Tag Archives: Guest column

The road to the future is paved with ‘Heavy Metal’

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Metal is growing at a rapid rate in India. Most people who are part of the scene today don’t even know what it was like almost a decade ago – from having almost no bands playing original music, no international metal concerts, no album releases, few festivals, lack of good recording studios etc. to what exists today- an Indian Metal scene. We now have bands writing original music, new venues and avenues for bands to play, almost 30 releases a year for metal alone, lots of good recording studios, almost 5-6 international metal artists touring the country every year and considerable growth in infrastructure. The Indian Metal scene is coming of age slowly, but surely.

So the big question is where do we go from here? What is the future of heavy metal in India? The rate at which our scene grows is going to depend on the “support” it receives which means that it lies in the hands of “the fans”. Every scene develops commercially which essentially means that there has to be money to sustain the scene. It doesn’t matter if it is a new trend like Djent or Old school or even the underground Porno grind scene. Whatever the case may be, unless there are dedicated fans who are willing to spend and support their favourite bands, the scene goes nowhere. Let me break it down – when fans pay for the music it enables bands to invest and record that music and then sell it. When a fan pays for a ticket he ensures the band earns money which allows the artist to play more shows, if the artist makes no money from shows he has to earn a living elsewhere which results in lesser shows and maybe ending up playing only local shows when time permits.

The Indian artistes have developed to a point where they are investing huge amounts of money to record their music well, package it into CDs/Digipacks/Boxsets and create a good product for fans to buy. Gig organizers are creating festival properties with international artists and local bands to create a great concert experience. Unless they see returns for the money and effort spent, bands are going to find it hard to continue forward. However this is not all that the future is limited to. Corporate funding and a growing interest in metal has made college festivals the hotspot for international bands to play, which in turn has made India the new touring destination as these festivals pay the bands good money, sometimes even more than they would be paid in the United States or Europe. As a result, there is bound to be a huge increase in the number of bands touring India and playing college festivals. This means kids who dreamt of their band opening for their idols at a concert might actually get to do that for real.

The international interest in India started with Sam Dunns’ documentary ‘Global Metal’ and we have also seen Metal Hammer from the UK take a special interest in India by featuring Indian bands twice in their Planet Metal CD. The reason behind this probably because they believe we have the next big market for metal.

Remember, we are 1.2 billion people. In 10 years’ time, even if we manage to convert just 1 million of them into metal heads, we will have a pot of gold on our hands. But it is all going to depend on the fans and whether or not they support their passion, I don’t mean a fan needs to buy a bands album or merchandise just for showing “support” but if you as a fan believe that it is worth your money and you want to continue to see that band do well 5 years down the line, the future is in your hands. You can start the ‘Heavy Metal Revolution.’

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Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

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“I’m going to be in a rock band”

“I’m going to be a star performer”

“I’m going to hear requests for Summer of ’69 all my life”

“I want to break free”

“God knows I want to break free”

If any of these thoughts have ever crossed your mind, this handy, easy to read, easy to digest and easy to poop out guide will have you on the road to being an Indie Music Superstar in no time. In NO time. At all.

The Indie Musician 12 Step Program:

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

It costs money to make money. In this case, it costs money to earn pretty much nothing. But your passion for music will see you through. Right?

Wrong.

You need a certain amount of money to invest in yourself, for equipment, training, pedicures and such. It is best if you are young, have parents with money, have a fairly convincing puppy dog face or are born into a music-loving family.

Another common but unpopular way to make money is to get a job. This could be anything from being a bus boy at a hotel to being the President of a major Gymkhana.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

It is very important to have an instrument. Research has shown that almost 100% of music is made using some sort of musical instrument. Your vocal chords count as an instrument, if only for the purpose of this argument.

Musical instruments fall roughly into these categories:

Impresses Girls: Guitar, drums, vocals
Impresses parents: Violin, Cello, Harp
Impresses no one: Triangle, Casio

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

Depending on what instrument you have chosen to play, life can either become very difficult at this stage or better still, unbearable.

