The True School of Music (TSM), Mumbai’s first academy of contemporary music that prioritizes industry experience over theoretical expertise, is the latest colourful addition to the mill complexes of Lower Parel.

Ashutosh Phatak, co-founder of blueFROG, and Nitin Chandy, its chief technical officer, conceptualized TSM a little over a year ago. “We are at a nascent stage for independent music acts in India," Phatak says. “If we don’t give them a foundation, it will all be lost, especially with contemporary music and fusion."

The focus is on viable musicianship. There are two programmes: Professional for people who already play instruments, and Foundation for musicians starting out. Students of the professional wing of the school will have to intern regularly in areas of the music industry related to their study. By the time they complete the course, they are expected to have enough contacts in the industry to get by on their own. Rarely does a music school integrate this aspect as an essential part of their curriculum.

“There’s no point in someone sitting in a bedroom and playing phenomenally if they can’t get out and record or do something with their talent. We want to push our students towards that," Phatak says. “The difference between this school and others is that we have an emphasis on preparing students for a job."

Nirmit Shah, a student about to start with his Professional programme course, agrees. “That’s why I’ve joined the school. It’s very practical and you can apply concepts in the field as soon as you learn them."

At this stage, the school offers courses in 10 Western and Indian instruments, as well as in music production; deejaying; and sound engineering, which includes composition. A typical Professional course can extend to a little over two years, with a variety of credits and courses in different genres and practices of music-making.

TSM’s vibrant orange and purple colours cut a striking figure against the backdrop of drawn shutters and gloomy shops in Sun Mill Compound. The school’s spacious interior makes full use of natural light and fits in jam rooms, classrooms, administrative offices and even faculty quarters without getting cramped. With a cafeteria in the glass-topped atrium and a soundproofed mini-auditorium adjacent to it, it promises to become a hub for musicians in the city.

The school is currently fielding a series of free masterclasses every few weeks to educate musicians and amateurs about different genres. “I have an agenda to make everyone a musician in some form or another," Phatak says, laughing. “You need to build musicians, but you also need to build an audience. The more an audience appreciates music, the more musicians will push themselves to excel."

Both Phatak and Chandy are music veterans and have several contacts in and out of the music industry. The school itself has partnerships with the Manhattan School of Music in New York, and the Academy of Contemporary Music in the UK. Several of the TSM faculty, including associate dean Justin DiCioccio, are from the former.

DiCioccio, also an associate dean at the Manhattan School of Music, is a jazz educationist. Like most of TSM’s faculty, he plans to shuttle between Mumbai and New York through the year. DiCioccio says, “We are teaching contemporary life through music by bringing an American and Western European music aesthetic to India. The idea is that we are educating students and also opening a new industry."

Anupama Easwaran, mother of 14-year-old Aryan who has just joined the Foundation programme for guitar, sees it as a prudent investment. “My son is very interested in music and he is determined to play professionally. Now that there is a real music school in Mumbai, we can see whether he has an aptitude and be certain that we won’t be wasting money by sending him abroad to a place like Berklee (College of Music)."

Phatak is ambitious. He hopes to add a new department to the school every six months to a year, starting with Carnatic instruments early next year. “There’s a deejay style called ‘true school’. When you play ‘true school’, you’re not playing old music and you’re not playing new. You’re playing music relevant to the time."

The True School of Music, 107, Sun Mill Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai. For details, call 022-65652391.

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