To judge a competition where the best bands from the West zone of India battle it out, who better than music producer and recording engineer Ashish Manchanda, who has worked on films known for their music like Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, Dev D and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, and the frontman of one of India’s iconic rock bands, Uday Benegal of Indus Creed? Before they evaluated the top three finalists, The Family Cheese, Fame the Band and Vernon Noronha, at the Sennheiser Top 50 Band competition at Hard Rock Cafe on Thursday, we chatted them up about what goes into making a successful band, their advice on developing a sustainable career in the music industry and more.
FINDING YOUR FEET
Ashish and Uday have created a niche for themselves in the industry. They have been there and done that, seen many highs and lows in their careers and have managed to achieve success. Ask them what their idea of a band worthy to win the competition is, and they unanimously say their music. Ashish adds, “The whole experience of attending a band performance must be exciting and engaging for the audience. Musicality is the first thing that’s going to attract people, even when they haven’t heard the band and they don’t know their music from before. As a listener, the music has to move me, everything else comes after that,” Uday agrees.
But he says that in addition to the music being superb, how a band plays their music is equally important. “It starts with the songs themselves, which make the sound of the band. Then there is originality of your composition and so on. Music is an emotional experience, it’s basically just vibrations. It’s frequency, it’s bandwidth, it’s vibrations, it’s disturbance of molecules and creation of sound. So it will directly affect you on an emotional level. The technical prowess in terms of performance is vital. The band’s got to be tight, well rehearsed, and they’ve got to be in tune in terms of their roles. They’ve got to arrange the music in a way that the music itself is interesting. Because this is live music in front of a live audience, where you don’t really have the advantage of the studio where you can layer stuff and create effect, you’ve got to deliver the same experience to a live audience,” he says, emphasising that the band must have great songs and the energy to pull it off and excite the audience.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL?
Uday claims that it’s not a tough question, but an impossible one to answer because there is no one answer for it. “No one can ever say that this is what you need to do in order to be successful. The definition of successful becomes the first moot point. You have to figure out whether ‘success’ is the amount of money you make and chart presence that you have or is it defined as something you love to do, you do really well and find a way to sustain yourself over a long period of time doing that,” says the singer.
The most important thing, he says, is doing what you love to do, believing and knowing that you can do it well. “I don’t mean convincing yourself that you can, but knowing that you really have a skill and then working very hard to develop it to get better at your craft. And when you get better at your craft, you will feel better about doing it. So self worth goes up. Very critically, I’d say, an artist must have stamina and perseverance. The hardest part for most artists is developing a thick skin because there will always be forces who tell you that you should do it differently or shouldn’t be doing it at all,” he says.
HOW DO YOU SUSTAIN YOURSELF IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
Ashish shares that a band has to come up with kickass music, or their career will fall flat even before it can take off. “I don’t think that much time is being spent on the art and craft of making great music nowadays. Like a chef, unless you make great food, people are not going to come to your restaurant and they are not going to talk about it. Unless you create a basic ingredient that is required for your success — focus on creating good palatable music — it’s not going to be appetising for your audience,” says the music producer, adding, “This is a business of feelings and experiences. Performing music is a craft and you have to learn to develop it.”
He makes another interesting analogy, comparing the act of making music to that of designing a bridge or building an aircraft. “It’s a craft to develop aircraft,or design bridges that don’t collapse. Similarly, it’s a craft to make good music and songs that don’t crash. Fortunately in our business, if a song is not good, nobody dies. But if a bridge or aircraft is not made properly, hundreds can die. Hence, you are not allowed to make a mistake. In music, you are allowed to make a mistake, it is still not created with that much seriousness. But if you do not spend that much time and put in that much effort in making your music, it can be a slow cancer if your career never takes off,” says Ashish.
MAKING YOURSELF VISIBLE
To have a good career, Uday advises that you must have a good team which works as a support system. And apart from this, you must make yourself visible to get the attention of the audience. “While you continue to seek and express the truth through your music, you work with people help you take it forward, you must try and understand how to employ strategies to make yourself visible. It’s not about gimmickry, but positioning yourself to an audience that knows you exist,” says Uday, adding, “You can have a great product but if nobody knows it exists, nobody’s going to see it and know it was there. They will pick up stuff that is more visible to them. It’s a pretty tough job to make yourself visible and it’s become harder and harder because the space is become quite crowded. There is more music being made today than at any time before, and you have so many platforms to share your music too.”
The face-off started with Fame the Band taking the stage. Sporting a number 10 Argentina jersey, Fame Sangma, a Messi fan, enthralled the audiences with her powerful, soul-stirring vocals. The band, originally from Meghalaya, relocated to Mumbai last year. Sangma says, “In Meghalaya, we were just performing in limited space. We wanted more exposure, so when one of our band members got into an engineering college in Mumbai, he called all of us over there to come and try and make our career. We’ve been performing at clubs and cafes and it’s been going well so far.” She ended the set with an unusually happy break-up song.
Next up, singer-songwriter Vernon Noronha entertained the audiences with his part-profound-part-whimsical pieces. Saving All My Love, he says, was inspired by his girlfriend nagging him about not being romantic enough, and his answer to that was he’s saving his love for it to last for a long time. Figure that! Towards the end of his set, he got the crowd bouncing to calypso beats of a love song, which he claims can also be interpreted as one about global warming.
Finally, The Family Cheese tuned up and stole the show. Since they have performed in the city a few times before, the audiences were familiar with their songs and sing-along lyrics. Drummer Yohan Marshall earned a roaring applause from the crowd. The band won the competition.