Jodhpur Riff Music Festival

Picture a massive fort with imposing walls that stands upon a hill accessible by roads that climb up, zig-zagging their way to the top. Inside that fort, musicians from all over the world have assembled bringing their own unique style of music with them. You are seated on chairs in a wide open courtyard surrounded by the tall, erect walls of the fort that stand cocooning you away from the world outside.

Mehrangarh Fort at 7 in the morning

Mehrangarh Fort at 7 in the morning

But, it is not morning when you are in there (as it is in the above picture). Instead, it is midnight. The moon is waning, having seen the first day of the music festival in all its full glory.

You are not alone.

To the left of you are your friends with their eyes, ears and minds glued to the stage in front of them. To your right is a tiny 3-year old foreign kid with sunset yellow hair in an Indian kurta and pyjama. He sits on the floor, claps, leaps up, dances and plays with whomever he wants, oblivious of the rest of us. Carefree and obviously having the time of his life, he doesn’t smile though. It is as if the scene in front of him was one of the secret rituals of a ceremony that only he knows and was created just for him to take part in.

His mom is somewhere at the back. You know this because you had seen both of them eariler in the food courtyard. He looked sleepy then, probably waiting for things to get started. The mother looked like many years ago, she must have gone through a similar procession. Ragged clothes, pierced skin, a backpack, flip-flops - she exudes charm and natural cool that many of us can only look at, admire and idolise.

Behind us is a swarm of people equally interesting and completely interested in what was unfolding in front of us. Some are standing holding their drinks while others, their lover's hands. Rest are seated on a stone platform at the base of the walls surrounded by strangers wanting to strike up a conversation, smoking, listening to the music. 

The Royalty of Jodhpur sits on one side against the wall - impeccably dressed in their regal attire - turbans, sherwani, swords - the works. Guards with curled up moustaches stood protecting them from the common folk. 

The main attraction was lit up by an amalgamation of colors dispersing out of various strobes shining on the performers on the stage and reflecting against the walls. 

Who the performer is on the stage is immaterial. You don’t remember much of how it sounded like except that when you were there, the music was solely what you thought about. No other thoughts entered into your head and you feel glad because of it. 

The music lifts you up, drowns you down, moves you - takes you in circles, makes you smile, wonder and smile some more. You don't really know which category to place this music in. There is Rock, Sufi, Soul, Folk and many others. Often, they collaborate and produce unique sounds. 

It is not too cold , just warm enough for a thin sweater. You take a sip of your drink. But, it is only customary, you don’t really need it.

Earlier, you sat at a ledge outside with your friends, legs dangling in the air. 200ft below, looking ahead in the distance, you see the many houses and people that make up the city. People dance on the roofs for a reason which you are not privy to. City appears a box full of more brown boxes with a few specks of color scattered around on top of people’s houses. 

And it is midnight. 

This is Jodhpur Riff Music Festival. I was there for only a night and day but it is already among one of my favorite live music experiences. I didn’t click many pictures of that night, there is no point. You have to be there to truly appreciate the grandeur of the event. 

On the way to the fort at 4.30 in the morning

That night, we stayed at the fort till 3 am then came back to rest for an hour before leaving again for the finale at a different venue. Unlike most music festivals, this one didn't end with a grand last night. Instead a beautiful morning show ended the proceedings. It was by the brilliant Kabir Panthi Prahlad Singh Tipaniya whose work we are already a big fan of. 

Prahlad Singh Tipanya - Tu Ka Tu

This was a completely new experience for me. We arrived at the venue for the morning show, Jaswant Thada which is a mausoleum, early in the morning when it was still dark. Tipanya Ji sat on the floor of the courtyard with his group. 

Different shades of Jaswant Thada during the performance

The sun had not yet appeared, probably waiting for us to assemble before emerging. We lay our bums down on the bright green wet morning grass, others on the mattresses. Gradually, the light grew brighter and we shut our tired eyes and let the music sink in. Although, honestly, we couldn't really hear all of it - the exhaustion from the night before resulted in a few small naps interspersed with Tipanya Ji's booming voice and the sounds from the instruments of the rest of his group. 

