Nisha Parmar: Nurturing Indie Artists in India

It may seem that India’s pop-music industry and its film-music industry are one and the same. Bollywood soundtracks dominate the charts and it’s usually those films’ actors and actresses who provide the faces (and dance moves) on the country’s many music video channels. It’s definitely a unique musical environment, one that relies on unseen songwriters, producers, studio musicians, and playback singers for its creative momentum. In such an environment, independent artists have their work cut out for them.

One person who’s taken up the mantle of helping those musicians find their way is Full Sail grad Nisha Parmar (Entertainment Business, 2010). Having struck out on her own after working for the indie-focused management, production, and promotion group OML (Only Much Louder), Nisha is working with artists who want to make a name for themselves outside of the Bollywood-driven pop charts.

Helping to bridge that gap is one of the artists Nisha is managing: Sneha Khanwalkar, who, after years of working as a music director and composer for indie films (which, despite the perception that Bollywood is all that Indian cinema has to offer, is a small but creatively thriving subset of the country’s film industry), is branching out into some pretty unusual – and high-profile – territory.

Although Sneha has made a name for herself in Bollywood, scoring movies such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Gangs of Wasseypur (for which she was nominated for Best Music Director at the Filmfare Awards), “She’s kind of a genre of herself; she’s definitely not a typical Bollywood artist,” laughs Nisha.

“She’s been in the industry for at least 10 years now, doing independent films. Now, she just did a show for MTV India [Sound Trippin] where she travels around getting sounds from local places and creating music tracks out of what she gets.”

Unique avenues like this – mixing artistic ambition with high-impact outlets – is an approach that Nisha thinks is vital for improving independent artists’ fortunes in India. Even in big cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore, the club scene for live music is still developing, meaning that baby bands don’t often have the same outlets that their counterparts in the U.S. may have. But the situation is definitely changing, and artists have more and more opportunities to play live.

“There are a lot of clubs featuring live music that have opened lately, but it’s still complicated,” says Nisha. “[Club-owners] have to get, I think, 100-150 different licenses before they can open and present live bands. But it’s happening, and bands are playing more and more. Before, it was never an option for musicians to be full-time independent artists, but I’ve seen a lot more artists able to take it up.”

Yet it’s the development of a burgeoning festival scene – one that OML helped pioneer during Nisha’s tenure with events like NH7 – that’s providing a unique outlet for bands to get exposure.

“I’ve seen a lot of media coming to these festivals because it’s a cool scene, and a lot of up-and-coming artists do end up performing at them,” explains Nisha. “A lot of festivals will feature a second stage where five or six artists will play back to back, and all of them are bands that not a lot of people are familiar with, and it provides great exposure.”

After getting that initial exposure, though, Nisha stresses that it’s important for bands to focus on making their name with live shows, rather than hoping for album sales. Just like everywhere else, India’s record industry has been transformed by digital downloads, and this sea change – along with the sheer dominance of Bollywood in the music-buying public’s consciousness – means that indie bands can’t count on record sales for their well-being.

“One artist I worked with spent a lot of money to make their second album, but ended up just giving it away for free because they wanted people to come and watch them. And it worked! They went from playing only minimally to playing eight to ten gigs a month,” says Nisha. “It’s definitely becoming more common for bands to get attention based just on their gigs.”