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Singing a different tune

The economy may be in the doldrums but these young entrepreneurs are using this time to turn their passion — music — into a living, finds Suprateek Chatterjee.

music Updated: Oct 16, 2012 01:49 IST
Suprateek Chatterjee
Suprateek Chatterjee
Hindustan Times

The economy may be in the doldrums but these young entrepreneurs are using this time to turn their passion — music — into a living.

Cotton Press Studio

WHAT: Cotton Press Studio, a recording studio at Elphinstone Road inside an abandoned cotton press factory.

WHO: Started by musician Stuart DaCosta, 26, and his bandmates Jehangir Jehangir, Alok Padhye, Tanmay Bhattacherjee, Ryan Sadri and Luis Chico, who are part of the popular blues-jazz-rock ensemble Something Relevant.

WHEN: It has been two months since the air-conditioning was switched on, says DaCosta.

HOW: The members of Something Relevant had been trying to find a studio space for more than two years but with little success. “Most places were far too cramped while others were around noisy environments, which would’ve let to a lot of investment in terms of soundproofing,” says DaCosta, the band’s lead vocalist and bassist. “We needed a quiet space where the entire band could play and record together.” Six months ago, Bhattacharjee’s driver, who lives in Parel, suggested they look at the Parel Cotton Press, an abandoned factory with large warehouses that have been out of use since the early ‘90s.

In January, the band had done a series of shows in Bangladesh, which earned them a lot of money. They decided to put most of that money and invest it into this place, which they felt was perfect since it was big enough as well as in a relatively quiet area.

“We could have blown up all that money on partying if we wanted to,” says DaCosta. “But since Something Relevant started, the philosophy has always been to invest a part of the money we earn back into the band.”

They spoke to Mazhar Jaffer, the owner of the press, and took one of the warehouses on rent. They then spent some of their savings on installing an air-conditioning system and outfitting the studio with high-quality recording equipment. “We call it a ‘boutique recording studio’,” says DaCosta, jokingly. This is reflected in their rates: An hour at this studio costs Rs 2,500, which is nearly the same — and in some cases, even more than — certain well established recording studios, such as Yashraj Studios and Purple Haze.

WHY: Something Relevant, who have been together since 2003, are one of the most popular indie bands around. However, last year, they took a break as three of them, including DaCosta, shifted to Chennai to study music at the Swarnabhoomi Music Academy. Their experience as a band as well as their post-graduate degree in Chennai had honed their audio production and recording skills, which they wanted to put to use.

They also wanted a space where the band could record their second as well as subsequent albums. "The studio has been set up in such a manner that all we have to do is plug in our instruments, press the record button and play," says DaCosta.

‘The environment is very conducive for start-ups’


WHAT: Moojic, a mobile app that allows one to view as well as customise the music playlist at various restaurants, cafés and pubs via the phone.

With the app, one can check in to a location and vote for certain songs to be pushed up the queue of the establishment’s playlist. One can even request or dedicate songs at a venue that has partnered with Moojic, without being physically present there, by checking into the place’s playlist through the app.

“Basically, it allows you to turn into a DJ,” says Kumaran Mahendran, one of the co-founders who came up with the concept.

WHO: The company’s founders are 28-year-old Mahendran; Neha Behani, 30, his classmate from business school; and Sona Muthuvijayan, 28, who was his classmate at engineering college.

WHEN: The app has been under production for the past five months and will be launched in November.

HOW: After spending about six months attending meetings with potential investors and start-up incubators, the trio got feedback, if not funds, assuring them that they were in the right direction. They started work on the app, pooling in their savings, adding to about Rs 20 lakh, and using it for technology, design and an office space in Four Bungalows, Andheri (West).

The trio has also developed a device, which they call the Moojic box, which is essentially a mini-jukebox. They plan to make money by selling this for Rs 7,000, as of now, to the venues that they tie-up with. They will also get money from people who pay for add-ons and extra features in the app.

They have also been speaking to proprietors of several restaurants, cafés and pubs across the city. As of now, 20 establishments have agreed to come on board and tied up — including the Mocha chain of cafés and Khar pub Three Wise Men.

WHY: Mahendran was in Manilla working as a consultant with several start-ups in the mobile sector. A lot of them dealt with location awareness, where an app uses GPS or mobile internet to track the user’s current location. This gave him the idea for Moojic, and when he told his ex-classmate Behani, who was working in Singapore, about it, they decided to quit their jobs and launch it in India.

A year ago, Mahendran and Behani returned from Manila and after six months of planning decided to set up operations in Mumbai. "We felt that Mumbai was the most conducive of all metros in terms of its start-up culture and ready base of consumers," says Mahendran. "More people here seem to be willing to work for start-ups than in other cities."

‘A slowdown makes you invest smartly’

WHAT: is an online platform for buying digital copies of independent, non-film music in India.

WHO: Vijay Basrur, 39, founder and CEO.

WHEN: launched on August 15, after a one month beta-testing phase.

HOW: In January, Vijay Basrur, an MBA degree holder from Mumbai’s SP Jain Institute of Management, was on the website of Turquoise Cottage, a popular live music venue in New Delhi, when he came across music from Them Clones, a decade-old rock band in the independent music scene. He wanted to buy their album, so he went to their website but couldn’t find a way to do so. So he got in touch with the band on Twitter, and they asked him to email them his postal address. “I found that [to be] a really archaic way of procuring music,” he says, “but the band said they had no other options in India.”

At the same time, Flipkart, India’s largest online retail store, launched Flyte, the first large-scale digital music platform in the country. “I realised then that there was a definite market for this — users who were willing to pay for digital downloads of the music they really liked,” he says.

Setting up a website isn’t capital-intensive, but Basrur says he spent “about three to four times more” than one would normally spend on designing and setting up the website, paying Rs 12 lakh for this from his own savings. “I wanted to build a good product,” he says.

WHY: Basrur has 17 years of experience in start-ups. After working in and helping several tech-related companies get off the ground, he wanted to delve into a sector that has been booming in India over the past two years — independent music. “With festivals like Sunburn and NH7 Weekender, we now have a lot more platforms at which bands can play live,” he says. “Therefore, there is more interest in independent music.”

In two months, 31 of 35 bands that have been catalogued on the site have made money, although the figures are minuscule right now, admits Basrur. "I’m optimistic about seeing a lot of growth over the next eight months," he says.

A series looking at ventures that young Mumbaiites — most of them under 40 — have begun in different sectors over the past year. We tell you why they have done it during an economic slowdown, and how they did it.

Tomorrow: social enterprises

First Published: Oct 16, 2012 01:15 IST