With the launch of hip hop label Azadi Records last week, the tribe of indie record labels is set to thrive
Hip hop artist Sun J, who has been signed on by Azadi
The aim behind Azadi Records is to tell stories," says founder Mo Joshi, who has been an artist manager for more than a decade. Both Joshi, 35, who has managed acts like Raja Kumari and Akala, and Uday Kapur, 24, who used to work in artist management at OML, are about releasing music with a "socially relevant" voice. Their record label, which launched last week, joined a small but growing tribe of indie labels, who could be trying to change the way the music industry works in India. "We want to provide a support system - right from managerial duties to packaging and marketing. We want to give genuine artists a platform to showcase their talent and feelings," he says.
Mo Joshi and Uday Kapur of Azadi Records
For starters, Azadi has signed on three hip hop artists, all with unique backgrounds. There is Prabh Deep, 23, who hails from Delhi's Tilak Nagar, an area that was badly hit during the 1984 riots, and who writes songs and raps about growing up in a Sikh community haunted by the past. His song Kal (Future) released last week.
There is also Sun J, 24, who comes from Mohammadpur Azad Basti and was discovered by Joshi on desihiphop.com where he would upload songs about making the best of life.
And there is Sez, 23, the producer of Divine and Naezy's tracks. "We are the only record label to have tied up with Kobalt Music, a US-base publishing house which is the largest in the world. There are hundreds of platforms for these artists and we want them to get there. Right now, we are Delhi based, but we plan to conquer one city at a time. We are also self-funded."
The band, Mojo Bombay, performs at Discovery Nights edition 4 at Cat Cafe Studio, Versova
At another Delhi-based record label, Pagal Haina, where Dhruv Singh runs the show, artists are chosen only if he believes in them. "We are not genre based. It's not about trends or norms. These are artists we love," says the 33-year-old. The label, which has been operational since 2011, has signed on three artists - popular singer/songwriter Prateek Kuhad, Rounak Maiti and Ditti (Aditi Vina). "The aim is to find unique and distinct voices. We want to help them in their journey." Singh says that their services are personalised to the artist's needs. "Sometimes, we invest in the album. Sometimes, we take a nominal fee for label services. We think of it more as artist development." For Singh, it's important that the process of discovery is organic, and once he does find them, it's all about the music being a "collaborative team effort". He also shares that the money seems to be rolling in slowly thanks to live gigs. "There are good and bad days. Sometimes, I consider selling an organ or two. But I think we are managing to create a fairly decent balance."
Dhruv Singh of Pagal Haina who manages Prateek Kuhad
If Azadi and Pagal Haina are trying to help unique artists hone their craft and business acumen, labels like Mumbai-based Ennui.BOMB, who stopped managing artists because of the "thankless nature of their job" are about providing venues and finding an audience. "Financially, it's draining, and in the end, you need to make money," says Bombay boy, Rishu Singh, who started the label in 2004. "We have launched a new property called Discovery Nights, where we break new acts. We had done this before with hip hop Bomb nights, where artists like Divine rapped before they were big. And look what's happened with the hip hop scene now."
Ennui.BOMB founder Rishu Singh
Along with Divine, Singh and his team have worked with bands like Laxmi Bomb, The Riot Peddlers and Kabir Café. "We also release an annual compilation of songs from these new talents." Their business model is simple - either the gig is sponsored or they do a gate share with the venue. At the end of day, it's all about making sure that the label survives so that the artist can thrive in turn. As Dhruv Singh of Pagal Haina puts it, "I think indie labels work as a sounding board, sometimes to be honest and say 'this is not working', sometimes to say 'this is it.' But at the end of the day, it's about letting them [artistes] be who they are".
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