Given the number of new bands and material what does it mean to be an Indie band? What does it take to make a living out of it? If not, then why do bands do it?

If you have a creative streak, the keyword now is to go Indie — whether you’re a writer, filmmaker, game designer or performance artist. Earlier, the only way bands could make money was to sign up with a record label and pull in their revenue through physical album sales or through a record contract.

But now judging by the number of home-grown bands, have musicians and promoters finally cracked the code of bringing in the moolah despite going Indie and having to compete with hundreds of other bands?

Why they clicked

The F16’s is one such Indie band from Chennai that’s been rocking the live music circuit last year. Harshan Radhakrishnan, their keyboardist/sampler, says, “Colleges hold the key, for the most part at least. The pub circuit can only get you up to a certain point. After that you get sick of most of it. College festivals are a good source of sustained income, although the scene is still growing. There are far more festivals a year than there were three years ago.”

He adds that putting out an album is like a rite of passage. “It just informs the public about of your band’s existence. If the album is any good, you will get shows, which will help pay bills.” Essentially, the released material and how it’s pushed to the audience serves as de-facto marketing rather than raking in any revenue from actual album sales.

Sriram TT, frontman of Chennai band Skrat, says that being in an Indie band is not too much about the money. “You’re an Indie because you don’t want to be the guy you are at work or suck up to someone in a corporation. You want to be seen for who you are, and what comes out when you play music. Being in a band is a deeper part of yourself.”

But that doesn’t mean your passion always pays or that it rakes in instant profits. “In 2014, in India, the concept of being an Indie band and getting paid don’t go together,” says Sriram. “When you start out expecting to be paid a lot and you don’t, it demotivates you. Meaning, it kills the art link that you’re nurturing inside you. As far as Skrat is concerned, we have got back the money from our investments and a little more. But is it enough to pay a wage? Hell no! It’s tea money, at best. Forget about making profits. That’s not why Skrat exists for us. I’d say it’s special when you still put that band together and surge ahead knowing that getting paid is quite unlikely.”

How do online portals like or Reverbnation help get the music out to a wider audience? Harshan says, “Oklisten is a portal, like many others online, designed to help a band with album sales, while Reverbnation hosts it. One can never have too many of those. Apart from being a basic portal, the website helps disperse music across oceans to other online portals like Spotify, which aren’t available to an Indian audience.”

One thing that every band has to keep in mind is packaging. Just making good music doesn’t count. They have to look for something new and innovative. For example, when Skrat decided to introduce new material to their audience, they chose to shoot a live set titled ‘In The Shed’ rather than record individual tracks. Sriram explains, “At first we thought we’d throw in a few old songs, a few new and make it a massive affair! Then we cut it short saying we’d do just five ... five completely new songs that we decided would be the new direction of the band ... and we need a platform to showcase good old angst-driven rock ‘n’ roll. So we decided we would be the first ones to do this video concert.”

Off stage

While artistes write and record their music, tweak and tune their production, work hard at putting out impressive album artwork and marketing material, spam social media and generate hype, it looks like it’s not enough to be ‘just a musician’ these days.

“Being an Indie means that you’ll have to brush up on all your skills from making good music to marketing it and be everything from PR to booking agent,” explains Roy Thomas, an independent sessions musician who feels that being in a band in India pays big only in a few select cases. “For it to actually start paying like it does abroad, there has to be a system in place, which is still quite haphazard here.”

Start your own band

The prospect of starting an Indie Rock band can be very appealing to a lot of people who love music, as it is a very direct genre which allows close contact with fans whilst remaining grounded. It can be very rewarding.

Take stock of your influences collectively and let it be a guide to creating your own sound. Sit down with the band and discuss the kind of music you want to create, using bands that impact you as examples. Your band may want to create an emphatic, ambient sound presented by bands such as Radiohead and The Antlers. Or you may want to go the other way and make exciting music that people could dance to, such as Modest Mouse or Arcade Fire. You could even meet in the middle, as bands such as The National have done to vary their sound, although this will often take more time as a band.

Once you have established your direction, you should think about instruments, and which are going to be the most appropriate for getting the sound you desire. Indie rock generally uses guitars, but acoustic and electric are used to different effects. You may also want to consider more unconventional instruments, such as violins of brass section.

Have the right tone. Tone is very important in indie rock. Bands such as The Strokes fiddle with their amp settings until they have found the perfect sounds that piece together in the music. There are a number of tones you can adopt in indie rock, with very few limits. Distorted riffs and clean rhythmic playing is a popular choice for many bands, such as Wolf Parade and Broken Social Scene.

Extend your influences. Listen to what bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth were doing 15 or 20 years ago. It will help you to get some perspective on some more current sounds.

Keep to within your restrictions. If your drummer is content on playing a 9/8 jazz beat with your bassist laying down slap solos you aren't really going to come out with the sound you are looking for. However, do get everyone's opinions and inputs on the songs. A band should never be a dictatorship.

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