Meet Raghu Dixit – Scientist Turned Rock Artist [His Entrepreneurial Story]

Meet Raghu Dixit, founder & front man of  The Raghu Dixit Project – an open house for contemporary Indian rock music. Raghu has performed in more than 250 concerts all over India and launched his debut album in 2008 (from the Raghu Dixit project which you can listen to over here). He has also given music to several Bollywood & Kannada movies – like Quick Gun Murugan.

In this interview we get up close to Raghu’s life as an entrepreneur and see how this microbiologist turned scientist and a master level Bharatnatyam dancer gave up on all things stable and chose to follow his passion for music. Raghu talks about his challenges in life, how passionate he is about music and well, also note the answer at Question no. 8. in which he gives a great piece of advice to all entrepreneurs: “The qualities of an entrepreneur remain the same, be it related to music, or technology or any other field. One has to have a clever and well thought out approach. Its about your gut feel to some extent, and a lot of hard-work and zero stupidity.

1. What was life before you decided to make music? How does it compare with life now?

Life before I was making music was mundane. Each day seemed like the same and I hardly used to face surprises and challenges. I studied Microbiology with a lot of passion and dedication but I felt that urge seemed to gradually die down in my everyday routine job life. My new life presents me with new challenges everyday . I.wake up with a fresh mind. Today I look forward to my next concert, market myself to labels and clients , work doubly hard on every song.

Overall there is a bigger responsibility on my shoulder. Talking about success, it’s a given bonus. Today my mind is in a very different phase cos I am working for my own self and for something I am completely passionate about. In a routine job after you have given your best shot, that also to keep another person (read boss) happy, all you can do is wait for your appraisal and get that mandatory 10% hike to just see yourself  happy. I set my own benchmark and work doubly hard to keep myself happy. And its a different feeling when you surpass your own self.

2. How did you form a team?

I formed my first band called Antaragni in  1997. It was a popular band among colleges We were also on a verge of cutting an album. In a band the major problem is the cohesiveness . When you are working in a team, you are as fast as the slowest member in the team. It is difficult to have the same passion and commitment level. And if this is a case of weak cohesiveness then eventually the team cracks up. Antaragni has always been my vision and the rest of the members were just hanging on to me.

This is when I decided to leave and start The Raghu Dixit Project.- an open house for musicians with same passion and commitment with no hang-ups and emotional baggage. I hire musicians on contractual basis and pay them accordingly. But everyone knows who the boss is! This way I discovered a very unique by-product. Each musician brings in new flavor on the table.

3. So don’t you think that the unique flavor of the band may get compromised by getting in newer members?

No I don’t think so. In fact I don’t believe in taking an audition before choosing a member. I would rather work with the best human being than the best musician. For me honesty and the passion for music matters the most. eg. Gaurav Vaz, my bass player, had a very limited experience as a bass player. Now he has progressed in leaps and bounds.

He had been working as a software engineer and I convinced him to quit his job and devote himself full time for the band. Presently besides managing the band he has many more angles in terms of co-ordination skills and being perfect team player.

4. What were the challenges to get the first success?

I still feel I haven’t tasted my first success . I am still 6-7yrs away from actual success. There are a lot of milestones to be covered. I am still learning from my mistakes . It has always been my challenge to convince others to give a shot and listen to my kind of music and specially convince the record labels. Once I met a record label and I was blankly asked if I had  enough money to promote myself. By that time I had made infinite trips to Mumbai when the miracle happened. Shashank Ghosh called me up and asked if I would like to perform in an open music night at one of the premium pubs .

Vishal and Shekhar happened to be among the audience when Vishal came over and  congratulated me on my music. I was then called to their studio. Both of them by that time had decided to launch me and their music label together. Vishal and Shekhar, at that point in time had made a very emotional decision. Since it was a new label, it lacked the distribution strength. HMV distributed it but 3 months after the launch the CDs were off the shelves. It was end of 2005 when we came up with the idea of selling CDs in live gigs and later through our website.

5. How do you see it going forward?

I’ll call it a success only when i can sing a song to any man on the street . When I can make the entire world listen to my music. My music predominantly is more rock, indie, full of ancient beautiful poetry and it is deeply rooted to our culture. Right now all we aim is to dig and dig further and make our presence felt and our songs heard.

