Shaale: How This Bengaluru-Based Project Is Taking Music To Mobile Screens This Music Season
And it's not just Margazhi, Shaale is looking to expand their on-ground teams to other cities to help put on record other traditional art forms as well.
When the editors at Swarajya asked this reporter if interesting segments of the music extravaganza happening during December-January (including the popular Margazhi music season in Chennai) can be brought through for acclimatizing readers with the Carnatic scene, what one observed were the novel ways in which some organisations have been taking music to people in multiple ways.
It is time one turned to digital accessibility, especially when the global pandemic has only hastened the process for safety benefits. Music programming through online platforms has opened up wider perspectives to include more than just concerts and lec-dems.
A hybrid format (with both offline and online music) is being explored in cities such as Chennai, Bangalore, Trivandrum and Hyderabad this season, leaving questions on how this model will shape the future of the classical music scene henceforth.
For artistes, although the digital formatting has helped their sustenance with the art form and augmented its reach across the globe, popular Veena artiste Jayanthi Kumaresh, who is part of a dozen music festivals in Bangalore and Chennai this season, says, “There’s nothing to replace a live performance and the connect it brings about. And although the intensity and uniqueness of the Kutcheri (concert) experience is somewhat unexciting online, look at the way the digital offerings have evolved with its varied forms, sizes, formats and the dizzying possibilities in terms of its reach and interaction. Even recorded versions are made available in social media today”.
Younger vocalists such as Manasi Prasad, Sandeep Narayan, Amrit Ramnath and violinist Jyothsna Srikkanth have often been expressing that December-January music fests have an over-abundance of content, which is leading to a confused scattering of sorts.
“We should welcome an exemplary shift in the way we consume a concert. In online offerings, we are able to look at presentations with changes in duration, formatting, structuring and bringing in more components that people could be exposed to,” says vocalist Manasi, also the Director of South Asia’s first interactive music museum, the Indian Music Experience (IME) in Bangalore that houses a vast repertoire of Indian music.
“After all, isn’t everyone looking for a better reach?” she asks.
Coming To The Digital Age
Coming to melody in digital times, the potpourri offered now is no less significant as presentations and streaming have taken the scene to different levels of aural and academic pleasure.
One of the fora doing this is Shaale.
Skanda Anantha Murthy, founder — Shaale
The engineer-turned-entrepreneur, Skanda Anantha Murthy, 33, is trying to spread awareness on traditional arts and culture through his conscientiously thought-out endeavour, Shaale, as his mother, the well-known vocalist and Sanskrit professor, TS Sathyavathi, encouraged him saying ‘there is no art without literature.’
Skanda, with a love for sound-engineering and music, flagged off Shaale (meaning school in Kannada) with classical music online courses, and gradually built in a team to provide video recording, live-streaming (webcast), video on demand, and video and audio documentation for artistes, researchers, organizers and students.
Based out of Bengaluru, Shaale is looking to expand their on-ground teams to other cities to help put on record other traditional art forms such as Natya Sangeet, Rabindra Sangeet, dance forms and related performance arts all over India.
“I am attempting to capture the sea of arts into a library of sorts,” says Skanda, who spoke to Swarajya on the future of arts that is embracing the digital world.
Is Shaale busy with many a concert streaming during this season, including with the biggest label, Music Academy in Chennai?
This season, we are hosting around 200 concerts across seven major festivals — ‘The 95th Annual Music festival & 15th Annual Dance festival’ of the Music Academy Madras, ‘Blue Planet Festival’ of the First Edition Arts, ‘Margazhi Mangala Utsavam’ of the Manghalam Group, ‘SVN Rao Music Festival,’ Ananya Nritya Neerajana, 42nd Saptak Annual Festival (Ahmedabad) and the Dikshitar Beethoven Festival from the Melharmony Foundation.
It is only humbling to work with such prestigious organisations and reputed artists of the country. We have worked with over 600 organisations and 6,000 artistes since our inception in 2012.
How did music become integral to your persona to the extent that you have gotten into a digital rendezvous with music?
I got exposed to classical music at an early age through my mother, vocalist Dr. TS Sathyavathi and went on to learn Mridanga from Vidwan Arjun Kumar. I studied Computer Science engineering and worked in a startup for a year before embarking on the idea of Shaale. My interests in photography, music production, culture and technology have come together in my pursuit of Shaale.
How did the idea of Shaale sprout?
During my engineering days, I realised a majority of my peers had no exposure to native art forms/culture, and there wasn’t a place in the digital world to explore these art forms and artists. Many artists on the other hand have problems in monetizing and hence sustaining careers, creating a vicious cycle and leading to dwindling audiences and under-appreciation of these assets.
This is because arts, in a country like India, with over 5,000 years in history, is not introduced to children at school level, and over a period of time, is inherently treated as not-for-profit, more of a liability than an asset. This prompted me to think about creating a platform for artists to monetise and for newbies/students/want-to-be artists to access artists, organisations, and be a part of the community.
What is the course it took to evolve into a major streaming company?
Streaming was never in the picture until we got a request to live-stream the Svanubhava Arts festival that was happening in Bangalore in 2013. We had started off creating online courses to create awareness on various art forms and were experimenting on putting them on a subscription. But this festival acted as a launch-pad to offer live-streaming as a service to artists and organisations, thereby reaching events and content to users who previously did not have access to.
It also gave us an opportunity to work closely with lot of artists and organizations, and helped us understand their exact pain points. One of the major factors plaguing the artist community is funding and we thought we should experiment ticketing the live-streams we were working on. Our early attempts in this were successful since we were able to tap into revenues which were previously unavailable to the stakeholders. This is how we evolved into a streaming-cum-ticketing/monetization platform for artists.
What kind of a road did you pass through in the last seven years of streaming work?
Initially, we had to sell the idea of streaming concerts/performances online. Many saw it as something that will take away physical audiences. We had to do a lot of convincing and come up with tools like Geo-blocking to assure organisers/artists that it will not affect their physical event in anyway, but complement it by reaching it to wider audiences. With Covid, this has changed. Digital transformation has been astronomical. This has led to newer problems and opportunities which we are exploring.
What are the larger perspectives of the music scene that you gather, or the advantages and drawbacks of online consumption?
The advantage is free access to limitless content. Drawback is discovery and curation of that content for audiences, especially to newbies — who don't know where to go, what to watch, what is good and what is bad. The need of the hour is to educate and expose such audiences with authentic content combined with personalisation. Artists and organisations need to embrace change for this to happen, let go of insecurities and be more giving. We have to make efforts to bring newer audiences for arts and artists to thrive.
Building newer audiences, especially from Gen-Next is the key to making things profitable and sustainable for arts and artistes. Schools are the place to start. But teaching children online, particularly music and dance, is a challenge. Hence, our goal has been to build a platform to expose the interested to different art forms, provide them access to curated content and help them connect with artistes if they are interested in going deeper into an art form.
We need more for-profit startups and Not-for-profit should have a Not-Without-Profit mindset. We need many people, including bold investors to come forward and support new initiatives.
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