Rapper Naezy, who emerged as talent to watch out for two years ago from the slums of Kurla, isn’t quite able to put his finger on what ailed his relationship with new media company, Only Much Louder (OML). “I found the meetings feeka [insipid],” he says of the outfit that managed him for around two years. This is surprising considering OML pioneered indie music management in the country 16 years ago, turning into a game changer.
Naezy says after Uday Kapur, his manager at the outfit, quit the firm, he didn’t think they were able to identify someone who understood the rap scene. Only last year, Tej Brar, OML’s head of artist management, had declared that 2016 would be the year of desi hip-hop, making the likes of Naezy a priority. Brar quit the firm last month, following Arjun S Ravi, former director, who jumped ship last year to join Red Bull.
Murmurs of them pushing their own artists at NH7 Weekender, the annual multi-city music fest, conceived, produced and organised by OML, have been growing louder as is the allegation that they don’t lend the much needed push to indie talent that they once did. “Senior, experienced artists are given 3 pm slots while newer artists, their own, are handed the prime 9 pm slot,” said a well-known singer-songwriter, requesting anonymity.
Swarathma, Benagluru’s folk-rock outfit moved off the OML roster after they say they experienced a drop in quality of artist management
Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone announced that OML had dropped some of the country’s most prominent indie talent from its roster —Bengaluru-based Swarathma, F16 and Parvaaz, and The Ganesh Talkies from Kolkata. And then, two weeks ago, Naezy moved on.
Pop-rock band The Ganesh Talkies, (from left) Suyasha Sengupta, Sambit Chatterjee, Roheet Mukherjee and Ronodeep Bose, received an email intimation of termination of contract, and say they had seen it coming
Talent management reboot
In 2002, Vijay Nair, launched OML after dropping out of Syndenham College. He was 18. While a student, he was already managing bands like Pentagram and Zero. His older brother Ajay Nair not only took on the challenge of convincing their conservative Malayali parents of the risk, he also pooled in his savings to kick off Weekender’s first edition in 2010 by mortgaging his flat. In three years, the fest picked up two more cities, Delhi and Bengaluru, gradually launching NH7, the online music news platform; artist booking agency The Syndicate, and Babble Fish Productions, which got famous with television shows like The Dewarists. Gradually, they have expanded into stand up comedy, managing All India Bakchod and Kanan Gill, although music remains the mainstay with names like Nucleya, Ankur Tiwari and Dualist Inquiry associated with them. While Vijay started off small, like any entrepreneur, managing the bands himself, gradually he attracted the talent that allowed OML to fly.
Interestingly, he has come a full circle, managing certain bands himself, but realising he has his hands full. Swarathma, who have been with OML since 2008, admit they owe their success to Nair. In a recent conversation with him, they say he admitted to being unable to change the artist management discipline overnight, and suggested it was best to part. “We have been managed by Nair himself directly, and were always on even keel. But he couldn’t continue doing this, and in the past few months, we weren’t happy with how the artist management part was going. A manager needs to look into logistics, yes, but also help the talent plan a road ahead. Not every artist can do it himself. The focus was not entirely on us, and the quality was dipping,” says Swarathma guitarist Jishnu Dasgupta.
For The Ganesh Talkies, the mail from OML concerning the termination of a three-year contract (signed in November 2015) before time, wasn’t surprising. Bass player Roheet Mukherjee says the parting is sure to affect their work (OML funded their albums and landed them gigs), but sees it as a tough decision the company had to take. “We, personally, were having accounting problems. The payments were not coming on time. Vijay called everyone up personally and said he needed to step back, and didn’t wish to continue with a band if he couldn’t deliver. It’s like a relationship, really.” For the moment, they are on their own and say, if their music is worth it, the gigs should keep coming.
Naezy, too, says they parted on good terms, and while he hopes to work with OML again, the lack of focus, or what he terms ‘push’ was affecting his reach. “Plans were made, but not executed. Maybe, I should have pushed more from my end too. I tried. I didn’t have a focused team to manage me.”
Why did he do it?
To the outsider, then, it seems that OML’s current roster is dominated by moneyspinners, EDM artists and stand-up comics. How does that make them different from any other music management firm?
Vijay Nair is clear he is going to take time out to rebuild. In an email interview, he says, “Building a scene and ecosystem is more important than standing out. For that, you have to focus on building a team, not just signing talent.” The reason behind dropping prominent bands, he attributes to, working on expanding the music division to double its size. Re-evaluation and training fresh talent is what he must focus on. “Managing [artists] in India usually means booking shows. But it is much more than that. It includes working with brands, managing their long-term strategy, publishing, merchandising, royalty collection. The list keeps growing as the music business evolves. None of the music management firms seem to be focusing on this. We are largely busy with day-to-day operations. OML is clear about how a new team has to be built — which usually means taking a step back and training before going out and signing acts.” Once he has regrouped, he may just sign on the same acts again, he says.
Ankur Tiwari and the Ghalat Family disses the rumours. Not being picked up for an event may have to do with OML’s strict curation, he argues. “There may be a few unhappy with the company’s recent move, but the essence of the indie scene depends on working together, not competing. Unlike before, there are so many more artist management firms, and everyone is cool about working with the other. That’s the good thing about this space right now.”
He is referring to the likes of Big Bad Wolf, Mixtape, Wild City and Krunk, among others. Anirudh Voleti, who works with Big Bad Wolf, says OML’s decision, boils down to a change in business model. Why judge them for it? Big Bad Wolf calls itself a boutique agency that manages only about 10 acts a time. “The meaning of ‘indie’ has changed too. It used to mean non-Bollywood, but now, it could be anything. The main aim is to let the scene grow. And though there are many of us out there right now, the policy is to live and let live,” he says, adding, “At the end of the day, as things stand, an indie artist can manage on his own. It just depends on his understanding of venues, and his drive as artist. That’s all it takes.”