In the first part of the interview, Sabbas Joseph, Co-Founder and Director Wizcraft International Entertainment Pvt Ltd, spoke at length about the evolution of the live music industry in India. He shared his insights on live music fests helping out each other unknowingly. Sabbas dwelled on how the ecosystem of the live music industry is changing for the good and also its challenges.
The second part features Sabbas’ insights about the survival factor, viability of a nationwide tour and recent developments in the music fests business.
How does one sell their IP and keep it relevant?
Everyone has a place and an idea. Every idea has a home and an opportunity. The truth is, if you can find a home for your idea and make your event commercially viable you will survive. The biggest plus you can have is being able to attract a ticket-buying audience, even if the festival is losing money. The worst is if you are being forced to gift tickets away to draw an audience, even if you are making money through sponsorship. Finding audience-resonance is the key.
How to make a great idea relevant is the challenge. Music fests must find its soul early in its life span. Curation, artists, environment, venue, experience creation and audience must all work together. A festival should have a sense of ‘community’. A distinct uniqueness quotient. Defining a community is often not about what you are, but it is about what you are not, often this can be defined as a sub-culture.
Many attempts at Bollywood music fests do not work because of several reasons. At an EDM fest, the audience knows their ilk would be there. At Bollywood music fests it is anybody and everybody, so it does not seem to attract a distinct community. Boutique and unique fests for limited people or the ‘music tribes’ are the future. It does not matter that they are not big enough because they provide us the only safe outlet. They are controlled, away from the cities, not really affected by the sound laws and they do not hassle anybody.
Turning your music fests into an experience
The music fests have to be finely curated and should be about experiences. The key question is how do you convert your music fest into an experience. Consistency, predictability about its unique experience will define your fest. You will know you have succeeded when an audience buys tickets to your music fest without knowing who the performing talent is. That is the real test. I still remember our joy when we announced IIFA Toronto in 2011, without announcing a single performing artiste and sold out the stadium inside 12 minutes. Till you achieve this, it remains a journey of struggle to find audience resonance.
How to make a festival for upcoming artists viable?
The costs should be bare minimum, ideally zero. The main concentration should be on the promotion of the event and building an environment around it. It should be more about discovering new music while enjoying the experience. Upcoming artists can help themselves by getting together with similar artists and cross promoting. This will get them newer audiences.
I like what Red Bull Bus on Tour has achieved. By investing in infrastructure and making it portable, the concert could happen where the audience is. Its cost effectiveness and mobility worked together to ensure maximum talent was given a chance to perform before their audience.
Why India does not have a music-tour culture?
To start with every time we do a concert in our country we have to build the venue and infrastructure from ground-up. The cost involved is too high irrespective of which artist is performing. All infrastructure, licensing costs are fixed and keep spiralling.
The second challenge is what is the big draw about the artist?
Most Indian artists are available for every corporate gig, wedding sangeet and dealer meet, leaving little novelty factor or uniqueness for a ticket-buying fan to pay to listen to them.
Further, the promotion platforms for artists are very few. How many TV channels do we have playing music, Indie music, unconventional music or non-film music? There are hardly any artists who can sell without major promotion.
Indian artists too are not positively disposed to concerts and are not invested in being ‘concert artists’. They are rigid about pricing; refuse to fulfill sponsor requests/deliverable’s and some even duck media interviews claiming privacy. In the middle of a promotion blitz, you can almost expect them to suddenly exclaim that they are doing too much work and now it is the concert/festival organiser’s task to promote the shows.
Pulling off a concert
To make the show happen is a miracle which the artists do not realise. Most artists are not bothered if the organisers incur a loss. The artists and their managers need to be educated and need to also understand that concert organisers and event managers are on their side. If the shows work, everyone wins. If the organiser loses money, soon others will stop investing in subsequent projects. Currently, the only winners are the artists and the artist managers who are paid upfront. The ones carrying the biggest risk are the event entrepreneurs.
An interesting observation is that most artists who earn top dollar in the music business choose to invest their money in other industries or assets that don’t necessarily expand or grow the music industry. Consequently, the live music industry is always in need of fresh investments / revenue.
Why do global artists skip India?
It is extremely difficult to work here and it’s a miracle that so much happens.
We are a country where Seinfeld shows were cancelled because the traffic police did not give permissions. We have also had David Guetta’s concerts postponed literally on the day of the event strictly because of police permissions and municipal corporation permits being denied.
There was a recent concert in Delhi which had to be rescheduled to morning just to get the police permission. In most other countries these permissions are basic and are provided online. The high taxation, lack of predictability, expensive makeshift infrastructure, poor policy-making and implementation are prime reasons affecting the growth of the concert business in the sub-continent. Once we get these sorted the international artists will flock here.
The biggest challenge is ourselves and our competitiveness. Today, as soon as one company knows that their competitor is engaged with a particular international artist, senseless counter offers are made queering the pitch and at the same time escalating the costs. Whoever finally concludes the deal walks into a trap. A financial loss is the only certainty.
The global artists also do not look at India as a relevant market. They see us as novelty market, where they push for a high value fee. They are happy to perform at weddings and social events and do not see equivalent commercial value in the Indian concert business. I am certain with the constant push that is being done by BookMyShow, Wizcraft, Percept, OML, etc. this will slowly change.
Bryan Adams might be the only one who has successfully tapped the Indian market over the years, starting with his first concert in the early 1990’s. He is the only artist, who despite multiple tours, sells out every time. He has built a fan base, he engages with them and manages to return every few years to perform a sold-out India tour.
Ours is a large market that needs to be developed. Investors and entrepreneurs need to look at developing the market with a long term perspective and in a collaborative manner. There is a need for conversation and collaboration.
Significant developments in the recent past
The success of the ticketing platforms. BookMyShow, Insider, PayTM are now the go-to portals. Availability, mobility and convenience are a major positive. Most people find it easier to buy tickets than ask for a free ticket because it is easily available. Organisers can sell tickets months in advance. The consumer is confident that the money is safe with the website if the event is cancelled. This along with consumer confidence, availability, data mining, etc is making the difference. It is a more accountable and responsible world.
This has made the live music fests market more viable. The environment, paradigm and purpose has changed; simultaneously, consumer expectations too have risen.
The willingness to develop unique music IP’s is very encouraging. Music fests are sprouting across the deserts, hills, and plains; across the urban landscape as well as the smaller cities and off-beat destinations. The music IP’s are meaningful, well-chiseled, targeting specific audiences and communities. They are creatively thought-through and oriented to engaging with larger audiences on digital platforms.
The elimination of entertainment tax due to it being subsumed in the GST is a positive development. Rationalisation and reduction of GST to a 4% to 10% band would be a major boost for the industry and the ticket-buying audience.
The governments in key states and cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are working on single-window clearance, online permissions, and time-bound clearances for events. When done this would become a major springboard for growth across the events sector.
Investment groups are seeing a future and investing in companies creating festivals, IP’s and experiences. This will provide the trampoline for exponential growth across the live music industry.
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