Ever wondered whether those unbelievably talented artists that fill our lives with inspiring torrents of music, have similarly beautiful lives themselves?
Ever wondered about those myriad songsters that populate the long, snaky queues that cameras at reality show selections pan through, the ones who may go on to dazzle at auditions but never grace the spotlight on the final stage?
Radhika Mukherji, a former pilot, and wife of Bollywood pop sensation Shaan, knew only too well how, and how often, an artist’s story planks before it peaks. Being a faithful patron, proponent, creator and consumer of music, she stepped out of her comfort zone to “give back to music.”
A quintessential Juhu-girl who grew up in a typical Punjabi joint family, where the people outnumbered the rooms and life-lessons outnumbered memories, the fiercely independent Radhika Mukherji started working at the age of 18 as a cabin crew with Jet Airways and Swiss Air.
Around that time, she met and went on to marry popular singer Shaan - both their careers witnessing a take-off. Before the young couple could celebrate even their first anniversary, the stork came knocking. Shaan's career, in the meantime, peaked, and he spent half the month on tour. So, they jointly decided that Radhika would quit to look after their baby boy Soham. Soham was soon followed by his little brother Shubh, and the 'stay-at-home mom' phase extended itself.
Having been with Shaan for nearly 20 years, music was an integral part of their life, and Radhika, brimming with gratitude for the art form, wanted to give back to it. “Every day, I would get calls from family and friends asking for a band to play at their social gatherings, and that's when I thought, ‘If you don't have the right contacts, how will you find a good, talented performer?’ I can’t sing, but I thought, ‘Why not get involved in the business side of things and bridge that gap between exceptional talent and honourable audiences?’” she recalls.
That’s when the ‘Happydemic’ gripped their lives - a name coined by Shaan, meaning, quite simply, a swiftly travelling epidemic of happiness for artists.
From the skies to the studios
Being an artist’s wife, Radhika also understood the problems artists – like the ones on the reality shows that Shaan used to host and judge – face, and their temperament. From among a hundred mighty talented performers, there's only one winner. The idea behind Happydemic was to help the other 99. "A lot of these kids leave their hometowns and come to Mumbai to pursue this dream of music, and we all know how expensive as a city Mumbai is; they have talent but nowhere to perform. So the essence of Happydemic came from there," she explains.
This roused the interest of Amar Pandit, the CEO of My Financial Advisors who handled the couple’s investment portfolio, too. So, every day for six months, for hours on end, Radhika and Amar would put their heads together to advance from the idea stage to commercial execution. The first draft was starting a talent discovery platform, but the duo wasn’t convinced about its self-sustainability. So, they kept sculpting it until they had their model - organising live experiences for their clients, with set event formats like Songstruck, Thank God It's Monday and Corporates have Talent, among others. Adopting a B2B2C model, their clients are typically corporates, restaurants, clubs, and professional firms such as the Big Four, law firms, families and, sometimes, individuals.
They vet their talent through talent hunters or "coaches", who, in turn, look at different parameters like voice quality, performance and presence. When an event request comes by, few artist are recommended to the client based on their requirements, and the client takes the final call. Happydemic takes charge of the sound and light during the performance, as well. The artists decide their performing fees, which Happydemic ensures meets industry standards. They, in turn charge the client a coordination and handling fees.
The crux – actual artist management – is their greatest strength. The community is not necessarily tech-savvy and is weary of pinning its hopes on “yet another agency”. So, they put together a team to handhold them through the process. “The 580 artistes have two mobile numbers, which reach Shaan and me, and they have complete access to us. They had been taken for a ride so many times that they were so scared to associate themselves with another company, but Shaan’s name has been a huge boon; I think he’s the soul of Happydemic. Moreover, we go way beyond being an artiste portal; we nurture and nourish their talent, through regular classes by Allam Bhai (son of Padmashree Gullam Mustafa Khan), guitar lessons, grooming sessions, and providing the best equipment and wardrobe that they can borrow,” explains Radhika.
All’s well that ends well
Bubbling with excitement about their showcase, they decided to make some serious noise about it through a launch with as many witnesses as possible, booking an open-air BEST Bus with a stage, where they would put up a pop-up show from the Worli Sea Face to Kalaghoda, with Shaan performing two songs as well. But a public event like this entails a rabbit hole of permissions. After approaching agents who quoted absurd amounts for the simplest of projects, Radhika decided to take the long way out. “I spent three months outside RTOs and police stations, and contrary to what you might think, while it was time consuming, I was never asked to give extra money under the table. It was an eye opener for us that if you actually go through the right route, everything is possible,” she recalls.
From meeting in the comfort of their home, they took the ambitious call of moving into an office to formalise their operations – a decision that threatened to plunge the stay-at-home mom into completely uncharted territory, and, quite naturally, unsettled her. “‘I’m not an office person at all,’ I told Amar and warned him that I would come in at 9 am but would have to leave at 3 pm to be home with my kids,” she says.
Update: The startup grind spares no one, and moreover, the pace of their growth ensures that Radhika never leaves before 7 pm.
And while she had received nothing but support from her family, which was half the battle won, the other half was the internal conflict that she experienced, as a woman, while deciding to give up her full-time mum gig, and focus on different priorities. “I was torn between the two choices. It took a little while and a lot of guilt,” she says, adding, “I’ve had meltdowns and thought I was better off at home, but Shaan is my pillar of strength. He reassures me that I’ve supported him all these years, and now, it’s his turn. He has really stepped up where taking care of the kids is concerned or doing the little things in the house. But the smiling faces of artists, happy updates – like getting covered in something as big as YourStory - and the pride my kids have, have made it worth it.”
Radhika’s hack was simple – there are 24 hours in the day, and if you plan your day well, things work brilliantly.
How widely has the happydemic spread?
Happydemic has done over a hundred shows, and has never received a negative review, Radhika claims. The young startup has also clocked Rs 1 crore in revenue in its first seven months, and is already sitting on leads that will rake in their next crore.
As the space gets crowded with various variants of Happydemic emerging, Radhika is confident in their first-mover advantage. Backed by three angel investors, and, of course, fuelled by Radhika and Amar’s savings, she says that she is not ready for the numbers game just yet. “We’re here to prove a point, lead the live entertainment industry, and touch wood, we’ll be breaking even within the first year itself,” she says.
Present across Mumbai, their plan is to take on Delhi and Bengaluru next, and to be present pan-India by the end of 2017. “I want to have enough ammunition in terms of talent to go out there and take over a market, and we’re already in the process of enrolments,” she lets on. Radhika admits that they got a foot in the door easier than other starters, courtesy Shaan’s goodwill and Amar’s financial backing – but she never takes that for granted or exploits its power, and focuses on building a business with a rock-solid bottom line.