We are never going to charge people for our music,” says Mohan Kannan, rock band Agnee’s lead vocalist. You know he means it, when he reveals that the band has broken its two-album contract with Sony Music, to release music from its next album digitally – for free.
“It’s ironic in a sense,” laughs Koko, the band’s lead guitarist. “Just two years ago, we were praying to get a label to release our self-titled debut album. We debuted on one of the best labels, but a while ago we returned their advance for the second album so we could distribute our songs for free.”
The band’s reasoning is simple— they believe that there is no point in selling your music, when it would be pirated and downloaded by listeners anyway.
“The bigger problem is that the quality of the downloaded MP3s is so terrible, that it spells doom for our music,” says Kannan, “so we thought that we might as well release good quality music ourselves on our website, so people can download legally and our songs get a wider reach.”
In fact, the MTV Splitsvilla theme song — one of the songs by the band, was only released online on their website www.agneelive.com, on Valentine’s Day this year causing an upsurge in their fan following. “We expected that to happen when our music videos went on air,” Kannan confesses. “At one time, MTV was playing five of our music videos together! But when we went out on the streets, there was no fanfare. No one recognised us.”
It was the album’s strong musical content, which, when fused with Koko’s heavy metal influences and Kannan’s Carnatic music background, gave the listeners an unheard of sound, to savour.
“Now, one-and-a-half-years down the line, there are people from as far as Thailand, mailing us to say that they love the music. We have had concerts in India’s hinterlands where people sang the lyrics along with us,” smiles Kannan, “when even I don’t remember the lyrics to the songs sometimes!”
Agnee has worked hard to create a following for itself. Kannan, who is an MBA graduate and was working with a top firm, quit his cushy job to plunge into music. Koko was the director of a reputed educational institute himself. So when the duo came up with a band, they had nothing and everything to lose. Koko confesses that when the two friends decided to stay away from English-language songs, a lot of friends felt that they were “selling out”.
“We didn’t choose to sing in Hindi because we had to or it was more profitable,” says Koko. “I look at Hindi music in the world music context. It somehow seems right when an Indian is performing on the world stage in an Indian language. Plus, I play the guitar in the same way — as loudly and as aggressively as I used to play with my metal outfit. It’s just that because there’s melodic Indian content to go with it, it doesn’t come across that way,” he says.
Agnee’s music is original with a strong Indian flavour, combined with lyrics that have the essence of the era of Kabir, Rahim and Surdas that listeners still connect to and the band is striving hard to keep the connect of being a “people’s band”. “When we say that, we mean that we want people to be involved in the song-making process,” explains Kannan.
So, after holding a contest among the public to put words to the Splitsvilla Theme Song, the band is now conducting a poll to decide which song from their new album should be released as the first single. Once the single is out next month, the rest of the songs will release gradually on their website.
In the meanwhile, Agnee is performing concerts across the country and is also composing for a Bollywood movie, Gulab Gang.