You’ve all seen the look on a lead guitarist’s face as he plays a blistering solo. No, he’s not trying to be cool. The tips of his fingers are burning and he can’t wait to get off stage and soak himself in a solution of Epsom salt and water and whisky and water, only one extraneously.

Thanks to the internet, our good friends Google and YouTube, you can learn everything you need to about anything you want to with just a few clicks of your mouse and 168 hours of buffering. When you’re done looking at porn, try searching for instructional videos and guides for whichever instrument you’ve chosen.

Now practice till you sound good. It’s as simple as that.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

If you are to become a somewhat successful artiste, newspapers and magazines will write articles on you. These are often accompanied by photographs, which means you have got to make a conscious effort to look interesting.

Some experts say it’s best if you be yourself, but if that were true, everybody would be performing in whatever they wear at home when they’re alone, with family or close friends.

Fans enjoy looking at pictures of hot women, so it’s best if you are one.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

You’re a musician. You have a life. You have a story to tell. Use the power of music to talk about anything you feel like. Anybody and everybody can play ‘Hotel California‘ after learning it from the Internet. But you could write your own ‘Hotel Shiv Sagar‘ that nobody else plays. Ever.

Music is art. If even one person likes a song you wrote, you’re artistically validated. This is where mothers and girlfriends play an important role. Your friends cannot be trusted, they most likely, and often for good reason, think you’re a dork.

If you’ve reached a creative block or want to write a song that will be a surefire hit, research shows that “being inspired by” or “copywriting” Korean and Arabic songs is a good way to get started. (Pro Tip: Before you steal a song, check who the original writer is and if he has enough money to sue you. Use Google.)

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

 

 

You need to form a band or collaborate with other musicians. You need to have a band name or change your first name to something like “The artist formerly known as Chartered Accountant”. Something catchy and interesting is good.

If you form a band, remember that it’s like being in an office group, except everyone’s dressed badly and nobody is making money. But this is only in the initial stages, eventually you guys are all great friends.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

There is no better way to get the audience on your side than by playing songs they already know.

Helpful Suggestions for Hindi bands:

Hum honge kamiyaab, Saare jahan se accha, Dum maro dum, Bhaag DK  Bose, Sheila ki Jawani.

Helpful Suggestions for English bands:

Happy birthday, Hotel California, Summer of ’69 and Roadhouse Blues are essential for an English band.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

Everyone knows that a band or an act will only sound good if they have practiced and practiced and poured their hearts and souls into their music. OR they’re just extremely talented.

It is almost always necessary to have rehearsal time. This could be anything from 5:00 – 6:00 am to 5 minute spurts at any point through the day. A former boss of mine was a classic rock enthusiast who would burst into high pitched screams whenever something upset her. We kept a guitar in the conference room, but really, only a full drum kit could have drowned out her voice. She’s now the lead singer in a Queen cover band called ‘Prince Philip’.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

People love seeing live music. This is where all your hard work comes together. This is where you’ll get two free drinks.

Go up on stage, at a club, a college competition, a festival such as Glastonbury or Lollapalooza and perform your heart out.

Remember to have your original songs and famous covers well-rehearsed, have your look in place, and your coupons for free drinks before you perform.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

If you want to drive your songs into people’s heads, you need some sort of song storing car and a ramp leading into their ears. You might want to check parking fees before you head through the entrance.

If you don’t have a recorded song, how will people listen to it? That’s right; let a music director be inspired by it. But if you want the credit, you have to record.

Technology has put the power of a recording studio into things as little as a mobile phone. You don’t need Abbey Road studios or Timbaland producing your track. (Chris Cornell especially didn’t).

Again, harness the power of the Internet, our modern deity. There are plenty of online recording options available as well. Your most important tool is the space between your ears. You can record your music to sound any way you want. All it takes is some practice (Pro Tip: by some I mean LOTS) or get a professional sound engineer or producer to come on board and help you record your tracks.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

Music has become an audio visual experience. You need to jump on that bandwagon or be left behind. Video killed the radio star 30 years ago.

