Unpredictable. Fun. Adventurous. That is how Vijay Nair defines his 15-year journey with Only Much Louder (OML). Member of the coveted fraternity of college dropouts who made it large, Nair founded OML at 18, and it’s safe to say that things have got only much louder since. From channeling the country’s music festival culture with the iconic NH7 Weekender to bringing EDC to India, from TV shows such as The Dewarists, to Artist Management and events in music, comedy, and storytelling – Nair’s conglomerate has singlehandedly ignited India’s music & entertainment revolution. A laser-sharp foresight, dedicated coherence, and endless energy is what maketh this gent, who has India playing to his tunes. We delve into the strumming of this man who brought its long-pending due to the entertainment industry, with #DSSCSecretConversations.
Dropping Out & Breaking In
It was a market research discussion by Procter & Gamble in Sydenham College (Mumbai) that set the wheels of fate in motion, “A friend and I shared feedback on a product we felt could be done better. They asked us to work on it and we went back with a new product and website, which they really liked,” and that’s how the teenager Nair bagged his first job while still pursuing graduation, which progressed to working with music sharing websites gigpad.com and masti.com. “I was bored of college and decided to take a year off, manage bands, and see what happens.” What happened was an opportunity to manage Acquired Funk Syndrome, which would become first of the many bands he handled. As his break from college continued beyond the decided one year and, his experience at these organisations helped lay the stepping stone for his OML. “My mentors at P&G gave me the confidence to focus on more experience-led things as opposed to just studying, thus helping shape what I was working on. Gigpad was completely immersed in music, it was the reddit for musicians, and that’s what got me into the scene. It’s probably a good thing I dropped out, it would have been a complete waste of a couple of years. I could make mistakes and learn how the business works in that time, by the age of 21 I already had a good sense of what was going on.” he shares.
It Starts Getting Louder
All arrows may point toward music, yet it wasn’t the centrepiece of Nair’s entrepreneurial ambition, “Growing up, I had no interest in music, even now I’m into it as much as any other person. It was only in college that I started getting interested in music, and I listened to Indian bands as quickly as I started listening to international bands, which is why I got hooked to the indie scene.” As we dig into the beginnings of OML, he tells us that it didn’t start with a ‘vision, rather the determination of “I just want to get something done”. “Being 18, I was trying to figure things out myself. I wanted to organise the music scene and saw an opportunity there. But more importantly I was having a lot of fun doing that.” The foundation pillars may not have a pre-determined structure, but OML went from strength to strength and ended up being a game changer for the country’s music industry, “The good contribution that we’ve made is to prove that this can be a sustainable business. Till that time people were doing it as a hobby and out of passion, they’d do it for a couple of years and then let go. We’ve changed that,” Vijay says.
OML refashioned the audience’s perspective towards music and introduced them to the concert culture with the first NH7 Weekender in 2010. Embarking on its 7th year this October, with two large and eight small editions in tow, Vijay shares his journey, “It took three editions for it to really gain momentum. NH7 is not just a music festival, people come for the entire experience of going to an event.” He also speaks of the importance of communication with the the audience, “We’ve always focused on the festival as opposed to the artists. Even now, when we start selling tickets, we never announce the line-up. The single largest thing that we’ve done is to build the communication that brings out the festival over anything else.” On being asked how the artists take to that approach, he says, “They still get the largest audiences. For a lot of the younger acts it’s an event that gives them the break of performing for larger audiences of 20,000 people. It’s something that really works for them.”
As for the audience he says, “First of all, there’s an audience now, back then there was none. A successful gig was 400 people attending once a year, so that’s changed quite dynamically. Another thing is that people are a lot more open to new music and enjoy discovering it.” On being asked how the industry has evolved over the years Nair shares, “I think we have changed our perception towards the industry, as opposed to them having to change their perception towards us. We don’t really look at it as ‘us’ and ‘them’ anymore, it’s about doing good work, be it independent music, Bollywood, independent films…the elitism of “we’re just going to do indie music” has stopped and that’s made life much easier.” While we’ve come a long way, there’s always scope to strive further, and in that vein we discuss the aspects where the indigenous industry could improve, “The knack to build Intellectual Properties, make it global, and monetise it” is what we could inculcate from the more developed entertainment industries he says.
Music and Beyond
It’s not just music that OML seeks to revolutionise, tapping the pulse of India’s entertainment milieu they dived into the comedy and storytelling sector, “We happened to be at the right place at the right time in terms of the whole thing exploding and taking off,” Vijay says. As they help the country experience live comic acts such as All India Bakchod (AIB), and the forgotten art of storytelling, there’s one element that they lookout for in their artists, “Originality. Unless there’s something fresh about them, there’s nothing to market.”
Five festivals, TV shows, Artist Management, and more – Nair credits the ease of donning multiple hats with finesse to his team. “We have a lot of entrepreneurship spirit within the company, and that’s the reason we’ve been able to scale up so fast and do so many different things. There may be 50 employees but they’re better than owners of most companies out there.” Vijay’s brother, Ajay Nair, also came aboard the OML ship in 2010, “He had lent me money and the only way he would get that back was to join me, that’s his version of the story – which is probably true,” quips Vijay as he shares that Ajay was the traditional IIM grad-investment banker, who grew bored of his job and wanted to join OML. Speaking of their work dynamic, he says, “Nine years of working together, I don’t think we’ve ever had a serious fight. He’s not involved in the creative part and I don’t want to be involved in the administrative part, so our roles are carved out really well, which has lent to a really good working relationship.”
Speaking of moving forward, we ask about the next plan of action for OML, “Going regional, concerts in cities like Indore, Jaipur, Ranchi, Lucknow, Agra. We’re also launching a new Hip Hop festival across the country this year; it’s a massive dance battle, we’re trying to create an international championship, with the main edition in Mumbai.” But the buck doesn’t stop there, they’re also looking to introduce three new festival properties this year, with Shillong getting a new site which will host NH7 at an “unparalleled scale”, and entering new entertainment verticals.
With this host of launches lined-up, we have our calendars blocked to experience the next wave of entertainment rejig. And as we bid adieu to Vijay, we tune into the signature DSSC Rapid Fire.
Your top 3 music finds in the last 3 months?
Dot and the Syllables by Aditi, Prabh Deep – an MC from Delhi’s Hip Hop scene, When Chai Met Toast from Bangalore.
StandUp comedians we need to lookout for?
Urooj Ashfaq, Sumaira Shaikh, Rohan Desai, Supriya (Supaarwoman).
The next trend that’s going to take the industry by storm?
Hip hop as an entire lifestyle and culture.
The last song that was stuck in your head?
Sounds Like Somewhere by Lily and Madeleine.
Your favourite city to host an event?
Your top 3 destinations across the world for their music scene?
New York, London, Los Angeles.
This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace industry disruptors who map its course one masterstroke at a time.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of DSSC & its affiliates.