6. What do you think about the maturity of mainstream music industry in India? Compare it with the standards abroad. Especially, that of packaging, channels, recording labels, studios, sound etc.

This is an interesting question indeed. When I was growing up , ie.  early 20’s we would save every penny to buy the latest western hit music cassette . We thought our Indian music , Bollywood music to be precise,  was uncool . Right now, the mainstream music industry has gone through a massive change. Now I can definitely say that its cool. With so much of experimentation happening it clearly shows the open attitude of the industry.

The best part is that people are embracing such changes and they are being recognized as well. I feel as far as a comparison is concerned, we have the latest technologies, well managed studios . What lacks is the technical expertise and proficiency in terms of technical know how. Still we have to go to foreign universities to study quality sound engineering courses. Hence I feel training wise we still lack behind.

7. How did you plan to embrace digital medium?

We have ventured into digital medium from the beginning. Be it sales through our websites, or through itunes. Infact  we believed that our product is good and can be performed live. We performed a lot of live shows and promoted our CD. We did a lot of free concerts for people to sample. Gaurav is a techie and an internet champion. He designed our website as well. Also one thing we have always kept in mind – It is always the live gig experience that keeps people talking.

Hence it was a well thought-out marketing plan. We made extra effort to make ourselves look very unique so that it becomes a talking point. We released our first album in  2007 Feb and it almost took 3 yrs to come into the existence. We have taken the advantage of the social networking wave and we make it a point that we connect to our fans one on one. Its all about building the tribe and community. Today I am confident that if I release 2nd album, I will sell 5000 CDs in first week. There are fans who would buy it in that instant.

8. What entrepreneurial qualities does one require to venture into music as business? What should be the driving force for such a venture?

The biggest quality of a music entrepreneur ( as a musician ) is perseverance and complete believe in music and for a businessman ( dealing with musical talent) is to have complete belief in artist. The qualities of an entrepreneur remain the same, be it related to music, or technology or any other field. One has to have a clever and well thought out approach. Its about your gut feel to some extent, and a lot of hard-work and zero stupidity.

9. Have you ever faced problems with funds and monies when you quit your job to follow your passion?

I honestly had no problem with funds may be because i took some sure shot steps. When I was working in Belgium as a scientist in microbiology I played in a local radio station and  people responded saying that they liked my show. From that day I wanted to be a rockstar and when I was 24 I quit that job and came back to India. With lot of passion in my heart I went from one label to another but with zero results. In 2 months my cash reserve was getting over.

Thanks to my educational background, I got a job of a technical writer in a software company. Good education always gives you the required confidence and most importantly great  communication skills. I worked as a technical writer for a year and a half. After the routine 9-6pm job I used to spend time with my music. It was then when radio city came up in Bangalore and i started making jingles for them. With those monies coming in I quit my the software job and  started my home studio. Rest is when the band followed. Infact presently I am facing a lot of financial stress. Last year I had invested around 40lacs for foreign concerts, band travel, equipment rentals, stay, food,etc. and I am still funding it myself. I am yet to break-even and hopefully next year I would be able to. So its actually like running your own venture just that of a different genre:)

10. So when do we see Raghu singing or directing music in Bollywood?

I have already given music in 3 south Indian movies. Infact the popularity that I have gained among common junta is for the music of a song named Mahadeshwara from a film named Psycho. Hopefully 2011 is the year when bollywood would get a flavour of my kind of music.

11. Tell us how you packaged your first album and how to get there. What do you recommend to struggling and passionate artists in the scene?

Well I wanted to keep the CD packaging very Indian so as to be in-sync with our kind of music. I also kept every lyrics and the meaning of them in the inlay card.

I think struggling is part and parcel of life till you die. Young musicians should keep excitement alive and not get trapped into the lure of being in the comfortable zone. Always look forward to do unique, path-breaking work.Hence the way you approach towards it makes a lot of difference. And yes, you should definitely back it up with perseverance.

Interview, Painting & Photography by Tamagna Ghosh:

Tam is a Marketing Manager for a major national FM Radio channel. He is an IITian and an MBA from MDI Gurgaon. He also holds professional degree in arts and professional photography and loves to follow the underground music scene & cryptic art.

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