It's gotta be more than music
Mumbai's indie musicians are expanding their revenue base by launching clothing lines and taking on second careers
Almost every other artiste will tell you that when they broke the news about pursuing music as a career, their parents' first concern was financial stability. It's no secret that most full-time musicians in the city are either teaching on the side or banking on corporate shows during season time (September to February) that pay relatively fat cheques even as they do their routine gigs at pubs.
But these aren't the only two avenues. Many artistes in the city have tapped into other passions or professions. Take city-based band Aswekeepsearching that recently launched their own line called Z I A. This was an idea born when the four-member band grew tired of wearing only black on stage. "We thought of getting into an apparel line as my sister Tanaya Sharma is a designer," vocalist and guitarist Uddipan Sarmah reveals. "Who would have thought a rock band would come up with an apparel line! It's not yet a revenue model for us. But any idea that can add to our income is great," he adds.
Aswekeepsearching came up with their own apparel line ZIA
Even city-based rapper Sumit Roy came out with a limited edition of 'free speech' shirts in the middle of the general elections, which hasn't converted into a source of income yet. But Roy does have another revenue-making model under his belt — putting his artistic skills to use and taking up design projects.
One musician who seems to have cracked the retail space successfully is YouTube sensation Bhuvan Bam, whose merchandise store Youthiapa has a loyal clientele for its quirky hoodies and sneakers, but isn't his only safety net, primarily because he's been smart with money. "You need to plan your finances and invest wisely," says the singer-songwriter who has managed to tackle a glaring problem — shelling out a bomb for music videos and recording albums. "Make minimal budget videos which could even be shot on a phone with a good camera. As long as the message is clear, you don't need to add any frills. This helps with cost cutting. Also, producing a single is wiser than releasing an album, because in the latter, other songs often get overshadowed by the pilot song," explains the artiste.
Though she hasn't ventured into designing her own clothes yet, musician Saba Azad has modelled enough number of times since she started singing, purely due to the relatively big bucks it brings. This has also led to acting jobs, though she credits her acting chops to having been brought up in a family full of theatre professionals. Her modelling days started when she was dancing professionally with a company to pay the bills, and was spotted by an agency. "I don't have any attachment to modelling. It's there because all musicians in Mumbai need to have multiple jobs. Bans on performing live music are frequent and the government is tough on venues. So, if you only want to play music for a living, be prepared to bite the commercial bullet — playing in Bollywood bands or doing playback vocals and jingles like I do," says Azad, who modelled for designer Masaba Gupta recently.
Vocalist Saba Azad modelled for Masaba recently
Instead of looking for freelance gigs, the key to sustain yourself as an independent artiste could also be to pick a more stable source of income that isn't as time-consuming as your passion project. Like Delhi-based vocalist Tanya Nambiar, who launched a line of customised sauces with her chef husband in 2017, says, "It's dependable as performing live music has an off season, but this is a condiment business that will work all year round," she says.
Vocalist Tanya Nambiar (right) started her own hot sauce business
Or turn your previous profession into a freelance option that sustains your music, which is what city-based DJ Anushka Menon has done with photography. "Of late, DJ gigs for new artistes have not been paying well. My photography income supports my music expenses during tough times," she says.
"Be prepared as it won't be easy. You'll feel like giving up every day, but the fun lies in the challenge," is the message Sarmah leaves aspiring musicians with.
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