IndiEarth XChange: In Conversation With Tej Brar
Behind every great man, is a great woman. And behind many great artists – is a great manager.
At this past IndiEarth XChange, we caught up with OML’s Tej Brar – the managerial mojo behind artists like Dualist Inquiry and Nucleya – on his unique perspective on independent music culture and its future in India.
IndiEarth (IE): You’ve achieved a good amount of success with your artists in the independent music space – what direction do you envision taking this in the foreseeable future?
Tej: I’ve reached a point with all my artists where we have a comfortable living, we’re making enough money, we’re not dependent on the mainstream to survive and support our families – but for me that’s not enough. What its about now is harnessing all the connections we have, all the different people who are excited about working in this space, and building something together. And this is the history of music around the world, where the underground eventually goes overground – and there’s a way to do it without selling out, without selling your soul, without becoming a commodity. It’s just a question of finding people who are like-minded, who are in positions where they can implement that, while keeping the artist’s vision intact and keeping it integrated.
IE: What are the biggest day to day challenges you’ve found yourself facing in the course of trying to do this in India?
Tej: The thing is we live in a country where the mainstream is all-pervasive, and what I mean by that is Bollywood. The kind of markets, budgets, infrastructure that Bollywood has is just something we can not compete with right now. My hope is in the next five, ten, fifteen years we’re going to get to a place where these two things can coexist and we can share resources – examples of which being a simple royalty collection agency that works both for independent artists and for Bollywood artists. If we even got a fraction of the budgets that are given to Bollywood – production-wise speaking – if we could take that money and create content that is original, and unique, and speaks to the independent artist, we’re already cooking.
IE: In a population of 1 billion people – do you think there really are enough people in India who are dissatisfied with the status quo, and want to see a change of this nature (the growth of independent music culture over the mainstream)?
Tej: You know so many people have been born and bred on Bollywood, that ultimately they’re going to get to a point where they want something else, a different flavour, a different sound – even if you take that example and extrapolate it into something that we could call the EDM boom right now, all these kids who are going to shows listening to Swedish House Mafia, Steve Aioki, David Guetta, jumping up and down freaking out and losing themselves at these shows – well, it’s an alternative to Bollywood – it is – and what’s going to happen is in five / ten years, these kids are going to be like, “Okay, that was cool. I did the big room jump up and down big room progressive house stuff,” but maybe then they go and find techno, house, drum n bass. These masses of kids going to the shows, eventually they’re going to want something deeper. It’s human nature – you evolve, you go to a place where you want something that speaks slightly more to your intellect, more than a basic jump up and down put your hands in the air. So I think that’s ultimately going to happen it’s just a question of how long it’s going to take, and who’s going to do it.
IE: From your perspective as an artist manager – what is the value of being at a space like XChange that puts members of the independent music, film and media industries all together in the same space?
Tej: Here’s what I think – it’s nice because it puts everybody on an even playing field, very low pressure environment where everybody’s open minded. So you can literally be outside having a cup of coffee and meet everyone from the Israeli Consulate General to an up and coming filmmaker who’s just made his first short feature; a Rajasthani folk musician to an electronic artist. So it’s great to have a confluence of people across the industry all coming together for the same thing – and the same thing is basically to grow this, whatever this thing is that we’re all a part of – everybody wants to build it together and everybody wants to contribute, and that’s fantastic.
IE: What do you believe are the advantages of building bridges between these three wings of the independent arts industry (music, film and media)?
Tej: I’ll give you an example – there’s a guy here named Satyarth, who’s a filmmaker, close friend from Delhi, I just saw him meet someone downstairs who’s an electronic musician, and boom there’s a music video getting made now. And that literally just came out of one conversation, so it’s fantastic. And I’m a very firm believer in person to person connections – that face to face value is invaluable. And you can go back and forth with someone for months over email and never actually get to a point where you guys are ready to work together, but the second that people meet each other face to face and make that connect – it’s immediate. If there’s a vibe, there’s a vibe – and you’re never going to get that vibe over email, phone calls, even Skype sessions. So watching people meet each other here at XChange and find an affinity is great.
IE: What are some possible outcomes that you could see coming out of participating at XChange this year?
Tej: I think two things can come out of this – it’s the import and export of talent, I think it’s great to bring in artists who are not India-based but who share a common independent mentality, giving them a space to perform at. For example I book for NH7 Weekender, the guy who’s playing downstairs right now – the one man band from Israel [Yogev Haruvi] – unbelievable! I’m going to go meet him right now, get his card, and hopefully book him for Weekender next year. The other major benefit that can happen for us here – last year I went to Reunion Island for the Sakifo Festival with Nucleya, that would not have happened without Sonya and IndiEarth facilitating it.
IE: What potential do you see in terms of creating and facilitating business opportunities for your artists?
Tej: If you look at it from a business angle, there’s a huge amount of revenue that can be generated in India for international artists. Up until four five years ago it was about taking Indian artists outside of India – what Indian artists as well as international artists are realising is that the market is here – we’ve got a billion people – everybody’s open minded and ready to be turned onto the next thing. I also sat in on the panel that was led by Vehrnon Ibrahim yesterday, with Nikhil Udupa and other media heads talking about why we need to break into mainstream media and what that means for people in the independent space – that was a real insight in understanding how the media have their targets, goals, procedures for what they need to do every year, but how can we slowly implement our independent culture into the mainstream. And having those guys there who are the guys who can make the decisions, you know – “play this on the radio, put this on TV” – it’s great! So I’ve had a few great constructive conversations about the resources we can use to build my personal roster further.
IE: Have you forged any interesting collaborations while here?
Tej: What I really like about the vibe down here is these are all people I wouldn’t meet otherwise – even though I’ve been in the industry for some time and I know various industry people who are India-based, what’s been really great is meeting all the international people who have come through – from Reunion Island, France, Israel – so it’s been a really nice cross section of people who are fiercely independent and involved in the music space, but want to be in the Indian market, want to make connections here. And it’s similar for me, I want to get my artists opportunities outside of the country and grow them that way.