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So, You Want to Be a Rock Star?

By Ritnika Nayan | July 4, 2009

The author of this article is the founder of Music Gets Me High, a company that’s involved in artist management, live concerts and artist merchandising. MGMH is dedicated to helping artists develop their sound and provide them with guidance and support. Along with management of local artists, the company is also involved in getting international artists to India and taking Indian artists abroad.

Ed’s Note: This article will be followed by a regular column on Split that will aim to answer your questions about the music industry in India. If you have any questions about how things work in the music industry, or are looking for advice about specific issues, please write in to us at edit@split-magazine.com.

Split Magazine: Rock Star 101Everyone keeps talking about the future of the music business: falling CD sales, digital music and synchronisation on the rise. But for the Indian artist, what does all this really mean? What should an upcoming Indian musician or band do to succeed in the music industry today? Is management important? What is the role of a booking agent?

Let us start by discussing the music industry as it stands today. Yes, CD sales are pretty dismal; the digital market isn’t doing too bad, but honestly, in India, how many of us buy music? Live concerts are still the main source of income in the music industry. The Indian independent music market is a little more unique than that in the outside world. Not only do we have to figure out how to beat piracy but we also have to compete with Bollywood, the big daddy of the Indian music industry.

In my opinion, piracy is a good thing for the music scene in India. Before the Internet, we were exposed to only commercial international music and rarely did we discover new underground artists. But with the Internet, we have been able to access these artists and learn from them, adapt from them — which is why we really need to stop talking about piracy as a problem, at least in the non-Bollywood arena. Bands have to realise that if fans truly love your music they will buy your music — but yes, you have to make it a little more enticing for them than before — come out with gimmicks to sell your album. Run a competition so that your fans choose your album cover, sign the album or enclose videos of your best performances — these are all gimmicks or extras that just help push your music forward. But then again, sometimes gimmicks are not even needed, because you have loyal fans.

India’s biggest problem in the non-Bollywood music arena is the infrastructure. We have hundreds of budding bands and artists in India, but where are the venues, artist management agencies, publishers and record labels? You might argue that there are labels, but very few actually want to sign a rock band that sings in English. The venues in India are few and far between. Pubs that become makeshift live music venues are not real venues. They don’t have the right acoustics for the music, plus they have no plug-and-play service, so a band has to wait for a promoter, who in turn has to get sponsorship to have the band play at these places.

Getting Started

So, what’s the first step for a budding musician? Well, I would say get your music in order. Practise, practise, practise. If you’re in a band, get your band’s sound in order. Start playing shows after you have a full set of songs. Don’t expect people to love your music if you don’t! Lack of energy and dedication really shows.

In the beginning don’t expect to be paid. It’s all about building a presence and pushing your band’s name into the circuit. Don’t worry about getting a record deal at this juncture. Just play. If your music is good, the press will notice you. Also, there is no harm in dropping a line to your local TV station/newspaper/magazine office and sending them some information about your band. Enter the various live music competitions that are out there — even if you don’t get far, people will get to know you and your music. After a point, record a few songs and live performance videos on your own so you can send those songs along with your biography to potential buyers/clubs and event companies.

Make sure you build your own database of fans — collect emails at all your shows, set up groups and pages on Facebook, MySpace and iLike and try to spread the word as much as you can. Register your music with a collecting society. Most artists in India are not aware that every time your music is played on the radio or in clubs, you’re supposed to get money. Register your music with PPL, ASCAP, BMI or IMI (India). It helps protect your music.

Once you have reached this stage, where you have a solid fan base and people in the industry have heard about you, then approach a record label in India or abroad.

Indie labels vs Major Labels: What road to take?

This is a very common dilemma. What are major labels? At the moment there are four major labels: Universal, Warner, Sony and EMI (though with so many consolidations we never know who’s buying whom within this lot). These labels in turn have a set of labels under their umbrella like Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, etc.

Split Magazine: iTunesBefore the Internet, it was important for an artist to sign on with a major label or one of the labels under their umbrella, because they could usually provide a large advance on CD sales, advertising and provide a push on mainstream TV/radio. Usually, artists signed to major labels would make anywhere from 11% to 18%, along with a separate publishing deal. An advance basically means that the label would give you a lump sum in the beginning, which would later be recouped or taken back from your CD sales. So until they took back all that money, you wouldn’t be getting paid. This is in a way like taking a loan from a bank.