Cameras and video editing software are fairly affordable. Find a talented director or photographer friend and shoot anything.

Concept is King, so if you have a good idea, people will watch it.

Again, a good rule of thumb is that if there is a beautiful woman in your video, it will be watched.

Indie Music for Dummies (by Dummies, of Dummies)

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to see it, who will like its Facebook page?

If nobody hears your music, you’re not going to become famous. Put your videos, music, biography, blogs, photographs, recipes on the internet and actively promote your pages, be it Facebook, Myspace, Reverbnation or southindiansuperstar.com.

Offer incentives to people to become fans. Provide your fans with value added services. Popular ones are free SMS and 3G data plans, but that might just be for cellphone companies.

Constantly push your product in as many ways as possible. Stay on the internet for up to 23 hours a day, following what people are saying and looking for an opportunity to market. For example, if someone posts, “I had a bad day at work today”, immediately post your song ‘No Boss No Loss’ on their wall. If someone posts “I want Raveena Tandon so bad I could kill myself”, you post the video of your song ‘Suicidal Tandoncies’ on their wall.

That’s it then. Twelve easy steps to becoming an Indie Music superstar as famous as Rajendra Dongre. You’re welcome.

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My Little Guitar Club

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In my formative years as a bits and pieces guitar player I was really hungry to go meet people, learn and imbibe stuff and basically improve. Guess what, other than the used paper shops there was not an iota of inspiration in the great city we called Bombay then. It’s pretty much the same now and if it were not for the free bookstores and videos on the internet the abyss would be absolute reality. As I tried to combine my shaky fundamentals with randomly borrowed material I kind of slowly chugged along learning with every tune I heard and now with every awesome clip on YouTube.

We are endemically wimps in India and will not give back to society unless benefit, this is stark reality. This malaise is rampant in all forms of our society. I had enough of this lethargy and started a guitar club where I set out to share whatever little I knew with anyone willing. Few pals would gather around at a local music store (Bhargavas are very kind to let me do this) and I would then set out to explain why I was playing what I was and how. This was loads of fun because I had never analyzed what I do and I actually learned to slow my thinking down to do this something that is difficult for a nut like me.

It is in my opinion a must to be able to have interactive sessions with musicians because before the loop pedal it was a social activity i.e. to play music. In my city and the rest of India music is just idle recreation and the fall out is a plethora of bands playing original music out of which only a handful have musicians of any caliber. The scene is an imaginary one and people are ‘pushing’ it without understanding that the quality of a musical environment lies in the quality of musical education a facility I never had or could afford. It’s sad because the kids today are really talented and could easily improve themselves with a fraction of work I had to put in.

My small interactive modules held in most of the metros are aimed at bringing the vast guitar community together and playing for the passion we have and improving as we do this. This will in my opinion contribute to having better song writers and the cycle will regenerate a scene. My friends Gino Banks and Jai Row Kavi, the best drummers in the country painstakingly turn up at a drum school where they churn out really competent drummers and are helping the kids find their way with lights on, it’s a commendable effort.

The point and objective is simple, we do not have any great guitar schools as such and before corporates find it viable to have a serious one let’s educate ourselves by forming the community, a discerning one at that. In the cities I have visited including my home Mumbai, the musical fraternity is a fragmented one not allowing the fledgling to have access to a ‘senior’ musician. This can be helped by having these free sessions (free being the operative word) so that people come and shed their inhibitions at my little clinics.

Aimed at replicating your creative vocabulary on the instrument, I believe that knowing the basics will help translate your ideas in a fluid manner. It’s important that those who know better volunteer their time and do something constructive in this building process and generate an army of competent and confident players. This is applicable to all instruments and vocalists; it’s the idealist in me that wants to see a community evolve so there will be gigs I really want to go to. My plan is to be a catalyst in the various cities and then link them together to make a grid and connect all these chaps together. Screw egos let’s face the fact that we are very far behind the other countries in most things other than scamming and better ourselves together. This will most definitely see the evolution of a quality Indian ‘scene’.

