Music Is Serious Business Atul Churamani On The Future Of The Music Events Industry

The easy availability of music, difficulty in discovery, and lacklustre marketing of new acts, has led to a decline in the appreciation for the 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 fount of knowledge on the subject. From reviewing the latest music releases in the 80s for Sun Magazine, to setting up India’s first standalone music publishing business, he has done it all. His experience and commitment to good music led to his association with ShowCase Events as Music Advisor. 

In a candid chat 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 enter this segment without a traditional background in music?

I used to write for my college magazine while studying at Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. A Junior of mine approached me and asked if I would like to contribute articles on-campus life to the popular Sun Magazine, as his Uncle was the Editor. Soon after graduating, this initial stint at freelance writing turned into three years as a journalist with Sun, where I wrote on varied subjects. Reviewing music was part of the job and I was in touch with all the major music labels that were responsible for the distribution of international music in India. 

At the time, Shashi Gopal was heading 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 many ties in my home town of Delhi, so I packed up and moved to Bombay to be part of the CBS team. When Shashi began Magnasound, I moved with him, and a few years later, became the General Manager of Magnasound. By the late 90s, I needed a change, so moved to Virgin Records India when it set up in India., and then to Saregama India Ltd. where I worked in different roles, setting up the company’s New Media, Publishing and Concerts businesses. I left Saregama in 2012 to become a Consultant with Onmobile Global Ltd., before starting Turnkey Music & Publishing.

I had always been keen to explore the publishing side of the music business. I had set up the entire publishing business for Saregama on a global level, so I had the experience, and I also knew that not many people in India took music publishing seriously. Turnkey’s operations began in earnest in 2014, we became members of IPRS in 2019, and in 2020 we signed on as partners in India to the world’s third-largest music publishing company – Kobalt Music Group. I believe by virtue of being one of the only standalone music publishing companies, we are a rarity in India, which has helped us get noticed internationally. 

However, we do also offer other services at Turnkey – such as conceptualizing and curating 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 these activities are part of our larger strategy to continuously beef up the music publishing business in India. 

Tell us about your journey with ShowCase Events. How did you meet Nanni Singh and what part of her vision were you most drawn to?

I met Nanni through a common friend, Soumitra Maitra, in 2019 and connected with her instantly. We come from a generation that really had to struggle for access to music. Everything from calling in favours, sourcing it from abroad whenever we got a chance, or even just doing the legwork of going to a shop and standing in line to buy it. I believe this made us develop an innate appreciation for music. As part of my first job, when I was reviewing music, I would listen to the music with 100% concentration and try to understand its nuances. With every new album I got hold of, I would call some friends over, listen to the music with them and then discuss 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 listen to while multitasking – like background noise.

For me, music is serious business, and I could see that it is a serious subject for Nanni too. She understands the nuances of music better than I do and has an eye for detail, which is so important when you’re curating experiences around music. When we met, she was planning ‘Sounds From The Desert’ and I could tell that she felt the same way about her project as I did about ‘Paddy Fields’. With ‘Paddy Fields’, we had set out to present folk music to an urban audience, which was a tough task. We had to include the commercial aspect of the music, while maintaining its traditional essence, to make it impactful. Nanni identified with the intent behind ‘Paddy Fields’ and asked me to come on board as Advisor to help with ‘Sounds From The Desert’. 

What does your role as Music Advisor to ShowCase Events entail? 

I believe I bring the knowledge of marketing music. My different roles in the industry have given me insight into the music consumer’s mind from a sales perspective. My role at Turney helps me understand the functioning of copyright, which is also important in the context of my role at ShowCase Events. 

What do you feel about the forced transition from on-ground to virtual events because of the pandemic?

So first of all, I feel very vindicated about certain beliefs I’ve always had. Like what was the need for music labels to have large, expensive offices? None at all – the lockdown has shown us that. Plus, I’ve always advocated the use of technology for marketing and business purposes. After all, what’s the point of technology if you don’t use it?

I feel the lockdown has been an opportunity for us to use the internet as a marketing tool even more effectively. It has allowed us to reach so many more people. The awareness among people has also increased. ShowCase Studio, the wing of ShowCase Events that hosts virtual music programs, is a great example of this. The traction hasn’t happened yet but with correct marketing strategies, it is the kind of concept that will appeal to many people, both in India and abroad. So far, they have brought on 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 enjoy good music, to be introduced to talented artists like him. 

What do you think the future of the events industry will be – particularly music-related events?

I think it’s going to be very exciting. There will certainly be challenges as far as physical events are concerned because in my opinion, the virus-related restrictions will last till 2022. I personally won’t be keen to attend live concerts for a long time. But I also believe that as soon as things begin opening up, p
eople will want to satisfy their hunger for live events. We should start planning and be prepared for that time. Picking promising artists, getting logistics in place – all these things should be done now, so we’re ready to roll at short notice. 

There has been an incredible advancement in the digital space too. I’ve seen that through Insider’s virtual live series ‘Jim Beam Originals’, which Turnkey conceptualized and curated. The Insider platform has developed beautifully from when it started, and is improving steadily as newer technologies come in and give life to new ideas for audience engagement.

In digital mediums, if you have a unique offering you will get an audience – there’s no doubt about it. But it’s also important to work on the presentation because that’s part of the experience. Your authenticity and the quality of your work should be first priority, with the second being the experience you offer around it.

Any exciting projects in the works? We would love to know what you and the team are working on currently!

Nanni and I are working on a very exciting idea which we are not prepared to disclose just yet. Both of us share a common aim – to keep our cultural traditions alive while presenting them in an exciting way for the modern consumer. And with the correct use of technology, things have the potential to become very big. 

Any parting words for people in the musical events space.

For people entering the business end of it, please don’t ask artists to do things for free. It’s more difficult for them than it is for other people. Just because they have talent that can be broadcast from anywhere, doesn’t mean it should be shared for free. Please be serious about the music. Look at the numbers – how many iconic stars do we have today? Many less than we had in the 60s and 70s. We have 60,000 new songs released every day but we don’t have more than 5-10 superstar acts. The easy availability of music, difficulty in discovery, and lacklustre marketing of new acts, has led to a decline in the appreciation for the talent. It’s a problem of plenty. Let’s respect the artists and the music.