An indie or independent label is basically any label that is not owned by or under the umbrella of the major labels. Indie labels usually are more flexible with artists. They give them more artistic freedom and they usually have a 50%-50% deal with artists, as they have fewer resources. Nowadays, since most advertising is done on the Internet, which is free, very little investment is needed from the label’s side. They don’t have to print a lot of CDs as they can sell music via iTunes; there is no need to put in a lot of money for advertising as its easier and cheaper on the ‘net. So there isn’t very much difference today between the services of a major label and an indie.

The only advantage that majors still have is their ‘name’ and (especially internationally) this name can get your music and videos on TV and radio, which is much harder abroad.

Releasing your own album

In today’s tech-savvy world, it is very easy for someone to record and release their own albums. You don’t really need a label. If you get a good distribution deal either through online services like iTunes or retail stores then it’s fine. Do remember CDs are now mostly used as promotional tools as most people (except your die-hard fans) would rather download them for free, which is why CDs shouldn’t be considered as a major source of income for the artist.

Sources of Income

Well, if CDs are not making artists money, then what is? Live concerts make the most amount of money and hence a lot of labels now want to take a cut out of your concerts. Synchronisation, which is basically putting your music in films, TV shows and advertising is also a good way to make money. Digital music in India (unlike some other countries) has completely skipped online downloading and is more prevalent in mobile. Hence, you can still sell your songs as ring tones and ring back tones.


What is the difference between a booking agent and a management company? A booking agent’s job is solely to book shows for the artist. They can have as many artists on their roster as they wish and they usually just charge a percentage on top of the artist fee and sell this to clubs. An artist can be signed to one booking agent exclusively for a territory or can be non-exclusive and work with many booking agents. The manager’s job on the other hand is basically guiding the artist through all the various aspects of his or her career. Getting them publicity, a good record deal, endorsements and also helping them with their legal requirements like contracts. Usually, a management company handles around five to eight artists, not more, as it then becomes difficult to manage, and competition within the roster is not good.

The industry standard is 15%-20% of everything an artist makes. So if the artist makes no money, neither does the manager. The manager-artist deal is always exclusive and the manager might get someone to co-manage the artist in a different territory, if required. An artist should usually have both a manager and booking agent, as technically a manager doesn’t always get a band shows, the booking agent does. In India, these lines are still quite blurred.

It is very important to have a manager on board who understands the various aspects of the industry so that they can exploit the artist’s talents as best as possible. Choosing a good manager is very important, as you will be signed to them for a minimum of three years (industry standard). The relationship between the artist and manager should be like a marriage; no one party is more important than the other and both have to work together to push the artist forward.

It isn’t important to sign with a manager or a label, but it always helps. Just because you are not signed to a manager does not mean they won’t help you and guide you. Managers tend to be in this business to pursue their love for music so you can definitely approach us, as we are always willing to help.

Lastly, not all artists and bands make it, as this industry is very hard. However, if you have the dedication, you should definitely pursue it as far as you can. It’s important to deliver something that’s unique and different. Don’t try to imitate anyone, you have to stand out!


2 Comments. Post Yours Here.
  1. July 8, 2009, 1:50 am Stuart

    nicely constructed article…
    but i have a question. For an indie artist, for arguments sake say- ” something relevant ”
    needs a record label… where would you go and what would be the ideal deal… ?

  2. July 8, 2009, 8:52 am Hiral Bagadia

    Hi Ritnika, very good article..thanks for sharing the road to success…
    I have a rock band named ‘Manefus’, based at baroda, Gujarat. We have started our rock journey since past 4 years now and are well known rock band across Gujarat..We are already through with “getting started” area of your article. We have created our own space in the rock industry by winning various competitions across gujarat and are the only band to have IIM campus rock under our belt for the last two consequitive years.. This year we have also launched our EP.. But that too dosen’t solve our purpose as we fail to make it a business..We have tried to contact few people but all we get is to participate in competitions and when it comes to shows, somehow it does not click.. Please guide us as to how can we proceed and extend our road into the industry..
    Would really appreciate your reply..

    on behalf of “Manefus”

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