Eventually, we got up, roamed around, had a cup of tea, looked on the other side from where, again, the whole city and the Mehrangarh fort could be seen - all this time, the group kept singing songs of Kabir in devotion to God.

As it ended, we broke into an impromptu jig. The rest of the day was comparatively uneventful as we came back and rested for a bit before catching the train to back home. 

From Jodhpur, we took back some fine memories and delicious sweets and kachoris. And left behind a promise to do this again. 

For more photos of the festival, check out their Facebook page.

What makes us a pirate

And my story from a pirate to founding a digital music store

In the last 6 months, two important things have happened:

1. I am more broke than ever before in my life

2. I have purchased more music than I did in my 23 years before that

This might seem odd. After all, who pays for music these days, anyways - just the rich kids and audiophiles, right? Certainly not a broke entrepreneur. It was my belief that people who pirate and later turn to buying music do so because they are financially more well off. Because of the simple reason that many considered ‘buying’ music a luxury but not a necessity. I did too. And boy, was I wrong.

Back in college, I did what any music loving, self respecting, on-a-small-pocket-money-budget college kid would do. I grabbed a senior’s hard drive and copied his complete music collection into my machine. I was so high on the shining new music collection of 50 GBs.

Watch Out! was the monthly student magazine of our college. It was what the cool kids read. For one of the columns called Almost Famous,they interviewed one famous student of the campus. All the young kids wanted to be on that column one day - it was the peak of popularity you could attain. I remember reading one particularly well where the interviewer asked this highly popular chap: “What do you consider your most prized possession in 4 years of college?” His answer:“My 34 GBs of hard drive full of amazing English music by bands from all over”. I was so amazed and blown away. I wanted to be that guy. Imagine having 34GBs of new music to listen to and show off. I craved for his music collection and more. It didn’t matter to me that it was pirated or not, which of course it was.

The important thing to note is that this answer came from a senior student of one of the best engineering colleges in India. He was actually proud of his feat. Whether he was unaware of the implications of his actions or was just playing the fool is anybody’s guess. The magazine editors who pride themselves on their slogan We have Issuesdidn’t seem to have any issue about him pirating music. That to me is the crux of the piracy problem - ignorance.

When we were young, a lot of us were ignorant about what piracy actually means for the artists. Unfortunately, some of us are even today. A lot of us don’t know that it is illegal and harmful to the artists to do so. I met the ex-head of a major record label once who told me that his teenage kid doesn’t buy music because he thinks it is stupid. And I found this a common trend with most people I spoke to. Very few seemed to have the idea that it was hurting the artists.

Earlier I used to think it’s about the money - that as soon as I start earning, I would start paying for music. I did, by going out and paying for gigs, but not so much for digital downloads or CDs. Then, Musicfellas happened.

My first music purchase was a CD by the band Sulk Station. I emailed them requesting their CD and they were kind enough to send me one with a hand written note on the envelope. It felt good. But it wasn’t until I started working on Musicfellas that I started purchasing music. I was completely unaware of how badly it is affecting the artists.

As I got to know the artists personally and hear their stories, it made me realize how hard they work to give us the music we love. Stories of having to worry about the next month’s rent - every single month were not uncommon. I met artists who sacrificed sleep, comfort and even food to do what they loved. And it changed me.

Thus, it is my opinion that, like me, there are others out there who need to be educated. Most people are not stingy, but simply ignorant. I have a seen a lot of my friends convert into paying users on and off Musicfellas and it warms my heart. We need to tackle piracy at the root level by educating the next generation and not merely by putting bans on torrents or releasing DRM-restricted music. People will always find ways to break the rules until they know in their heart what right thing to do is.

About that 50GBs of music, I am slowly deleting more and more of it and replacing it with legally bought music - Thanks to iTunes’ entry into India.

