Never a snob

Mohini Chaudhuri | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on October 23, 2015


Vishal Dadlani, who is equally at home with heavy metal and a Bollywood song, launches his own label to provide young artistes with a platform

It’s tough to find a musician who can compose heavy rock music with the same ease as a Bollywood love ballad like Ishq wala love. Vishal Dadlani has that rare distinction. He’s never been formally trained in music, but exposure to different genres safeguarded him against the “musical snobbery” of niche artistes. On the flip side, he has to deal with audience requests for Sheila ki jawaani in the midst of a head-banging rock concert with his band of 20 years, Pentagram.

Dadlani says he’s never complied.

To support his tribe of indie musicians, Dadlani has now launched his own label, VLT (Vishal Likes This). He confesses he doesn’t have the business smarts, but is confident the music will market itself. The first artiste he has taken under his wing is Delhi-based singer-songwriter Dhruv Viswanath, who recently released his album Orion with VLT. Dadlani reveals how he plans to promote artistes, why good music sells itself and the songs he grew up on. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What was the idea behind VLT?

Eight years ago, Shekhar (Ravjiani) and I put out Raghu Dixit’s first album and that put the seed in my head. To see that he’s been accepted in such a big way globally has been an eye-opener. So many big labels were not able to give him the support an artiste of his calibre deserved. Another realisation was that Raghu’s music sold primarily at his shows, which, therefore, renders the store model redundant. Since then, launching my own label had been at the back of my mind. More importantly, I heard Dhruv’s music and felt this should be out there.

How do you pick the talent for your label?

People whose opinion I value often send me the work of artistes they find promising. Artistes themselves send me a lot of work. I literally get hundreds of demos at my studio every day. But I prefer to watch people live. I can’t go to as many shows as I would like but when I do, I go with open ears.

You’ve said that it is high time India produced a global star. What has held us back?

The problem is, India doesn’t have the infrastructure for live music. For example, if a band was to go to the US they could do 30-40 shows over a certain number of days without repeating a venue. In India that would be impossible. If you are able to count more than 40 places like Blue Frog and Hard Rock which have a stage and proper infrastructure I’d be very surprised.

Within these limitations, how does your label plan to promote artistes?

I have a unique plan. I intend to rely on the music. When people like music they want others to hear it too. They immediately share it with their friends and family. So the key is to make sure it is not about the money but just good music, which will market itself. Also, under my label the artiste retains control over the music, which doesn’t happen usually. But as an artiste myself, it would be ridiculous for me to tell another artiste that all your songs belong to me.

Which successful business model for indie music have you learnt or borrowed from?

The only thing that I have a problem with is that I feel young artistes are intimidated by big record labels. They feel that getting a record deal is a distant dream. It’s really not. It doesn’t cost so much to put together a record label. I fully expect Dhruv to recover the money that I have invested. My model is that I own a part of his revenue until my cost is recovered. Then the artiste is free to do whatever he wants. My objective is to have as many artistes as possible out there for the simple reason that if you read the festival brochures you’ll see that the same artistes have been playing over the last few years.

You can effortlessly switch from indie music to commercial Bollywood fare. What kind of music did you listen to as a youngster?

I had the good fortune of having parents who were heavily into music. Music from around the world was in the house. There was Santana, Woodstock, Beatles and Elvis. My mom used to listen to a lot of bhajans and I used to listen to that too. Simultaneously, Bollywood was also around.

I still remember the album cover of Hum Kisise Kum Naheen. I used to listen to that album all the time. RD Burman was a huge influence. I am fortunate to have no snobbery related to music.

Another cause that you’re committed to is the Aam Aadmi Party. How has that changed you?

Very much. I’ve experienced and seen things I couldn’t possibly have as a musician sheltered in my air-conditioned studio. I’ve campaigned from door to door in Delhi and Varanasi and met more people through AAP than ever before. Being a celebrity can get deluding. Everywhere you go there is a fancy car waiting for you and then you play your show and people are cheering. With AAP, you buy your own ticket and you go by rickshaw or bus or metro and meet people one-on-one and talk to them about why you’re doing this and why you believe in it.

You have strong views on politics and corruption, which you air on social media. You even get heavily trolled for them. Doesn’t it get exhausting to respond to each comment?

I’ve stopped doing that. These days I talk only to the funny ones. The other day someone said ‘your language shoes your sanskaar’. I couldn’t resist. I wrote back to him saying ‘your language is really soleful’. I enjoy myself on social media. It is the same reason I’m doing VLT.

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Published on October 23, 2015
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