The Business of Metal: Kunal Choksi
Metal label owner, PR manager and webzine editor Kunal Choksi on investing in fledgling bands, coming to terms with social media and taking Indian acts overseas
“Back in 2005, people were astonished to see an online metal magazine from India. So much so that they deemed Diabolical Conquest an American site and cited the same even on Wikipedia,” explains Kunal Choksi, label owner, independent band promoter, and general one-man show. Today, Choksi’s ‘diabolical’ property has been renamed — to the equally imaginative Transcending Obscurity [TO] — and reworked to include a fully functional webzine and PR company that has promoted over a hundred bands, both international and local. Currently, his roster includes bands such as Mumbai grind act Gutslit and horror-metal band Albatross, French metallers Affliction Gate and Australian black metal band Norse. TO is also currently the only Indian independent metal label taking Indian metal overseas.
Besides owning a metal-exclusive label running a webzine, you also manage PR for both Indian and international acts. Is there a reason you choose to continue working alone, despite the increasing workload?
I usually work behind the scenes to get deserving music noticed around the world. I’m forced to do what I do on my own because it requires a certain level of expertise and experience which can’t be hired — I do my own write-ups, press releases and approach bands personally. Perhaps in the future, when it gets bigger, I could work with interns or collaborate in a deeper way with my writers.
What is your vision for a band when you sign them to your distribution/label?
I’m looking for good music when I ‘sign’ bands to my label or my Indian sub-label. For distribution purpose, I’m more flexible because I’m not ‘signing’ the bands, but just helping create a strong and presentable product and spreading their music through my network and online store… I’m the investor, the producer, the promotion guy, the press guy and I keep pushing their music in every way possible.
How has the process of promoting and managing bands changed over the years and how big a role does social media play today?
I did initially try to manage bands but realized that it’s not needed when there are already enough people in the band to manage their agenda. Our scene isn’t that big that it’s unmanageable. So I promptly got out of the managing bit and focused more on PR.
Social media definitely helps. I’m not a huge fan of it because it’s very fickle and not too lasting, but it’s too important a medium to not use it. I miss just keeping it personal, but bands expect me to push their music even on social media platforms, which is fair enough and I’m coming to terms with it now!
How difficult do you think it will be for Indian metal to be taken as seriously as its international counterparts?
Before TO, bands from the region were mostly content with the local audience and winning them over. I suppose many of them are now realizing that 100-200 fans don’t cut it anymore and the only logical way is to reach out overseas, where metal came from in the first place. With my contacts and past international experience as an editor and a label head from the time I was operating simultaneously from Mumbai and New York, I’m hoping to be the bridge connecting the Indian scene with the international one. More and more bands are getting noticed… I can’t take credit for it all, but given the number of local bands that I’m working with, I’ve done a fair bit to improve perceptions for the regional bands in particular.
I heard there’s a Transcending Obscurity compilation in the works. Will it feature both Indian and international bands?
Yes! It’ll have about 50 bands, both from the Indian subcontinent as well as a few international ones from the main label/ distribution leg, and all of them are affiliated with Transcending Obscurity. Like all compilations, this one too is meant solely for promotional purposes, but it’ll be completely free for anyone to listen to and download.
Besides metal, what other kind of music do you listen to?
I have a soft spot for old Hindi movie songs from the Seventies and Eighties; it’s the music I grew up listening to. I also somewhat enjoy ambient and atmospheric music that’s less metal and more rock or instrumental.
Running a label and promoting bands is now a full-time profession for you. What’s kept you going for the past 15 years?
I didn’t plan it to be this way. I’ve done mechanical engineering, business management, and even foreign trade; I should be at some corporate office getting a very handsome salary. What’s kept me going is that I’m not doing it just for myself but for others. My success lies in their success. There are financial insecurities, and the headache of dealing with bands that are inexperienced or worse, with an attitude problem, but I suppose it’s still better than working in a field that doesn’t interest you at all.
This article appeared in Rolling Stone India Issue 0092: October 2015.