run a business, how to make a comedy club profitable. Venues right now depend purely on ticket sales for survival but that’s never going to help owners break even. The main margins are in alcohol. We need to figure out alcohol licenses and partnerships, as well as drawing more and more people in. Look at venues like Comedy Cellar in New York, or Soho Theatre in London. Those should be our benchmarks. That way, the pressure to sell tickets is not on the performing comics. There’s no pressure on them to be famous. When a venue’s really good, the audience will go and have a great time irrespective of the artist. Right now, that’s not happening. A famous comic means a full house, otherwise there are like three people in the audience.

    AB: Can you shed some light on the financial aspect of being a professional comic?

    DF: The life cycle of a comic begins with open mics but there’s no money there. As you workshop your material and get better at your craft, you start thinking about ways to put your work out there, to gain exposure so people come to watch you. So you upload a video on your YouTube channel, or take part in a show like ‘Comicstaan’ on Prime Video. I think that’s the best exposure for a comic right now simply because of the amount of money they [Prime Video] pump into marketing the show. Sometimes I think that I should also apply as a contestant and see what happens. If you’ve had a good run on the show or if you’re able to rack up enough views on YouTube, that has a positive impact on ticket sales for your live performances. People show up. As you get noticed, a talent agency will usually sign you and that typically leads to some brand work.

    You just have to be aware of where and how you can make money, and then see what works for you. As far as I know, production isn’t that big a source of income unless you’re working on big, large-scale shows. The biggest money is in OTT right now, followed by brands, corporate and college shows, and live shows.

    In terms of financial viability as a career, it has always been about identifying the best way to make money. When I started out, I was also producing lots of shows all over the country. So I had income coming in from production work, as well as money from corporate work and college gigs. You just have to be aware of where and how you can make money, and then see what works for you. As far as I know, production isn’t that big a source of income unless you’re working on big, large-scale shows. The biggest money is in OTT right now, followed by brands, corporate and college shows, and live shows.

    AB: What are your thoughts on comics that don’t have managers? Does that put them at a disadvantage?

    DF: I think there’s nothing like learning on the job. That’s probably the first step in my opinion, not finding representation. Learn how the business of comedy works. Call up a producer and ask if you can work with them. No one’s going to say no; if someone calls me and wants to work on a show, I’ll almost always say “yes”. Don’t think about the money in the beginning; study the craft. Understand why a mic stand is kept a certain way, how lights are used, and even how chairs are arranged at a comedy show. If you know that a comedy festival is happening, call the organisers and volunteer your time. You’ll learn about programming, artist management, logistics…all of it. Over time, that will make you a better comic. For instance, you respect the venue more when you know what it takes to run a venue. Then you can start doing your own stuff. Let’s say you’ve worked with a guy for six months, now you can try producing your own show. That’s how we all started. I’d never produced anything in my life but I called up a venue one day and said, “Comedy’s something we’ve all started doing, can you give us a Monday? We’ll get a crowd in and five-six performers. If you can just give us some FnB (food and drinks) after the show, we can split the gig money.” From there, we started scaling up to festivals and much better venues, and we opened some comedy clubs. Remember, all your learning is going to be hands-on. Pick up the phone and make the call. Hustle till someone lets you in, and then learn.

    Don’t think about the money in the beginning; study the craft. Understand why a mic stand is kept a certain way, how lights are used, and even how chairs are arranged at a comedy show. If you know that a comedy festival is happening, call the organisers and volunteer your time. You’ll learn about programming, artist management, logistics…all of it.

    I think the bigger challenge with the younger comics is initiative. We all have guys who want to open for us but (when they get the chance) they simply do their spot and bolt. When you open for a guy who’s done it (comedy) longer than you, it’s not just the opening spot, the time you get on-stage that’s valuable. It’s the opportunity to sit back and watch their performance as well. When I started out, I used to go to The Comedy Store on the weekends and just watch (shows). I wasn’t even thinking, I was just absorbing everything I was seeing – from the way the performer puts the mic stand to the side, to the way they look at the crowd and the way they hold the mic. This way you pick up so many things that work themselves into your own performance subconsciously. Remember, all your learning is going to be hands-on. Pick up the phone and make the call. Hustle till someone lets you in, and then learn.

