The easy availability of music, the difficulty to discover, and the lackluster marketing of new acts have resulted in declining appreciation for talent, says Atul Churamani, MD, Turnkey Music & Publishing.
With 34 years in the Indian music industry, Atul Churamani, Managing Director of Turnkey Music & Publishing is a wealth of knowledge on the subject. From reviewing the latest 80s music releases for Sun magazine to establishing India’s first independent music publishing company, he’s done it all. His experience and commitment to good music led to his association with ShowCase Events as a music advisor.
In a candid conversation with Everything Experiential, he discusses the transition to virtual events and the future of the music industry. Excerpts from the interview:
You have been associated with the music industry for decades. How did you get into this segment without traditional music training?
I used to write for my college magazine while studying at Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. One of my juniors approached me and asked if I would like to contribute articles on campus life for the popular Sun Magazine, since his uncle was the editor. Soon after graduation, that first stint at freelance writing turned into three years as a reporter with Sun, where I wrote on a variety of topics. Revisiting the music was part of the job and I was in contact with all the major music labels that were responsible for the distribution of international music in India.
At the time, Shashi Gopal was running CBS Gramophone Records & Tapes India Ltd., and he asked me to come on board. I was young, my parents had moved to Kasauli after retirement and I didn’t have a lot of connections in my hometown of Delhi, so I packed my bags and moved to Bombay to be part of the CBS team. When Shashi started Magnasound I moved with him and a few years later became the Managing Director of Magnasound. In the late 90s I needed a change so I moved to Virgin Records India when it was established in India and then to Saregama India Ltd. where I held various positions, creating the New Media, Publishing and Concerts activities of the company. I left Saregama in 2012 to become a consultant at Onmobile Global Ltd., before launching Turnkey Music & Publishing.
I’ve always wanted to explore the publishing side of the music industry. I had set up all of Saregama’s publishing business globally, so I had the experience and also knew that not many people in India took music publishing seriously. Turnkey’s business started in earnest in 2014, we became a member of IPRS in 2019 and in 2020 we signed as partners in India with the third largest music publishing company in the world – Kobalt Music Group . I believe that by being one of the only standalone music publishing companies we are a rarity in India which has helped us to stand out internationally.
However, we also offer other services at Turnkey – such as conceptualizing and organizing the successful ‘Paddy Fields Festival’ which brought folk fusion music to Mumbai, and ‘Sounds From The Desert’, which we did. in collaboration with Nanni Singh and ShowCase Events. All of these activities are part of our broader strategy to continually strengthen the music publishing industry in India.
Tell us about your journey with ShowCase Events. How did you meet Nanni Singh and what part of her vision appealed to you the most?
I met Nanni through a mutual friend, Soumitra Maitra, in 2019 and immediately connected with her. We come from a generation that really had to struggle to access music. Everything from calling out favors, sourcing overseas whenever we get the chance, or even just making the legwork to go to a store and line up for it. ‘buy. I believe it made us develop an innate appreciation for music. In my first job, when I was writing music, I would listen to the music with 100% concentration and try to understand the nuances of it. With every new album I got, I called friends, listened to music with them, and talked about it. So we literally knew every song on every album. Today, with easy access to millions of songs and the ubiquitous presence of a device, it has become something to multitask, like background noise.
For me, music is a serious business, and I could see that it is also a serious subject for Nanni. She understands the nuances of music better than I do and has an eye for detail, which is so important when planning experiences around music. When we first met she was preparing ‘Sounds From The Desert’ and I could tell she felt the same about her project as I did for ‘Paddy Fields’. With ‘Paddy Fields’ we set out to present folk music to an urban audience, which was a difficult task. We had to include the business aspect of the music, while retaining its traditional essence, to make it punchy. Nanni identified with the intention behind “Paddy Fields” and asked me to participate as a consultant to help with “Sounds From The Desert”.
What does your role as musical advisor to ShowCase Events consist of?
I believe I bring knowledge of music marketing. My various roles in the industry have given me a better understanding of the mind of the music consumer from a sales perspective. My role at Turney helps me understand how copyright works, which is also important in my role at ShowCase Events.
What do you think of the forced transition from events on the ground to virtual events due to the pandemic?
So first of all, I feel very justified about certain beliefs that I have always had. Like what was the need for music labels to have large, expensive offices? Nothing at all – containment has shown us that. In addition, I have always advocated the use of technology for marketing and business purposes. After all, what’s the point of technology if you’re not using it?
I think the lockdown was an opportunity for us to use the Internet as a marketing tool even more effectively. This allowed us to reach a lot more people. Awareness among people has also increased. ShowCase Studio, the ShowCase Events wing that hosts virtual music programs, is a prime example. The pull has yet to happen, but with the right marketing strategies, this is the kind of concept that will appeal to many people, both in India and abroad. So far, they have brought in some very interesting artists, some of whom I had never heard of before – like the visually impaired singer Ninad Shukla, who was amazing. ShowCase Studio is a great way for people who love great music to get acquainted with talented artists like him.
What do you think the future of the events industry will be – especially music-related events?
I think it’s going to be very exciting. There will certainly be challenges when it comes to the physical events as in my opinion the restrictions related to the virus will last until 2022. Personally, I will not want to attend live concerts for a long time. But I also believe that as soon as things start to open up, people will want to sate their hunger for live events. We should start planning and be ready for this period. Pick up promising artists, set up the logistics – all of those things should be done now, so we’re ready to go in the short term.
There has also been an incredible advance in the digital space. I saw this through Insider’s live virtual series “ Jim Beam Originals ”, which Turnkey conceptualized and curated. The Insider platform has grown beautifully since its inception and is steadily improving as new technologies arrive and bring new ideas for audience engagement to life.
In digital media, if you have a unique offering, you will get an audience – there’s no question about it. But it is also important to work on the presentation because it is part of the experience. Your authenticity and the quality of your work should be the first priority, the second being the experience you offer around it.
Exciting projects in preparation? We would love to know what you and the team are working on right now!
Nanni and I are working on a very exciting idea that we are not yet ready to unveil. We both share a common goal: to preserve our cultural traditions while presenting them in ways that are exciting to the modern consumer. And with the correct use of technology, things have the potential to become very important.
All the farewell words for the people in the music events space.
For people who are entering the commercial field, please do not ask artists to do things for free. It is more difficult for them than for others. Just because they have talents that can be streamed from anywhere doesn’t mean they have to be shared for free. Please be serious about the music. Look at the numbers – how many iconic stars do we have today? Much less than in the ’60s and’ 70s. We have 60,000 new songs released every day, but we don’t have more than 5-10 superstar bands. The easy availability of music, the difficulty to discover, and the lackluster marketing of new acts led to a decline in appreciation of talent. It is a problem of abundance. Respect the artists and the music.