Industry-Based Popular Music Education: India, College Rock Festivals, and Real-World Learning

By Kelman, Kristina; Cashman, David | MEIEA Journal, January 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Industry-Based Popular Music Education: India, College Rock Festivals, and Real-World Learning


Kelman, Kristina, Cashman, David, MEIEA Journal


The Western music industry has become vastly more competitive in recent years. There are more musicians, more bands and ensembles, more record labels (with less funding), more streaming services, more festivals, and more venues all vying for the consumer dollar. Paradoxically, it seems the more competitive the music industry becomes, the more attractive it is to work in. Educational institutions have responded by increasing offerings in popular music performance, songwriting, and music industry. The costs of this music education are borne by governments or by relatively wealthy parents. However, the picture is rather different in developing countries. The music industry of economically emergent nations is more fraught, less developed, and more insecure than in the West (Dumlavwalla 2019; Olugbenga 2017; Fink et al. 2016; Arli et al. 2015; Mascus 2001). Given this, popular music education is often regarded as a risky investment by parents of aspiring musicians. They may steer them towards engineering, business, and other more sustainable and lucrative career choices.

The Indian popular music scene falls into this tradition. Music in India, like the land itself, is a complex, teeming, vast salad bowl of different traditions and influences. Bonny Wade (1999) once said that India is such a vast and teeming country that, for any statement one makes of it, the opposite will be true in another part of the country. The music of India includes such disparate traditions as the Carnatic and Hindustani classical traditions, the wildly popular music of Bollywood, wedding music, brass band music, Hindi EDM, Sufi rock, and Western-influenced rock to make a short list. The music industry, such as it is, focuses primarily on the music of Bollywood and music in the Indian classical traditions. The Indian singer/songwriter rock tradition, the sector most analogous to the Western music industry, is perhaps only thirty years old. At the time that this tradition was emerging, India did not possess the same industry scaffolding. What record labels there were focused on the music of Bollywood. Other traditions were underground "cassette cultures" (Manuel 2001). At the start of the 1990s, there were few established popular music record labels, no industry press, and no music colleges that catered to the Western rock traditions. And yet an underground scene started to gain traction in the first years of the decade. Small venues began to open. Festivals both large and small began to evolve. Bands began to play and record. However, with no established music industry or a resultant popular music education sector, musicians were often left to work out the industry on their own.

Further challenges for this emerging industry are also implicated by a culture that has not developed a bar or nightclub tradition. By comparison, in the West, live music has largely been associated with alcohol and nightlife. Indeed venues and those using music often lack a basic understanding of the music industry. An Indian restaurateur said:

Good Lord. It is my job to sell food! Am I going to spend my time negotiating music license fees, finding out which track belongs to whom and checking the legality of these people asking for money? I do not give a rat's ass about who is supposed to be paid, whether performers, composers, authors, publishers or music labels. It is beyond my comprehension and hey, when I bought your CDs and cassettes, I made a one-time payment that covered everyone, isn't it? I would rather not play music than deal with this nonsense! (Churamani 2019)

A music professional/educator based in Tamil Nadu (in the South of India) explained this lack of support many musicians in the West take for granted:

A large part stems from a social stigma against the club scene in India, it is viewed as something unacceptable for many, especially youth, to attend. Due to this there are great restrictions in many states on alcohol licenses and late licenses for nightlife. …

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