    AB: How do you set a value to start pitching your work at when you’re just starting out?

    DF: There are three things to remember when you’re quoting (a brand or event organiser). First, everyone has their own market rate, you decide what you’re worth. It’s a negotiating game, and something you’ll only learn on the job or hands-on. That’s why I always say don’t be in a rush to get managed or signed. If you learn to negotiate for yourself, tomorrow when somebody’s negotiating on your behalf at least you’ll know if you’re getting your money’s worth. Second, now there are numbers (like Instagram metrics) that can help you set a price once you get to a certain stage. The third is that someone is always going to undercut your quote. Whenever you’ve been called, know that five other guys have also received the same call. You say 50, the second guy says 60 but the third guy agrees on say 20. It’s the brand/organiser’s call then.

    If you’re starting out, try and understand how much other people are getting paid. It’s good to know what’s happening in the business. We all know what everyone’s getting from an OTT (platform) as opposed to for a college gig. If I know what the median for a college gig is, I’ll try and quote within that range. I might charge an OTT platform 10 times more for the same show. It’s important to know what your peers are earning and it’s usually as simple as asking. You’ll always have one or two good friends (or contemporaries) who will be honest and tell you what they’re charging. But I think it boils down to what Steve Martin said, which is “Become so good that they can’t ignore you.” I think just be the best you can be. I know this is cliché, but if you’re focussed on your goals, your jokes and your voice, people will find you. They’ll be ready to pay you whatever you want. That’s where you want to get.

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    AB: What’s your take on doing a show on an OTT vs on YouTube?

    DF: Both have their pros and cons. The pro of going to an OTT platform straightaway is that you get paid first. No one’s really checking if the show is good or not. The con is that this might make you lazy. You may not put in that much effort because “paise toh aa hi gaye (the money has already come in).” I know some comics who’ve performed a full special just 10 times before shooting it for an OTT platform. If someone had offered me ₹50 lakh right at the beginning, when I had just written ‘Shadows’, I guarantee you that the show wouldn’t be half as good as I think it is today. If I already have the money, why should I do 100 performances? I’ll do one tour, film it and hand the special over. And I know exactly where

    ‘Shadows’ was 10 or 30 performances in. I wouldn’t dare put that online. I performed it over 100 times before I shot it, I did nine trial shows. For me, I didn’t know where it was going when I was touring it. I didn’t know whether an OTT deal would happen or not. I just knew I needed this show to be good.

    As an artist, it would kill me to not know how many people have watched a body of work.

    However, the big reason I decided to go the YouTube way was because I wanted to have complete access to analytics (like who’s watching it, where they’re watching from, how long they’re watching it for and what devices they’re watching it on). I can see the engagement in real time. Not only can I see how the special is performing, anyone can. It’s as easy as logging in to YouTube. With an OTT, you don’t have the data. You have no clue who has watched it. You don’t even know how many views it got. As an artist, it would kill me to not know how many people have watched a body of work. (On self-releasing a special on YouTube or trying to sell it to an OTT platform) I think it’s about making a decision about whether you want the money up-front or become a better comic, put out your best work and maybe not make the same amount of money in one go. Maybe you make the money over a period of time instead. When I tried the first-ever pay-as-you-like model, so many people thought I was crazy. But three months later, I had already recovered my entire production cost (of ‘Shadows’). Now anything that comes in through the payment link is just profit. That being said, I definitely want my next special to go on a platform. I don’t want to put myself through the same process again.

    AB: What do you wish people talked about more, in the comedy world?