On Flyte Shutdown

This article was originally published as a guest post on YourStory

India’s biggest e-commerce player, Flipkart shutdown its digital music store Flyte. This comes as a surprise to me given the fact that Flipkart had invested so much in building it. They bought a company navigating a can of worms, built the technology, made licensing deals with the labels which can take ages to close and of course built a whole team to do that. Then why did this happen? 

As a digital music entrepreneur, here are my thoughts on this:

1. iTunes: This could be the single biggest reason on why Flyte didn’t work out. A lot of people I know preferred iTunes over Flyte, I do too. The ease of buying and having it downloaded automatically into your Apple devices is one of the biggest reason to do this. This convenience even overrides the lower costs that Flipkart had for some albums.

2. High content acquisition cost: The record label-online store partnerships work in a way where the store has to pay a minimum setup/guarantee fees at the beginning which could be in the tunes of crores depending upon the catalogue size. This is to hedge the label’s risk in case the store shuts down (like Flyte). After the minimum fees is recovered, revenue share on the sales begin. So, even if the store makes huge revenue, it might end up paying most of it to the labels.

3. Few paying users: India is among the countries which pirate the most and it is not without reason. There are just not enough people buying music here. The funny thing is that a lot of people who are just getting into the music scene don’t even know the concept of buying music. They think that torrents is a genuine way of doing it. That is tough to change. 

4. Changing patterns for paying music: World over, people are increasingly paying for access to music rather than for its ownership. Spotify, Rdio, Pandora give the users access to a huge library on the fingertips without giving them the ownership of the content. And users have responded fairly well to that. Thus, digital downloads are also probably going to become lesser as the cost of music access comes down.

What this means for the digital music scene in India:

From our experiments in the Indian market with Musicfellas, we’ve learnt that, there are just not enough paying users to make it a big sustainable business. Sure, you can probably make it a decent lifestyle business. But, that’s not what Flipkat would want, right? They would probably want to focus their efforts in some other directions instead - would say it was a commendable move. To build a big business solely on digital downloads in India is super difficult. At Musicfellas, we entered the business thinking of India as a test market and with plans to expand into international markets. Our assumptions that there are just not enough paying users was kind of validated.

Sure, there are some among us who would disagree with me and tell me that they pay so much for music. I know, I am one of you. But, there are very few of us - few enough to not make good business sense. 

What I see as the future:

The future of digital music according to me is going to be more and more about being able to listen to any song whenever you want at the exact moment. Not 5 minutes later after you download it but right when your heart desires it. So, models like Spotify, Rdio or in India - Gaana, Saavn and Dhingana are probably the way forward. But, then again, these services have to be careful as to what happens to them once Spotify comes to India (which should be sooner rather than later, given its entry into Asian markets via Singapore). Because honestly, these services are not even half as good as Spotify when it comes to the product. 

As to what happens to services like us - we will continue serving niche yet large enough markets of independent content. We are not Gaana’s/Spotify’s competitor but are complementary to them. We are not fighting for the same listening time - we want to help you discover new independent music (which you probably don’t find on these services). We operate at lower content acquisition costs (since we don’t work with the major labels). And, our users are passionate music fans, usually willing to pay for the music they love. We will always find space in that hipster heart of yours wanting to find good new music and break the usual clutter of overplayed commercialised music. 

We are rolling out a mobile app pretty soon and would offer it on subscription only, hoping that a combination of downloads and subscription in the international markets should do it. 

Disclosure: Times Internet Limited, the parent company of is an investor in Musicfellas via TLabs. The opinions in this article are my own and do not represent TIL.

What separates great music from genius

Good music is just good enough. You won’t write a blog post about it. You might not post it on your wall. You might not even recommend it to a friend. So, lets not talk about it.

Great music is something which you find yourself listening to every time you start your music listening session. Something which more often than not you recommend to a friend of yours or post it on your wall. Again, not something I want to discuss here.

Genius music. This is what interests me. This is the kind that keeps you awake at night. Makes you lose sleep because you don’t want to stop listening to it. For some us, even makes us hold our pee.  But, its not the kind you post on your facebook wall. It is just too precious for that. You hold it close, listen to it over an over again, get high and probably write a blog post on it.