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Past life

Pratyush Pundir, 26, worked for four years at musical instrument store OnStage, Delhi, starting 2007, where he was director of sales. Somewhere down the line, he started wanting to set up something similar of his own with girlfriend Unnati Narang, 22, who is now completing her master’s in commerce from the Delhi School of Economics. In April 2010, things seemed to come together when they met Neha Chowdhry, 29, who knew the business of music well as she was a writer with Time Out Delhi at the time. This completed their entrepreneurial holy trinity of sales, finance and marketing.

Eureka moment

In 2010, Pundir and Narang had toyed with the idea of a music store called The Music Alley. Neha, with husband Akshay Chowdhry, one of the lead guitarists/vocalists of the Delhi-based band Barefaced Liar, had been planning something similar. “The idea of doing it together, better and bigger was a major motivational factor in realizing our goal," says Neha.

“Seeing how well we fit into our individual roles and how seamless our interactions were, while we were putting our business plan together, made this feel right."

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By May 2010, the idea developed into the framework of 440Hz, a “one-stop shop where a musician could get his entire fix", says Neha.

This included: a high-quality jam pad, with state-of-the-art sound system, soundproofing and a repair space, as well as a well-stocked, friendly and modern retail space. In August 2011, the group finally announced itself with a bang in the form of a Facebook contest for solo guitarists.

“The premise of 440Hz is to put musicians first," explains Neha. So unlike several others that house only either high-end foreign brands, or low-end local ones, this has the spectrum—international ones such as Fender, ESP, Dean, Schecter, Ibanez, as well as some beginner acoustic guitars from Indian brands which are manufactured in China, such as Pluto and GC Guitars.

The store stocks close to 40 brands of guitars (acoustic, electric, bass), amplifiers, drums and recording equipment.

“It’s not an organized industry," says Pundir. “But our store (at Lajpat Nagar in Delhi) offers personalized sales advice and a certain level of expertise." The store offers a space for musicians to get together and share ideas. “We’re not selling refrigerators," he adds.

Reality check

A lot of ideas were thrown in before the 440Hz framework in its current form was set up. “We considered opening a studio, a little music café, and other possible permutations. Even once we had settled on what we wanted 440Hz to be, there were changes, decisions and compromises that came with looking for a space and setting it up in a way that all three of us liked," says Neha.

Now, 440Hz is a huge hall (1,800 sq. ft) divided into three sections. The central store space, with a drum set which has pride of place; a quirky, guitar-shaped seating area against a wall, which serves as the back-rest, and rows of glitzy guitars hanging on another wall. The jam pad (which costs 300 for the first hour, and 250 for every subsequent hour), an especially well-equipped and graffiti-filled enclosure, takes up one corner. The repair workshop takes up another corner of the store space.

Already, the jam pad has had rock bands, jazz and blues bands and metal bands, jam into the wee hours of the night. Ali Zafar and his group, Half Step Down, Souled Out, Revival Stage, Jester, and, of course, Barefaced Liar have travelled through. If things go at this rate, the group hopes to break even by October 2013.

Plan B

“There was no Plan B when we came together," says Neha.

Secret sauce

“Our desire is to put musicians first and to use the store as a tool for fostering a greater sense of community among them," says Pundir. “It dictates everything we do: from the customer experience to the quality of gear we stock, and even the way the store is laid out."

This story was first published on 2 June 2012. It has been republished due to a technical issue.

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