Kirtan artists like Jai Uttal and Bhakti House Band exercise creativity as artists and businesspeople.
The rockin’ ‘70s. Those were the days when labels produced vinyl. I worked for a Top 40 radio station, a bit like WKRP in Cincinnati. A hefty share of our ad dollars came from the music industry. Rock stars flooded into our recording studios for live interviews with the DJs. We ran music promotions galore, funded by the labels. The station wooed the record reps with parties, complete with wine and weed. The labels leveraged their clout to introduce lesser known artists. The sales rep who managed the music clients confided that it was a dirty business. But, it was a business. The labels produced the records, and showered, or sprinkled in, promotional support.
Over the decades, I’ve worked with numerous “successful” musicians and celebs. I saw beyond the glam.
I went on the road with one artist with six LPs under her belt. Even though Clive Davis was her manager, she was living modestly. While Davis propelled Whitney Houston to super stardom, sadly, this woman got more public relations support from me than the label.
Another two were rising stars. They felt they won the lottery being on Madonna’s record label. Wrong. One produced his own music video with a cell phone or flip cam. In the video, he let the world in on the dark music industry secrets. Actually, that video went viral and won awards. His investment: $0.
The Times They Are A Changin’.
“The streaming and download venues are major rip-offs for performers,” said musician Allan Evans. Evans is an author, professor, producer and founder of a non-profit that preserves world music. “Perhaps a union will arise to win proper royalties from these new formats.”
Even though Jai Uttal was raised in the music industry, it hasn’t been easy for him. A Grammy-nominated leading Kirtan artist, with 20 CDs, he lives simply.
“In the past, the money I made from touring was augmented by a small but consistent trickle of album royalties. But with the advent of music streaming, that trickle has dried up,” said Uttal.
Even though the digital age is detrimental to profits, Jai Uttal tapped into the streaming music trend.
Creativity in Connecting to Listeners
“For the last few years I’ve been raging at the streaming services and their exploitation of artists, but I realized that raging against this reality wasn’t going to help. Patreon offers a another option,” found Uttal. “Fans can still stream their favorite music, but give back in a different way. It’s still young but I love it and hope that patronage grows and grows, not just for me but for all of us. In these intense and difficult times we need to become patrons of each other!”
For as little as one dollar a month, Jai shares daily mantras, life vignettes and more, with his patrons.
“With music subscriptions like Spotify and Pandora paying artists a fraction of a penny per every 100 plays, coupled with record labels taking around 99.7 percent of album revenue, we as musicians, have to get innovative on how we create and distribute our music to our fans,” said Randall Brooks of Bhakti House Band.
In the music world, it takes $5,000-$15,000 to record a CD. Add to that the tens of thousands of dollars to produce and market it.
“Our ability to continue creating and releasing new music depends heavily on our fans’ direct support,” said Kristin Brooks of Bhakti House Band. “Like purchasing music and merchandise from us, or our crowdfunding campaigns rather than through third party services. The current state of the music business is devaluing music, an indispensable part of life that we humans couldn’t live without.”
From Concert Crowds to Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is a buzzword now. But, people don’t necessarily want to give, without getting anything in return. Hence, the creative juices must flow into the marketing, too.
Bhakti House Band is based out of Fort Worth, and they drive a sky blue school bus for their road trips. Aside from their vast knowledge of Sanskrit and world religions, they exude soul and creativity on stage. That same level of passion and creativity is in store in their next recording.
“We will be integrating everything from old gospel and church hymns to rap and hip hop to Tibetan bowls, beloved classical Sanskrit mantras, and Kirtan. We combine western and eastern instrumentation and rich harmonies, all driven by a powerful combination of drums and percussion from different cultures all over the world. These various healing musical influences represent seeds of our musical past that have brought us to this present moment,” Kristin said.
To help them record, produce and market their new baby, they launched a creative crowdfunder.
Join the Revolution
Roots to Revolutions is the name of the new Bhakti House Band project. Contribute via IndieGogo and you can record with them in the studio, learn to play the harmonium, or get a tailor-made recording.
First, for just nine dollars, you receive a download of a 108-mantra recording. Plus, they’ll throw in a limited track recording, a personal shout-out on Facebook Live, and “eternal gratitude.” Not bad for the price of a fast food meal at some spots.
Then, donate $50-60 and receive Bhakti House Band merchandise, “It’s all Goodie in the Hoodie” or “The Shirt Off Our Back.” Both those levels tack on the 108-mantra meditation package.
How cool is this? For a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable donation of $500-700, pick “Your Song,” or “I’m With the Band.” For the first, you can be the director and Bhakti House Band will write and produce a song for you. It’s a great anniversary, holiday or birthday gift for the person who has everyone, or, needs nothing. Similarly, the second option lets you in the recording studio to sing or play as an honorary member of Bhakti House Band.
Another option is “Nirvana in C.” That package includes a harmonium, plus eight weekly sessions to teach you how to play the keys and squeeze the box.
Despite the fact that the music industry isn’t supporting the artists, the recordings will continue. Therefore, be a part of the industry yourself. While you can contribute monetarily, you can also get to know the musicians, and experience their lives and how they make music come alive. Most of all, it feels good to get something that will stay with you for a lifetime, and support talented artists.