Mumbai: Simran Mulchandani, 37- year-old founding partner of Singapore-based hedge fund Azura Asia Opportunity Fund, was on Ashwaim beach in Goa when he thought of returning home after 17 years to lead a music start-up. It was 30 December 2005 when Mulchandani’s childhood friend Ashutosh Phatak approached him for leading the company Phatak had helped conceive. Mahesh Mathai, founder of Mumbai-based advertising firm Highlight Films and director of the film Bhopal Express, had suggested to Phatak that the company would need someone with a financial background.
The music start-up, established on 20 July 2006, now goes by the name Blue Frog Media Pvt. Ltd and is in the process of giving shape to four distinct business lines—a production house, a live music club, sound labs and a record label—that are expected to be operational by November-end.
Blue Frog has received venture capital funding from an undisclosed investor.
Blue Frog is not the first instance of efforts to widen the music industry in India, still dominated by Hindi film music and religious songs. Hindi film music trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have talked about promoting new talent, independent labels are cropping up, and even music giant Saregama India Ltd has shown interest. But Blue Frog is perhaps the first to mesh all the facets of a new music ecosystem on a unified platform. (Mint was the first to spot the start-up in a report titled “For love and money, Mumbai duo launch live music lounge” that appeared on 26 March.)
Blue Frog is the brainchild of Phatak and Dhruv Ghanekar, founders of Smoke, a Mumbai-based music production house focused on commercials. Phatak and Ghanekar had approached Mathai and hispartner Srila Chatterjee, executive producer at Highlight Films to be investors and mentors; they instead became partners. And before that conversation in Goa, Mulchandani was an adviser.
When Mint dropped by a couple of weeks ago at the 12,000 sq. ft under-construction Blue Frog facilities in the middle of the dilapidated Mathuradas Mills compound in central Mumbai, Mulchandani was working at full speed. Walking up the dirt road that leads to the office, the club is on the left, but outsiders are refused access. Further down the path is Highlight Films on the right and the unmarked door to Blue Frog’s yellow and orange colour schemed office on the left. The start-up was the first to set up home in the complex. Advertising agencies Mudra Communications and Publicis, and WLC College (India) Ltd followed later.
Mulchandani hopes the mill will become a hub for creativity.
Inside Blue Frog headquarters, Mulchandani sits in a room of glass offices where the heads of each business line work diligently like music vagabonds who have found a home. Mulchandani spends most of these days sifting through empty promises from construction workers. While the partners pitch in on everything, they focus on the areas that play to their individual strengths. Chatterjee stays close to the production house plans, helping to sign on composers, while Phatak keeps tabs on the music label, and Ghanekar and Mathai on the bands that have been booked for the club (now set through January) and the visual art. And Mulchandani, with his financial services and entrepreneurial background, heads all the operations.
Profit centres are interdependent
The production house, Blue Frog Production, will create music for advertisements, films, television and get into “music services” for places like elevators and shopping malls. Phatak and Ghanekar have created music for 3,500 commercials including some abroad at Smoke, and Chatterjee and Mathai make mostly ad films with a client list intact. Using established and new talent, they will do customized work, and also create a library of original music that paying members can access as needed. “Blue Frog’s (library) concept will prove to be a big boon to producers of content that cannot afford to produce original music,” Chatterjee said.
The record label, Blue Frog Records, will create albums and potentially cash in on CD sales, merchandising and performances. Both the ad music and album music will be recorded in Blue Frog Soundlabs, which will also be rented out at upwards of Rs2,200 an hour depending on the studio size. The record label will pick up mostly unknown talent, particularly some of the acts at Blue Frog Club—a live music nightclub with semi-private booths for 100 per seating, standing room 250, a dance floor, tapas-style food and video-light visuals.
For nil to Rs1,000 entry fee depending on the day and time, the club will feature unknown talent and international acts about twice a month on weekends. The international line-up includes acts such as Norwegian jazz musician Bugge Wesseltoft and Argentina-born British guitarist Dominic Miller who has played with Sting among others (find out more about his Blue Frog gig on www.dominicmiller.com). The company hopes sponsors will helpwith the $5,000-50,000 (Rs197,000-1,970,000) that it takes to bring such international acts to India.
Can Blue Frog leap into new markets
Blue Frog’s success, at the moment, seems to hinge on Blue Frog Production being the financial support to its “riskier” siblings. Much of the production house’s business case rides on the experience and client base that the promoters bring to the table. The production house also plans to eventually expand the operations to do music outsourcing. They would start doing ad jingles with the goal of growing into full music production for ads and films abroad, likely in the UK and the US markets.
Although they are unable to quantify the cost savings, Phatak is certain there is a time arbitrage to be exploited, which will naturally translate into cost savings. “The composers there might take one week or two weeks to do one commercial, while we have to do it in a few hours,” he said.
There’s no doubt that Blue Frog is a unique start-up with tons of potential. One important component of scalable success will depend on how well the promoters synergize each business line, which they seem poised to do given that it is one person’s job to find new sources of revenue across the businesses. “It is the hardest thing in India today to find really good management,” Chatterjee said. “Getting people who can do it competently with your vision is the hardest thing.” While the revenue potential for the production house side of the business looks optimistic, with the club and sound lab following closely, the question remains whether enough of a market for the label is out there.