Network of notes

Aarefa Johari

India, Dec. 9 -- Growing up in Mumbai, Sriram Emani was always diligent, working hard at academics but also making time for his passion - Carnatic music. When it came time to choose a career, however, his family didn't like the idea of him trying to earn a living as a vocalist. So he chose an engineering degree at IIT-Bombay instead.

Now a second-year management student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Emani, 27, has launched a start-up that he hopes will make it easier for aspiring classical musicians to choose their passion as their livelihood.

Launched on November 7, his company, IndianRaga, has set up a website that operates as a sort of LinkedIn for classical musicians, allowing artistes to create professional profiles and use them to connect with industry stakeholders such as concert organisers, music labels and recording companies.

Three weeks before its launch, IndianRaga won the 2012 MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Community Choice award and the 2012 US Creative Business Cup award, for its promising business model.

It has now also partnered with the Kolkata-based ITC Sangeet Research Academy to organise a fellowship contest, whose winners can avail of master classes and short-term residencies with gurus from the academy.

In the largely unstructured sector of Indian classical music, where breaks usually come through personal connections and word-of-mouth publicity, Emani's start-up is part of a growing number of entrepreneurial ventures that aim to make access to opportunities more organised and democratic.

Last year, for instance, Mumbai-based Aishwarya Natarajan launched Indianuance, a company that provides professional management to classical musicians, arranging, curating and marketing their programmes with the aim of broadening their audience base.

Artists-India Gallery, an online venture similar to Emani's, features profiles and recordings of a range of classical musicians, dancers and artistes.

Other ventures, such as Sonic Octaves and Underscore Records, help artistes with the recording and sale of their music.

"The biggest challenge for artistes today is to translate their work into money, and their greatest need is to have easier access to performance opportunities," says Emani, speaking to HT over the phone from Boston.

Emani co-founded IndianRaga with engineers Anasuya Mandal and Neha Jaiswal. "I realised that an online community would be a good platform where musicians and the industry could meet," says Emani.

In its first month of operations, IndianRaga has already received 20 artiste profiles, most of them from the Indian diaspora in the US and Canada.

"All over the world, the Indian diaspora is eager to connect with the homeland. Thousands are learning and performing classical music, and audiences are willing to pay well for concerts," says Emani, who wants his forum to benefit more artistes in India.

Some experts, however, believe that building an audience base for fresh talent may not be so easy at home.

"Here, people expect everything that is not Bollywood to be free or subsidised. We are quite spoilt," says Natarajan, 30, who manages careers for six musicians, including classical guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya and Carnatic violinist duo Ganesh and Kumaresh, through Indianuance.

Online forums such as Emani's are still a welcome change, says sitar and tabla maestro Nayan Ghosh. "A generation ago, music circles in every city provided regular platforms and audiences for concerts. Today, they are being replaced by corporate patrons who pay large sums for big events, making it difficult for most artistes to procure concerts for themselves and make a living." Ghosh adds that the stress of trying to network and hunting for concert slots also makes it difficult for lesser-known artistes to focus on their music.

"Good entrepreneurial ventures that offer performance opportunities will, therefore, always be a useful contribution to the musician community," he says.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.