Song of Surrender

Monday, 3 June 2013

Sruti editorial, June 2013

FROM THE EDITOR

In Tamil Nadu, and other southern centres, sabhas are still the main organisers of classical music concerts, and quite often, serious promoters of new talent.

We all know what a great role sabhas have played in the growth and development of music and musicians through the decades. We also constantly hear murmurs about the misdeeds of some not-so-good sabhas.

Trying to understand the economics of a career in Carnatic music, we spoke to a few musicians and people connected with music, and the data is not altogether cheering, even though a talented musician stands a better chance of making a living today than some ten years ago. The bad news – and we suspected this – is that there is not much money to be had in the concert circuit in Chennai. A number of sabha secretaries continue to slip a few hundreds of rupees into the envelope at the end of a concert. It is also not uncommon for a smaller amount than the promised fee to be paid. Even worse are the unscrupulous ways of some sabhas that make the artist pay for the concert. Though more prevalent in dance, the practice has infiltrated music as well.

Yes, a career in music is still a lottery. Few aspirants plunge into it full time, and most hold on to a day job while pursuing music on the side. Of course, there is a parallel reality show economy of babes in the wood growing up overnight into canny professionals, managed or mismanaged by their parents, television channels and so-called mentors. In this unreal world, the accent is on how to become a bhagavatar in 30 days, with a hectic round of concerts and overseas opportunities sweeping the winners off their feet, until one fine morning they realise that they have been replaced by the next round of winners.

Is it all bad, then? Can a Carnatic musician really make a viable career of his music? Here we are not speaking of the leading artists of the day, but the reasonably talented, hard working musician who has been around for say, ten years. And the answer is yes, maybe, if you are lucky, smart and talented, not necessarily in that order. (Accompanists getting the rough end of the stick from the main artists who corner the lion’s share of the remuneration is another story altogether). For, it is only Chennai sabhas that can get away with paying you a few hundred rupees, with or without some nice tamboolam attached. And we don’t mean the Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha or other established sabhas with a reputation for integrity – and even these used to pay peanuts a little over a decade ago, offering their stamp of approval instead, as a passport to success. Once you have been recognised outside the state, you can hope to earn something better than pocket money. Kerala, Karnataka, and other states not only welcome young talent, they are often transparent about the fee on offer, maybe because they see themselves as buyers in a sellers’ market. And of course, the real money-spinners are wedding concerts. Without those, recording contracts and dollar earnings abroad, where would the Carnatic musician be?

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