You can take the woman out of music but you can’t take the music out of the woman. I’ve been an album reviewer for four years (2012-2015) and a music correspondent much longer, so try as I might I couldn’t resist this. An interview with an essential component behind the scenes of an indie band — the manager. My first pick was Savi Shrivastava of progressive rock band Daira, a dear friend who obliged to tell all.
The five-member band eats, sleeps and drinks music. A good manager is the band member you don’t see on-stage. You can say that about Savi. He has been with Daira from the start. In fact, he’s a part of the songwriting process and has played keyboard on their album ‘Vipreet Buddhi‘. He said:
Daira’s latest album is essentially a live, improv jam. The overall approach to the album is pretty much how bands in the 70s did it. We have grown up listening to and idealising Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin… I am an amateur keyboard player (still learning). I have just added some layers of different sounds and melodies. I had a great time jamming with the musicians of such calibre.
Check out the songs from Vipreet Buddhi here.
A good band manager is the tour de force behind great bands. Think The Beatles’ rep Brian Epstein, who is the subject of the book, The Fifth Beatle; or Led Zeppelin’s Peter Grant who negotiated the highest royalty rate ever for a band, five times that of The Beatles. Managing the accountants, concert organizers, producers, and lawyers is his responsibility. They work on the band’s sound and image (The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham was the guy who created their “bad boy” image). They switch roles as booking agents, mediators and spokespersons, help strike deals and relationships with record labels, locate producers and publishers. That’s a lotta work for one guy. Did I mention launching CDs, holding listening sessions and working through rockstar tantrums and mood swings? Add to that the responsibility of shaping the band’s career in the music industry. No pressure!
Savi Shrivastava told Human Writes his story.
Music band manager is a job title you don’t hear about in India. How did you take this leap of faith with Daira?
Savi: I was living a mundane routine, working in an IT [information technology] company. I could not see any future or growth over there. Also, I was always inclined towards music and had a few musician friends. Alongside my IT job, I was taking calls and sort of managing this band called ‘Life’. I also co-founded a karaoke company called ‘The Bathroom Singers’. I got confident that it is not necessary to apply my engineering [he is a qualified engineer] skills in solving the problems of American clients and making Standard Operating Procedures all my life. But because my job was giving me enough money, every month, it took me another year or so to muster my courage, make a decision and quit IT. I did not do that with a back-up plan (crazy as it sounds).
Around the same time, my friend and housemate Piyush Kapoor, who was then with the band ‘Thaikkudam Bridge’ was contemplating starting a new band. Him and Vikalp Sharma (guitarist of Daira and housemate) had a big role to play in making me see things beyond job-security, promotions, increment and onsite opportunities. While I was in full support of this new band, Piyush suggested I should manage the band. I quit my job and took a solo trip to the mountains with many thoughts going through my head. What emerged the strongest was an endeavour to explore the career of artist management in the music industry. That’s how Daira happened and it’s been great so far. In the past three years, I have met more number people than I did in my 24 years of life. Thanks to all the work and travel, I have learnt many things about the indie music industry, art and life in general.
Why manage one band and not a roster of many?
Savi: Honestly, it came naturally to me. I did not start off with experience or an artist management degree. I just started with a love for Daira’s music, the energy I could foresee and a lot of conviction.
More than half the band has been sharing a house [in Mumbai], which then became the “Daira house”. It gets easier as a manager if you know the people you are working with really well. All of us are close. We have been in this journey together. We have seen people leaving with their priorities changing, we have done long treks in the mountains, we have seen best and worst gigs together. That’s another reason I don’t have more artists on my roster. I do not believe there is a fixed procedure or template you can apply to any artist and make a working model. You need to learn, relearn, unlearn as a unit by knowing all their nitty-gritties.
Alternate roles, challenges, emergencies…?
Savi: Apart from managing the band, as a listener I am deeply connected to the music and how it is made. I am a critic and a fan. In some scenarios, people you are dealing with are oblivious of the aesthetics of pulling off a Rock gig. There is always some or the other thing you have to fight for. From getting the right sound and equipment to sorting payments and obsessive requests of Bollywood music, emergency situations are unpredictable.
There have been instances where I have acted as a one-man-barricade between the band and profoundly drunk corporate employees who seemed like the nicest people earlier. These situations are worse especially when you are starting out and have to deal with the taking-for-granted attitude. That’s where managers are important and you will not be surprised if concert organisers tell you they hate managers. People have said that to my face.
Does the indie music scene suffer because bands don’t have dedicated reps?
Savi: I wouldn’t exactly say “suffer” because some indie bands are doing great despite not having a full-time manager. But having a representative who is truly involved helps a great deal. I feel a musician should just pursue the art rather than deal with the logistical pressures, book gigs, arrange for dinner after or handle club organisers.