    DF: I want more people to talk about how much fun they had at a live [comedy] show [they attended]. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people watching live comedy in India right now. A majority of fans and enthusiasts are watching comedy content on their phones or laptop screens, when the real experience is exponentially better. It can’t compare. Which do you prefer – watching porn or having sex? Live comedy is sex, and what you’re doing right now with Netflix, Prime, YouTube is just porn. If you take even 10% of the online audience and bring them offline, every show in the country will be sold out. So I really wish people would just go [for shows], I wish they would talk about it more, saying “I really want to do that again.”

    (This interview was conducted before the country went into lockdown in March 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

  • A cross-country collab, AI vocal training & more on ‘The Buzz’ this month

    From a homegrown AI classical music app that was recognised by Apple for its intuitive capabilities, to noteworthy COVID-19 fundraising initiatives during the devastating second wave, ‘The Buzz’ is a round-up of five stories from the music industry you need to know.

    Indian AI classical music app ‘NaadSadhana’ wins big at Apple Design Awards 2021

    Pune-based Sandeep Ranade’s artificial intelligence (AI) classical music app ‘NaadSadhana’ won the award for innovation at the Apple Design Awards this year. On how he came up with the idea for a vocalising app (similar to guitar tuning apps), the software engineer-singer-songwriter told The Hindu that his friend, who is a classical music student, needed help vocalising but her notes were far from perfect. “This – iOS, vocal analysis – was not my expertise, but I wanted to get into it to help my friend and potentially others too,” said Ranade. In a month, he had developed a working iteration of ‘NaadSadhana’ that helped his friend dramatically improve her vocal score. This was in 2018.

    Today, ‘NaadSadhana’ has evolved into an AI-powered app that accompanies users as they sing to simulate “the overall ambience of concerts and practice sessions” with options for the swaramandal, tabla, ghungroo, harmonium and tanpura. The addition of harmonies helped ‘NaadSadhana’ cross over to other genres, like Western, Bollywood and Fusion. Ranade’s app, which skyrocketed in popularity last year during lockdown when people began to explore hobbies and up-skilling courses, also includes a multi-track recording feature and a mini mixing studio.

    ‘The first K-pop meets I-pop collaboration’


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    Premiered on May 21, the song ‘Echo’ is about love, longing and relationships rocked by indecision. These themes transcend geographical boundaries and the nuance of language, making them the perfect starting point for a cross-country collaboration between Indian singer-composer Armaan Malik, Korean-American singer Eric Nam and Indian-American producer Niles Hollowell-Dhar, better known as KSHMR.

    Malik recounted listening to unreleased music at KSHMR’s Los Angeles-based studio before the start of the global pandemic and “Echo just stuck” he said. Malik said he recorded his demo verse at the studio on the same day itself. Then, last year, a fortuitous Twitter interaction between Eric Nam and Malik (orchestrated by Malik’s fans in India!) led to their teams connecting to discuss the possibility of collaborating with each other. “The track we all gravitated towards the most was ‘Echo’,” Malik said in a statement. Eric Nam told The Indian Express, “I’m so glad…for us to be able to create this collaborative moment” or an echo that reverberated across three different music industries simultaneously.

    Apple, Amazon launch lossless audio streaming successively

    On May 17, Apple Music announced that subscribers could enjoy industry-grade sound quality with the addition of spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos at no extra cost. Oliver Schusser, Apple Music and Beats Vice-president said, “Listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is like magic. The music comes from all around you and sounds incredible.” On the same day, Apple Music also announced that it would be making its entire catalog of over 75 million songs available in lossless audio. Lossless audio compression retains every last bit of the original recording so listeners can enjoy the exact studio recording of the song.

    A few hours later, Amazon said Amazon Music HD will be available to all Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers for free. You can read more about the rise of lossless streaming (and the fall of subscription fees) here.