Invariably efforts like this raise eyebrows and questions about my motives are rampant, but its bloody free so stop wondering. I need money to travel and eat and that’s about it. So far I have been funding myself and the satisfaction keeps me doing this. My point is to start other players on their own sharing trips and help those who cannot afford paid tutelage. Plans include guitar days with lessons, equipment banter and fun stuff. A nationwide guitar jam competition with great prizes and competent judges is next on the cards with a very detailed plan. To do this, it is important to garner interest not just money. Community building is the objective and if nudists can do it then so can we, have our own commune. It’s a clarion call to the legends to help in this endeavor and improve themselves in the process. I am happy to be a small cog in a regenerative system which will have concerts and events on a regular basis so I can be a child again and get a chance to play.

Floyd Fernandes

Floyd Fernandes is a guitarist from Mumbai who has been selflessly conducting guitar clinics to educate people about music around the country, which he thinks is a great way to discover musicians and unknown musical talents in and around the nation. He is also a graduate from IIT-Bombay and works as an Electronics Engineer in Mumbai.

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Tuning, Practice and Precision: The Turning Point in the 80s

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Photo Credits: Chethan Ram

“With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conqueror who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might,
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.”

The Guitarist Tunes Up’ by Frances Conford (1886-1960)

I’ve always loved this poem. Today though, it reminds me of some of the changes that have happened over the years.

When I started playing the guitar in Calcutta in the 60s, I knew of just one seller of the instrument in the city, a shop called Reynolds (I don’t know if they’re related to the one in Bangalore). ‘Box’ guitars cost Rs.75 and were made of plywood, with necks probably made of the ends of discarded tea chests. You were guaranteed that the necks would warp. The only solution was to loosen the strings each time you were through with playing it. Tuning and detuning the guitar thus became an integral part of the act of playing itself. You would detune it in various ways, experimenting with different detuned combinations, until you’d had enough and were ready to put the instrument to sleep. Tuning up was also a ritual in itself – first thing in the morning, of course (at 16, if you love the guitar, you’re not just in love; you’re obsessed. You pick up your guitar before your toothbrush). You tune up one string at a time, play that string alone, listen to its timbre and nuances, experiment with it, often running up from the lowest notes to the highest ones imbedded in the non-cutaway body. Then on to the next string. Of course we used mechanical devices – I used to be the proud owner of a pitch pipe. But the process was entirely aural.

A natural fall-out of this was that bands tuned their instruments on stage. Without today’s electronic tuners, there was no way you could tune a solidbody electric until it was plugged into an amp (off-stage amps don’t exist in India even today, O Tempora! O Mores!). Most of us walked onstage with loosened strings and started from scratch in front of the audience. Anyone who’s seen the movie Woodstock will remember Richie Havens tuning his guitar on stage. He’d just changed strings and hadn’t had time to tune up off-stage. But it wasn’t considered odd; to us, in fact, it was part of his performance.

I remember going to a concert by the Bangalore band Human Bondage in the early 70s. More than the vastly superior musicianship, what struck me was that before the curtain went up there was just this one, single note from an already-tuned guitar. Then the stage opened and the first song started right away. All of us were amazed. Of course, the fact that they were playing, “f**kin FENDERS, man! A Mustang into a Silverface!” made a difference; but I swore I would never tune my guitar onstage again.

So much changed with the advent of the plug-in tuner in the 80s. Today, I know guitarists who’ve been playing for over 40 years, who can’t tune up anymore without it (all of us who’ve been playing that long have probably lost it, anyway). But tuning is now a silent activity. Nobody hears it, not even the player. What used to be most important part of preparing your instrument before playing is now done visually.

Have we lost an important part of the process of communication between instrument and player? I think so. Most musicians today see communication as happening only between player and audience. There is no communing with one’s instrument. In its stead, there is ‘practice’.

