From Ricky Martin to Shakira, every time a popular global icon performs in India, there's turbulence. If it's not dubious promoters, marching protestors are sure to play spoil sport, leaving the artistes flummoxed and our name tarnished in the global music industry.
Although India has traditionally not been a hotspot in Asia's rock music circuit, in the past few years, musicians such as Beyonce, Shakira, Akon and Roger Waters, the former lead singer of Pink Floyd, and acts such as Deep Purple, Air Supply, Scorpions, Megadeth and Boyzone have performed in the country. But if we were to compare the number of gigs held at other Asian cities like Singapore, Malaysia, Tokyo and Shanghai, the concerts in our cities are infrequent and far too less.
Why is India low on live concerts? A big deterrent is the lack of great venues. According to Vijay Nair, who runs Only Much Louder, a company which has been promoting live music in the country, every major European and American city has a minimum 50 standing venues where any performer can just plug in and play. In India, there's not a single such venue. When Elton John came in 2002 to Bangalore, he had an entourage of a 30-member crew with loads of hi-tech gear and his grand piano.
Industry grapevine has it that globally, Indian promoters, barring a few respectable ones, have a bad name among musicians and agents. "They do not take India seriously because we are known for bringing aged icons, who play here as a stop-gap arrangement. Getting an icon to exclusively play here is very difficult."
Sabbas Joseph, director of Wizcraft, recollects the time he brought Michael Jackson to Mumbai. He says, "The challenges we remin bog - gling, the logistics, security, licenses and red tape left u s drained. Anevent like this need smassive manpower and funds . And one can only succeed withthor - ough profess i o n a l - ism."
If Joseph today prefers to steer clear of live music concerts and concentrate more on other events, red tape is to be blamed. "More than three months of groundwork is required for an event with 40,000-50,000 capacity. Even then, the authorities have the might to pull the plug at the final minute," he says. In 1996, when Venkat Vardhan, MD, DNA Networks got Yanni to India play in the backdrop of the Taj Mahal, he had to face a set of challenges that would have any promoter bite the dust. More than a decade later, things haven't changed much for Vardhan.
"There are too many deterrents — nods multiple government authorities, lack of infrastructure, security threats, and most important, lowpriced tickets," says Vardhan. John Simidian, executive producer of F1 Rocks, who has been promoting metal gigs across the world at Grand Prix events is in talks with Metallica, Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce to perform in Delhi during India's first ever F1 race. "After several big cities across the globe, I'm ready to take up the challenge of staging a world class act in Delhi."
For live concerts, the profits depend largely on ticket sales. Say, a Rolling Stone gig would cost roughly 2.5 million dollars. In that case, the promoter would depend largely on ticket sales for profits, which come only when tickets are priced at 5,000 onwards. Vardhan elaborates, "In the West, a ticket for an A-list star is priced at 100 dollar onwards. Our tickets for international acts range from 1,500 - 2,000, which hardly cover costs. To top it all, there's heavy taxation and even artistes are not spared." Promoters say that corporate sponsorship is essential to organise major shows in India. Siddharth Menon, events manager at Rock Street Journal (RSJ), says, "India is a brilliant market in terms of music. Today, there are takers of blues, jazz, orchestra... heavy metal bands have almost godly status here. International bands are willing to slash prices to come and play here, but the government does not openly support such endeavours."
According to the Indian Music Industry (IMA), Bollywood music covers 71 per cent while devotional music covers 21 per cent of the Indian music market. For other music, people prefer to borrow a CD or download music rather than buy it. RSJ's Menon says a main criterion for a top star to perform in a particular country is to go by his/her number of record sales. "When Meshuggah, a popular metal band from Sweden, were invited to perform at RSJ's Great Indian Rock Fest, they promptly checked their record sales here and were quite dismayed," says Menon.
From jazz to ballet, the emerging global Indian has a taste for all the good things in life. But tragedy is that he's not willing to pay to get a fine taste of global culture. Explaining the
mentality, Ahir Bhairab
Barthakur, Indian correspondent of Billboard, says, "There is no dearth of starcrazed fans here. From flying down to a particular city to watch their idol perform and losing jobs in the process to shelling out a month's salary for premium seats, music fans here are just like any in the rest of the world. But as we grow, we seem to be turning more inwards. The global Indian is more aware of the finer nuances of culture, yet he'd spend more for a Bollywood night than, say, an Elton John performance." Does it call us a musically challenged state? Take note.