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Is your music band your passion?
Aabhas Sharma
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June 05, 2007

Before going out on a Saturday night to a pub or restaurant, not many people are likely to check whether there is a gig happening there or not. 

The culture of live music is something that has always been on the sidelines, never really catching on big time. But now it looks like things are changing for the better. 

More and more pubs and resto-bars are looking to bands to come and perform before regulars. In cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, bands are getting opportunities to showcase their talent in front of decent crowds.

As Dhawal Mudgal, lead vocalist of the band Half Step Down, puts it, "It's not on a routine basis that you get to perform in an arena in front of huge crowds." 

According to Sidharth Talwar, director, ASA Entertainment, the company which runs Cafe Morrison in Delhi, "The concept of live bands works out well for both the parties involved, and people too appreciate good music."

Apart from Cafe Morrison, there are places like Someplace Else in Kolkata, Not Just Jazz by the Bay in Mumbai and Haze and Blues in Delhi which regularly feature gigs by live bands.

Out of these, Jazz, as the Mumbai joint is popularly called, holds live gigs four days in a week. Says Pramod Joshi, general manager, Regent Group of Restaurants, "We used to have bands performing regularly three-four years ago but had stopped for some time. But, of late, we have started doing it again."

Someplace Else in Kolkata holds live gigs on a weekly basis, experiments with various genres and is not only limited to rock bands.

But how viable is it financially for both the bands as well as the pubs/ restaurants? 

Says Talwar, "A few years ago, bands used to get paid very little, somewhere in the range of Rs 4,000-5,000 per gig. But things have improved now."

The bands themselves have a different perspective. Dhawal of Half Step Down feels that although things have improved, "there is still a long way to go."


Apart from getting decent money, these gigs provide the bands the right platform to launch their mainstream careers. Talwar claims that they follow a particular routine for the days they have gigs. 

"First, we start off with an amateur band playing its stuff (usually first-timers) and then move on to a performance from a professional band." This ensures that people enjoy both kinds of music.

Similarly, Jazz has karaoke nights where people come up and perform. 

"It is a massive hit among the people and we get a lot of repeat customers," says the manager of Jazz, which is probably one of the oldest places to have the concept of live bands and has managed to hold on to its popularity. 

While the bands still have to play covers of international artistes, they try to play some of their original numbers as well. "You can't expect us to play all our songs if we are performing in a pub or a restaurant. Even if we don't want to, we have to play international songs on public request," says Surojit Deb, of Them Clones.

Them Clones, which started off by playing in pubs and restaurants, has gone ahead and become an extremely popular band. "It definitely gives you the confidence; there are times when people boo you, but these are experiences which one has to go through." And there have been times when Deb claims that they have to play for free as well.

It's not only rock music which is popular on the pub circuit. Genres such as blues and jazz are also gaining popularity. Haze in Delhi is one such place that has jazz and blues nights on a regular basis and gets a lot of repeat customers. 

"The reason for alternate genres of live music coming is because there aren't places which promote jazz or blues." Over 90 per cent of the pubs and bars promote rock music, so the potential is immense to make the cut in these genres.

Talwar, however, feels that just getting the bands isn't enough to attract crowds, and that one has to play a lot of attention to details like ambience. "If the setting is a family eatery and you have a live band performing there, it is a sureshot recipe for disaster."

The bands perform across the country and get regular invitations from various cities. For instance, Half Step Down perform in Mumbai and Goa on a regular basis. But can bands make a career out of performing at pubs? "Honestly speaking, no, you can't, unless you are not in it for a career in music." 

Cafe Morrison, for instance, has people from an NGO called Sahara, who aren't professionals, yet are invited to play. "It's a nice experience to play but the live scene isn't that great that you can earn your bread and butter on a long-term basis," points out Deb. 

Things are looking up but there is some way to go before live gigs become a regular item on pub and restaurant menus. Meanwhile, next time you venture out, check out the gig at the neighbourhood pub!
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