The internet. It is staggering to think that just a little over a decade ago, at least in India, this was a phenomenon largely restricted to shady cyber cafes, whose computers were chock full with embarrassing pop-ups linking to the most bizarre of porn sites, not to mention an absurd amount of viruses. Today, it is the commercial lifeblood of hundreds of thousands of industries and, as crazy as it sounds, has changed millions of lives forever. Want a book? No need to bother driving several miles to that Teksons outlet; just hop on Flipkart and take your pick. ESPN showing golf instead of your favorite football game? Just Google the team names and a dozen live streaming options are presented to you. In a band and don't know how to get your music out there? Forget creating and handing out dozens of demo tapes and CDs at gigs, just create a Soundcloud page and make merry.
Hell, my own band was formed and developed nearly entirely over the internet! We are signed to a label from a country I have never visited. Our singer wrote and recorded all his vocals sitting a thousand miles away. Marty Friedman asked me to co-write most of his last album with him. Yes. The former Megadeth icon asked a dorky kid sitting in Sarita Vihar in New Delhi noodling on his guitar in front of a computer to co-write his album. Try wrapping that around your heads, because I still can't quite believe it myself.
At the same time, while we rejoice at how the world has become such a small place and opportunities are arising the likes of which have never been witnessed before, it is worthwhile to note that there is a darker side to it. While us third-world citizens have been exposed to thousands of artists through the internet (whose CDs would never in a million years have made it to stores in our country), the relentless piracy of albums and merchandise has left the once thriving indie rock and metal industry reeling. Things look to have come to a head with Roadrunner Records, arguably the biggest metal label of all time, closing down their Europe and Canada offices, leaving a whole lot of people without jobs and several VERY high profile bands without a label. It's ironic that although bands and labels have about 100 times more reach than they used to, their bank statements are diving further down the deep end of the red.
The same goes for the more recent phenomenon of social networking. I'll be the first to admit that Skyharbor as a band in its current form would not exist if it weren't for Facebook. I'd bet at least 95% of our fans found us through the internet, and a further 75% of those through Facebook and Twitter. But it is important to note that it is the fans who found us – not the other way round. We didn't go clamoring for people to like our pages or listen to our tunes. And we most certainly didn't do the endless copy/pasting of links on every possible Facebook wall we could find. Yet I find that it is precisely the bands that DO spam and try their hardest to get noticed who fail.
Imagine if you will (Indian folks will relate to this particularly well) – driving to work, and stopping at a traffic signal, only for your car's window to be assaulted by knocking from hawkers trying to sell you boxes of tissues. You already have a box of tissues in your car. You don't need those tissues. Yet the hawker is pleading, crying out even, for you to take pity on him and buy some of his tissues. There are two possible outcomes to this – either you buy the tissues out of annoyance just to shut him up (and then toss them in the boot and never see them again), or you completely ignore the hawker till he gives up and moves on to the next car, where the whole cycle repeats itself. But the far more likely outcome is the second one – you will ignore him. Because not only do you not need his tissues, you don't like someone banging on your window and begging you to buy something.
It may sound silly, but the hawker actually stands a much better chance of selling tissues if he goes to a marketplace and sits on the roadside with a neat array of tissue boxes in front of him, and WAITS for people who actually need tissues to come to him. As opposed to begging and annoying people on the street.
The difference between bands and the street hawkers is that bands have a choice. The choice to NOT spam and abuse the power that the internet and social networking gives you. The choice to not take the shortcuts which may yield short term success but will inevitably fail in the long run. The hawker doesn't care if you like his tissues or not – he just wants to make a few bucks. Bands, on the other hand, at least young ones, need to grow a fan base – they need people who are INTO them and love them, who will proudly sport their merch when they go out. That isn't going to happen by begging people to 'like' their Facebook page, or spamming people’s walls with links to crappy scratch recordings. It's going to happen by having a GOOD PRODUCT: Great music great packaging great presentation. In our case, we have around 10,000 people on our Facebook page – not a big number, but I'm proud of the fact that not a single one of them was solicited via spamming. Everyone on that page joined of their own accord, because they genuinely enjoy the product, and I know that they will spread the word and help our fan base grow further.
To sum, all I want to say to young bands, particularly bands from our Indian scene, is this: It is a precarious time to get into the music industry. Things aren't what they used to be. People are broke, people are frustrated and annoyed, and people are sick of spam. Instead of spending your time and energy on trying to get their attention, focus that time and energy on making some great music that will speak for itself. You won't need to go out and beg for people to check you out. Let people discover it on their own, and if your product is great, it will spread by itself. Trust me on this. The choice is yours.
Keshav Dhar is the guitarist, producer and chief songwriter for the progressive rock/metal band Skyharbor. Skyharbor released their debut album, Blinding White Noise, worldwide via Basick Records on April 23, featuring several international collaborations including Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) and Daniel Tompkins (ex-TesseracT).
Photography: Kartik Dhar