PART II : Redefining the ‘Cal Band’, Sustainability and the Parameters for Success in the Music Business

27th Feb 2009
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The Supersonics have now been together for more than two years. How much of a financial struggle has it been so far? Is sustenance still an issue?

Sen – We have a band fund that we constantly dip into which is built from a percentage of our cheques. All of us are working part time as well so whatever money we get, we use for gear or something.

Mani – What we’re making is just about enough to cover all our expenses related to music. But it’s not yet enough to get us bread and butter.

Ganguly – Which is why you don’t leave your day job.

Sen – So each time I drink a beer, I’m thinking ‘Fuck I can’t buy strings tomorrow!’

Ganguly – We’re struggling to be honest. At the moment, we’re only getting gigs because of goodwill and because we’re pulling in the crowds. But things were quite bad up until a year ago.

Sen – When we started no one used to come unless they were friends. There were times when we’ve played to like zero people.

Chordia – But that’s something we worked on. We started publicizing our gigs and tried to create a scene wherever we play.

Sen – Yeah. But Cal’s still like a little village man! How many new people can you find here? If we had 2 gigs a week, I’m not sure I would come for both.

Ganguly – I wouldn’t. Saturating the market is not that difficult.

Mani – Don’t think Calcutta. Try to develop your name across the country. Maybe there are bands across India who’re tired of playing in India and want to move on to the next level. So you need to keep pushing the bar to take those places. The time has come for us to stop thinking Calcutta. Then maybe we can sustain ourselves.

Ganguly – It won’t be a cake walk, but it will be easier.

You have been quite popular in the Kolkata circuit and fan following seems to grow larger with every subsequent gig. How has brought about this meteoric rise in popularity?

Mani – Firstly, you have to try to keep bringing back your audience. To do that you have to constantly add songs, freshen up the old set list. If you have music for 2 hours no one will listen to it for the next 2 years.

Chordia – But its also an exciting challenge. It keeps pushing us to experiment, to try out new stuff to create that excitement for you people.

Over the past few years, a number of events, including Rock festivals, have helped bands export their music across the length and breadth of the country. However, unlike The Supersonics, the majority of Kolkata bands have never ventured outside their city. Is this city wilfully stagnating in its comfort zone? Or is there no market for Kolkata rock elsewhere?

Sen – Cal has been doing covers forever while a place like Delhi has had its own scene for a while now. You only need to ask yourself if you’re willing to fly a band down, pay for their stay and then have them play ‘Roadhouse Blues’. Aren’t you better off getting some Delhi band to go and do that there? So, essentially, Cal has been completely sidelined by the rest of the country. If you want to step out now it’s tough cause everyone’s thinks like ‘Oh..that’s a Cal band. Are they up to the mark? Cal is not known for their original music as such.’

Mani – But that doesn’t affect our plans. We want to move out of the city and play on the national stage.

Sen – Again, if you’re playing in Cal, you’re already a year behind the rest of the metropolitan cities.

Who do you think is to blame for this predicament?

Sen – Both sides. We still encounter people asking us to play ‘Summer of ’69’ and then there are bands who willingly pick up ‘Summer of ’69’ and play it shamelessly. You really can’t point a finger at one person. It is now a scene and two different groups of people are responsible for that.

What are your immediate requirements?

Ganguly – Money! [grins]

[Everyone laughs]

Chordia – More gigs which pay us more money.

Ganguly – Also, outstation gigs. They really count!

Mani – I think if an album was released we’d have greater market value.

Chordia – I think an album would link us to better pay at more venues.

Mani – You know, there are Bengali bands in our city who have about 20-25 of their own songs and they earn 10 times more than what we earn?

Ganguly – They play in Manchester City. They play in New York. Its true!

Mani – Here we are with our 40 songs and we have to deal with the disparity.

So what’s stopping you from doing a few Bengali songs?

Ganguly – [Laughing hard] We’re thinking about it!

Sen – In the international market, the first thing is that everyone wants to see is an Indian band doing something ethnic. Now that’s something we don’t do.

Chordia – But that doesn’t happen if there is a German band playing.

Sen – Yeah, India has so much culture, right? Its hard not to feel pressured because, at the end of the day, we want to match up to their standards because we’re Indians playing Western music. So for us, its important to do well, if not better.

Ganguly – But then, I believe I can relate to this music on a certain level which is why I’m doing this.

Sen – But its also true that if we played an Indian instrument we would’ve been big news abroad. You know we had a chance to play outside when this French guy had come to see us. We thought of calling ourselves CTF or Chutki to France. He totally loved our music but he was like ‘Damn! I wish you had something Indian’.

Ganguly – If we just had a tabla or a sitar we’d be there.

Sen – He just wanted us to sit there with the instruments and it didn’t matter if we could be heard. That’s what his bosses said even though he really, really liked our music. But, honestly, we wouldn’t do it unless the song required it.

Back to Part I | Continue to Part III

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