I think the 80s was also when the concept of a ‘practice regimen’ among rock guitarists came into existence fully. While some musicians may have dabbled in it earlier, nothing is known for instance about the guitar practising schedules of Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield or any of the luminaries of the 60s. I don’t think they had any. No interviewer asked them about it. It wasn’t considered important. (The only noteworthy story about practice from that era is the unconfirmed one where the vicar of the parish of Ewhurst in Surrey, UK, on a visit to one of his parishioners’ homes, sees a guitar on the wall and asks the owner to play for the church. When the owner agrees, the vicar suggests that he practice for a few months first. It is only years later that he realises that the man who came to his tiny church to play hymns such as ‘Amazing Grace’ with amazing grace, was named Eric.)

Although I don’t place myself in that hallowed group, in my teens and much of my 20s I obsessed over the guitar, playing for 6-8 hours a day (wrecked my studies and dropped out of college, too). But you ‘played’. You never ‘practised’. There were no distant goals; you merely immersed yourself in the delight of playing the instrument, in the now-ness of the experience and that is what Conford describes so beautifully.

Years ago, I made my only attempt at learning from a teacher. I quit after 2 lessons because he wanted me to practice the exercises he gave me, while I was only willing to play them if they were part of a song or at least a musical-sounding snippet. I met him later and he asked me if I was practicing. I said I wasn’t, but I was playing a lot at home. So he says, “That’s what I meant by practice.” I don’t think he got the idea.

Playing, individually or as a band, outside of performances is essential of course; but intensive, repetitive practice produces chronic competence. It’s a bit like adding a Compressor to your talent – you will never do badly; but you’ll rarely rise above yourself either. A certain amount of the serendipity that can and ought to occur while playing – onstage or off it – can be lost, because much too much is rehearsed and preplanned. Magical moments become fewer.

You may not agree with me; but do go back to Conford’s description of the relationship between the player and the instrument. Do you see digital dexterity as an objective of the foreplay? Producing forth a cleanly arpeggiated Ab Augmented or D# Demented was not the point – that would be a natural by-product of the intense relationship.

Another change that has happened is, I believe, a product of the 80s’ shred guitar trend. Shred guitar was not only about playing at extremely high speeds; its corollary was maniacally mechanical precision. Any note that is off the key or even marginally off the beat is considered wrong today. Friends who cut their teeth on 80s music often fail to understand why older musicians leave in notes that were clearly off the scale or the beat in newer work. “Why didn’t they go back and change it? After all, it was a studio recording!” Ah well. There used to be a higher god than correctness – stream of consciousness, for instance.

You can find fine examples of variable time and chord changes in almost any of John Lee Hooker’s work. The legendary Bluesman Robert Johnson’s recordings of the 1930s demonstrate a totally different definition of tonality from ours today. Check out his ‘Crossroads Blues’ on YouTube.

As one learns more and more about music, the definitions of right and wrong notes tend to get increasingly blurred. Who then, is the final arbiter of the bum note? Just as each of us has her/his own, unique style comprising choice of notes and manner of playing them, we also have completely individual ways in which we make ‘mistakes’. Aren’t we the sum total of all that? The point isn’t that one should or shouldn’t make mistakes or leave them in, in recordings. The point is that there is a choice, provided you accept that mistakes are natural. Unlike the factory-processed leather we usually come across, hand-tooled leather will always have a few marks left by the implements used. As Eric Blackstead said of the flaws in the Woodstock recordings he produced: “Consider them like scars in fine leather; proof of authenticity…”

Vinoo Matthew

Vinoo has been playing music for longer than anyone ought to, and has played rock, jazz, blues, fusion and music that no one listens to. He plays/has played bass with the Rex Rozario Quintet, Aftermath, River, Gerard Machado Network, Ministry of Blues, Cantonment Jazz Terminus, Chronic Blues Band, Bangalore Jazz & Abstract Music Club, etc. ad nauseum. He also plays lead guitar with the underground group, the Sarjapur Blues Band, proving Frank Zappa’s statement: "All bass players are failed lead guitarists."

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