OML Has Dropped Some of its Biggest Music Artists From the Roster. Vijay Nair Explains Why
Swarathma, Parvaaz, The F16s, The Ganesh Talkies and Sandunes are no longer with them. Nair says the company is “pulling back and rejigging the artist management team”
The past few months haven’t been the smoothest for bands and artists on Only Much Louder’s (OML) roster. While most of the big-name acts have parted ways with the company, others are on their way out. Bengaluru psychedelic/prog band Parvaaz, who had been with OML for two years, announced their exit this week with the news that they’re now signed to New Delhi artist management agency Big Bad Wolf. Acts like Bengaluru folk-rockers Swarathma, Kolkata’s pop-rock band The Ganesh Talkies, Mumbai-based producer Sandunes and Chennai rockers The F16s have begun self-managing. Tej Brar, former Head of Artist Management division at the company, too, quit earlier this month. Arjun S Ravi, former Director, left OML and joined Red Bull India last year.
Swarathma frontman Vasu Dixit explains that the breakup was a long time coming. He says, “Basically, we saw that OML has been quite busy with a lot of bands. Also lately, their focus has shifted towards comedy and mostly EDM. We felt that we were not one of the main bands… So we met Vijay (Nair; Founder & CEO, OML) and discussed the matter. He was very upfront about the fact that if they aren’t doing it right, maybe we should part ways. Later he got back saying it’s not happening and that they were dropping all the other bands too because OML’s managers needed training. Actually, we were quite relieved too because things weren’t happening productively.”
“Basically, we saw that OML has been quite busy with a lot of bands. Also lately, their focus has shifted towards comedy and mostly EDM,” says Vasu Dixit from Swarathma
Parvaaz frontman Khalid Ahamed, on the other hand, says things were going pretty okay till they got a call from OML “all of a sudden” this January. “They told us very frankly that they weren’t able to handle so many bands. But they assured us that they will help us in getting new management.” Josh Fernandez, The F16s’ vocalist/guitarist reveals how things shaped out for them: “Our contract was nearing its end, and we were in two minds whether to continue or gracefully exit. OML dropping all their bands galvanized our decision.”
Suyasha SenGupta, vocalist of The Ganesh Talkies, feels the main reason was that a lot of bands were beginning to feel that OML wasn’t invested enough in them. “We spent a little less than a year with OML and while things were very smooth in terms of gig bookings and logistics, we were starting to feel a little bit disillusioned by what is ‘the indie scene.’ We felt like outsiders in an essentially Bombay-only party.”
Nair, on his part, explains that OML decided to “pull back” because the company felt it did not have enough managers to attend to the needs of the bands. He says, “We are in the process of rejigging things. We want to go double-down when it comes to music.” But till that happens, the company has decided to let go of pretty much all the bands on its music lineup. “We had conversations with the artists and explained the situation to them. It is not fair on our part to have them with us while we reassess things.”
Among the artists that continue to be on the roster are Mumbai pop-rock outfit Ankur & The Ghalat Family. Confirms frontman Ankur Tewari, “Our plan is still on course. We do monthly renewals and we have been reaching our target.” He says he isn’t sure why the company has dropped a chunk of its artists. “I don’t know what the reasons are but everyone seems like in a happy space. Whenever I meet these guys—Parvaaz and The F16s—everyone seems happy making music. Having said that, even the bands that aren’t with OML–we have always seen them as family, and that is how the independent music scene has grown in India.”
Goa-based DJ/producer Nucleya, one of OML’s most successful flagship artists, wasn’t available for comment but going by the information on his Facebook page, it seems he continues to be part of the OML family.
“We are in the process of rejigging things. We want to go double-down when it comes to music,” says Vijay Nair
Mumbai rapper Naved Shaikh aka Naezy is currently in talks with the company on the future course of action. He feels that his association with the company wasn’t the best. “OML didn’t give me the attention and importance that I deserved. Our partnership seemed very slack. And although I have communicated to them that I need a dedicated manager, they have expressed that they don’t have the resources for it. We will take a final call on whether to stay together on not in a week or so.”
New Delhi electronic music producer Sahej Bakshi aka Dualist Inquiry reveals that the news of OML dropping bands caught him by surprise. “It came as a shock and I was sad about it.” The musician, however, says he continues to have “a good understanding with my managers at OML”: a fact which could only mean that he isn’t leaving the company. “As an artist, I can the attest to the significance of good management. I think it’s important to have a good team and nice, tight relationship with your manager and as long as that’s in place, all is good.”
Nair reveals that OML is the process of recruiting an “army of managers” before resigning new artists. “We are going to train 30-40 managers and there will be a team assigned for each act as opposed to having just one manager per artist,” he says, adding the indie music scene is currently in a state of management crisis even though the number is artists is significantly increasing. “The quality of management in India has gone down with most managers being just glorified booking agents…it’s done like an assembly-line. We can’t name five breakthrough artists that have come out in the past year—ideally there should be at least 15.”
“We are going to train 30-40 managers and there will be a team assigned for each act as opposed to having just one manager per artist,” explains Nair
OML is India’s premier media enterprise which boasts of a host of verticals including artist management (music, comedy and alternative culture), live events (Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Stage42), brand-funded digital and TV content (The Dewarists) and online ticketing (Insider.in). The company’s rapid expansion into previously untapped markets makes OML one of the country’s most ingenious enterprises which has not only helped organize the amorphous cultural scene in the India but also paved the way for more startups to follow suit.
Although letting go of some of its most promising acts might seem strange for a company that promotes new talent, according to Nair, when the new music strategy will be put in motion, it will benefit all. “We want to invest in an ecosystem where we produce quality content.”
Till then, some of the outgoing bands are relying on their own resourcefulness to secure gigs. Says Fernandez, “The fact that we are no longer with an agency that looks out for us, puts things in perspective and the weight on our shoulders is entirely ours to bear. At this point, we have other things to worry about outside of this–things that deal closer to what a band is supposed to do i.e. make music.” SenGupta feels that given the current climate, it doesn’t matter if an artist has management or not. “While Bollywood artists have found their place in independent gigs and movements, there hasn’t been much of a crossover (except maybe for the Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, which featured an indie playlist). So till the time we have access to mainstream media, I don’t see the point of management; a DIY approach works just as well.”
“I don’t see the point of management; a DIY approach works just as well,” says SenGupta
The fact that OML has dropped most of its multi-member acts and retained solo electronica artists and comedy acts/collective points to the general lack of lucrative avenues for independent music-makers in India. Says Dixit, “From a client perspective, it makes easier for them (OML) to manage and promote a solo EDM artist or standup comedians. These acts are in trend and their logistical setup is simple too; there is no major soundcheck, and travel and accommodation costs are cheaper.”
The musician also explains that the presence of a burgeoning YouTube market among the audience that thrives on “content creators” like comedy and electronic producers makes things doubly difficult for ‘live’ bands. “The audience today is YouTube-savvy. And it’s not easy for a band like ours to release a lot of content every now and then. We are songwriters, not content-creators. If we get into content generation, we would be moving away from being natural artists.” Swarathma recently released their new single “Beta Sweater Pehno” and are currently looking forward to their multi-city tour starting this weekend.