    India’s indie music industry aids COVID-19 relief efforts

    Spanning the length and breadth of India, indie musicians, performers and collectives came together to raise funds for COVID-19 relief work at a time when both hospital beds and oxygen were in terrifyingly-low supply. These include:

    • Suryakant Sawhney who streamed his solo project Lifafa’s new album, ‘Superpower 2020’ on YouTube on May 22, and made the high quality audio files available for early-access download and streaming on Bandcamp and Instamojo exclusively for three weeks. Half of the funds from the sale of ‘Superpower 2020’ till June 11 were donated to various COVID-relief organisations.
    • Mumbai-based Sanaya Ardeshir or Sandunes and Krishna Jhaveri (Citizen Kna) who created a collection of serene natural soundscapes for charity. Recorded at Kerehaklu, a biodiversity-friendly coffee estate nestled in Chikmagalur, the sounds of ‘Kerelief’ (released on May 4) helped support TIP Sessions, an NGO doing groundwork to support those worst impacted by COVID-19 in the southwest region of Karnataka. On Kerelief’s impact, Jhaveri said, “Our goal…was for the sounds to have a trickle-down effect for the communities that live in and around the locations where…these recordings were made.”
    • On April 30, DJ/Producer Arjun Vagale a.k.a AsymetriK who released an electronic/techno compilation ’S.O.S’ for sale on Bandcamp, featuring unreleased music by BLOT!, FUNC, Kohra and Sublime Sound among others. All funds collected through the sale of ‘S.O.S’ went directly in support of New Delhi-based Hemkunt Foundation’s COVID-19 relief work during the worst of the second wave.
    • For The Culture (FTC), a Delhi-based streetwear brand, that joined hands with Lemonade (a virtual creator-first platform) to host a pay-as-you-like virtual gig on May 2. The line-up included Kamakshi Khanna, Anoushka Maskey, ShahRule JD, Teesri Duniya and DJ MoCity. FTC Co-founder Ambar Aneja told us they were able to raise over ₹1.7 lakhs, including donations.
    • Community radio station boxout.fm that hosted a weekend-long 72-hour marathon stream, featuring over 100 artists from 20 countries, to raise ₹10 lakhs in partnership with not for profit and fundraising platform GiveIndia. boxout.fm’s Anant Ahuja (one-half of Madstarbase) said, “We asked for support from our global community and the artists who have a love for India and their response and support was overwhelming.” boxout.fm raised a 80% of its target by the end of the fundraiser.

    Apple Music debuts City Charts in 100 cities across the world

    Following the release of iOS 14.5 on April 26, Apple Music launched City Charts or playlists that are updated daily with what’s trending in 100 cities around the world. Three Indian cities – New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru – have also gotten their very own Top 25 lists and the differences in streaming patterns is really fun to observe! At the time of writing this article, New Delhi’s Top 25 list underscored the city’s inclination towards Punjabi music, with hits like ‘Insane’ and ‘Brown Munde’ by A.P. Dhillon, Gurinder Gill and Shinda Kahlon among the top 10. Mumbai and Bengaluru charts followed almost similar trends as each other with a blend ranging from Arijit Singh’s Bollywood hit ‘Agar Tum Saath Ho’ to TikTok virals like Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar and Giveon’s ‘Peaches’, ‘Levitating’ by Dua Lipa, Doja Cat and SZA’s ‘Kiss Me More’. Prateek Kuhad’s new single ‘Tere Hi Hum’ began inching its way up on all three city lists, and was most popular in Mumbai at spot 18 on June 20. The first song from A.R. Rahman’s brand new label ‘Maajja’, viral ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ sung by Arivu and Dhee, and released in March is still being streamed quite frequently in Bengaluru.

    You can check out the Top 25 lists on the Apple Music website even if you don’t have a subscription, making this an excellent way to discover new music that’s trending in faraway places, from Accra to Zurich.

    Buzzing in June

    Our playlist of new releases from Seedhe Maut, Lifafa, Ankur Tewari, Mali and more

    Edited by Maanya Sachdeva