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Justin Bieber concert: India’s live music scene faces multiple challenges

India's live music scene like the upcoming Justin Bieber concert faces challenges such as logistics, government approvals and investment

Canadian singer-and-songwriter Justin Bieber. Photo: AFP
Canadian singer-and-songwriter Justin Bieber. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: In what may easily be described as a treat for pop music fans in India, Canadian singer-and-songwriter Justin Bieber will perform in the country this May. Organized by event production and management company White Fox India, the Grammy Award winner will bring his Purpose World Tour to the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai apart from visiting Israel and Dubai as part of the Asia leg.

Bieber is the third recent international artiste to have cashed in on the massive fan following he commands in India after British rock band Coldplay which had flown down in November and French songwriter David Guetta who came in January. However, in a country still trying to discover entertainment options other than cinema, challenges for the live music scene persist.

“Both Indian and Western classical music concerts can be done very well but we aren’t able to achieve the appropriate scales in India right now," said Dinesh B. Singh, founder, production house Navrasa Duende that recently concluded a cultural initiative with classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj.

And while investment in individual shows can vary from Rs10 lakh- 3 crore and about Rs20-30 crore in case of top international artistes, the challenges range from logistics to required government approvals to investment.

While lack of appropriate venues, both open-air and auditoriums, remains a concern, the unavailability of technical equipment often specified by an international performing crew is equally worrisome.

“Permissions are the priority because it’s not a one-window procedure and the artiste feeling comfortable is our mission. Sign-offs with multiple offices and authorities are involved, right from the chief minister to airport authorities—be it landing to greeting to commute," said Arjun Jain, director, White Fox India who is currently preparing for the Justin Bieber concert in Mumbai in May. “For instance, choppers are not allowed after sunset and roads in Mumbai are quite narrow."

Equally problematic are scales of investment required to make all genres of music appear equally appealing to audiences.

“If we want to take good music to audiences, scaling up is necessary. It’s not like people are not willing to pay but they want value for money. Like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast which did reasonably well," Singh said. For its Pandit Jasraj event, Navrasa invested three to four times more than the production and publicity for a regular show and charged between ,000 and ,000 for tickets compared to the usual 500. “Unlike cinema or the hotel industry, live events are not formally recognized by the government and therefore the financial sources are limited to self-investment and sponsorship," Singh said.

While most organizers would ideally like ticketing and sponsorships to contribute equally to their revenue, the latter makes up a bigger share of the pie at the moment with Indian markets still maturing to the idea of tickets and gate receipts. Jain says they have closed bookings at between 60,000-70,000 tickets for the Bieber concert and are still in negotiations with multiple brands for sponsorship. The firm is eyeing a title and a ‘powered by’ sponsor for which it is in talks with apparel brands as well as food and beverage companies.

“If I’m a brand and am backing a particular event, a very small part of the returns will actually come to me on-ground. A major part of it is going to come through pre-activation—media, digital and then post-event amplification. So we do try and make sure a brand that comes in is not only getting to associate with the event for 2-3 hours but is getting value for it over a couple of months through various activities that they undertake," said Harindra Singh, vice-chairman and managing director at media and entertainment conglomerate Percept Limited that organizes electronic music festival Sunburn each year and was also responsible for coordinating the David Guetta tour earlier this year. Sponsors for the former can come in for 20 lakh- 2 crore.

The other challenge comes with the popularity of the artistes involved, especially the international ones some of whom can command anywhere between $50,000-$ 2 million for a performance, thus inflating costs, often taking up close to 60-70% of the total investment and leaving little headroom for organizers to spend on production and advertising.

“When we get an international artiste, there is very little left to the imagination or discretion, everything is pre-specified, including which particular brand of champagne they want. On the other hand, the Indian artistes are not that well-exposed. I won’t say we get away with anything but they are not that demanding," Harindra Singh said.

Despite challenges, as the continuing agreement of artistes to perform reflects, there is a market for live music in India. For instance, Sunburn, in its tenth year, looks at a profit of 18-27% with each organized festival. A big reason for it is the fact that music is an indispensible part of the lifestyle of all age groups now thanks to the technology revolution taking place and music not limited to being heard only in clubs or at home or in the car unlike earlier.

“In the past five years, our country has seen quite a bit (in terms of live events) more than it had seen before. I feel it’s going to evolve even further into bigger stage shows and considering how we plan to execute the Bieber concert and the response we’ve already been getting, it’s only looking positive," said Jain who estimates the Bieber concert to cost about $ 2 million and emerge decently profitable.

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