Six indie musicians share insights on growing an audience amid the digital rush
A gigless year may have pushed artists towards diverse means of production or a self-sustaining ecosystem, but did little to alleviate pre-existing boundaries vis-a-vis revenue, inclusivity or a functional mental health discourse. Artistic collaboration was key for independent artists like Hanita Bhambri, Raghav Meattle, Abhilasha Sinha, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, along with consistent digital output and DIY production. But where does the independent music community go from here? On its one-year anniversary Spotify’s artist program RADAR assembled the best emerging indie names in music to talk about the most significant challenges they experienced in the past year and the way forward:
On work-life balance: The saying that ‘if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work’, doesn’t apply to me. I feel work is still work, if it seeps into all aspects you start losing perspective over other things. When I listen to music I start thinking about the arrangement and the production. I can no longer just listen to it. To stay passionate about music, I had to take up hobbies outside music like animation, cooking, swimming etc.
What worked, what didn’t: It was hard to grow an audience, initially it was an uphill battle. The community wasn’t as supportive as they are now, your friends don’t understand what you do, your parents think you’re wasting time. But in the past year, the pressure of performing live gigs melted away, I could focus on songwriting and connecting with the people. It pushed me towards releasing new music.
On measuring success: There is a pressure on pop artistes to reinvent themselves, to be so much more than their music. How do you figure out what works, or the fine line between authentically being yourself and catering to what's trendy right now? Is there such a line? I think the main marker of success for indie artistes in the country is to be able to support themselves doing just that. If you're doing what you love and you're getting compensated for it, what bigger joy is there?
The need for inclusive spaces: I’ve witnessed systematic failure, I've seen fellow female artistes dropping out because of additional boundaries that exist within the industry. Talking to fellow artistes, sharing experiences and insights about where we can go, starting these conversations with everyone, not just female artistes, work towards building inclusive, safe spaces and it helps us all thrive.
On building virtual communities: Instagram live as a format is kind of saturated, it’s not novel anymore. Which is why I focused on a bunch of workshops every month. I've done over seven ‘Releasing Your Music’ workshops exploring tips and tricks for the best practises to release music. In every session I had around 40-50 artistes coming in who wanted to understand that once you have a final piece, what do they do with it? Where can they pitch it? When I was starting out, I had no access to this information, which is where the community comes in, you speed up that process for someone. It always helps when there’s a community, getting together to promote your music and you do it for them. So, it’s nice to compliment other artistes, become evangelists for them and it comes back to you when you release your work
When Chai Met Toast (Ashwin Gopakumar)
On working out individual sounds in a band: Initially it was just me and Achyuth (Jaigopal) making music, then Palee (Francis) came in a year later and then Pai (Sailesh) was brought in. So, now there were four people contributing to the sound, there was more listening, more music coming out of us. We’ve been at home for a year and we’ve been learning a lot more. If you’ve heard Maybe I can Fly, it has many different sounds. There are different elements to it, all four members contribute different things and when it all comes together it takes a different shape. We don’t have a set rule, we go with what goes with the sound of a track.
The Revisit Project (Abhay Sharma)
Where ‘the scene’ stands now: Art is happening around us as we speak, for us there has been no reference point. There has been no Pink Floyd, or Charlie Parker or James Taylor. Back in the eighties, it was more about rock, the nineties was Indian Ocean and Agni and some other bands. In 2000 I could hear Advaita, Avial, regional sounds becoming hip. I don't know what's hip now, that may be a big failure on our part. But I think failing at music is non-negotiable, so I welcome failures in that sense, you're always a student. But there's no bubbling music scene in India, it's happening as we speak, it's in a nascent stage
On pitching new music: I have a template of emails that I send to every platform, all the blogs I want to connect with and every point where I want my music to be streamed. Have that chunk of emails ready, don’t just CC everyone, take that time off to write individual mails. Very often a singer-songwriter sends a random DM on Instagram to a person, saying hey check out my music. The thing is, this is not the platform for you to share your music, so you need to create a newsletter so there are people who have signed up to be bombarded by your music