What does Vishal Dadlani like? Well, many things presumably; but for our specialised purposes, it’s the music Dhruv Visvanath makes. Visvanath, a singer-songwriter from Delhi who excels at the fingerstyle “drifting” technique on the guitar, has just released his debut album, Orion, on Dadlani’s new label, called VLT, or… Vishal Likes This (there you have it). It’s a new company that Dadlani — one half of popular film composer duo Vishal-Shekhar and vocalist of seminal electro-rock band Pentagram — has started, for the express purpose of pushing forth young and fresh musical talent from across the country. “I’d been toying with the idea for a long time,” says Dadlani. “I regularly come across brilliant young artists who either find the traditional record business intimidating or haven’t explored it yet.” VLT acts as a kind of friendly alternative, with Dadlani handpicking artists he feels deserve greater attention, and working toward making that a reality.
Visvanath’s album is up for purchase on iTunes, and the video for his single Enigma has also received a decent response. Following on from there, Dadlani has signed on Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café; they’ll begin the process of writing, recording and producing an album at the end of the year, and Dadlani is hoping for a March or April release. The objective of VLT is to put out quality music by as many artists as possible, and, unlike more conventional models, the ownership of the music remains solely with the artist and not the label. “My contract extends to the amount of money I put up. The enterprise works in a way where once we recover that amount — either through record sales or live gigs — the artists are free to do what they like with the music. The artist is the primary investment — to make sure the album is recorded and mastered well, and it reaches the kind of people who’d want to hear that music as well.”
The objective of VLT is to put out quality music by as many artists as possible, and, unlike more conventional models, the ownership of the music remains solely with the artist and not the label. “The artist is the primary investment — to make sure the album is recorded and mastered well, and it reaches the kind of people who’d want to hear that music as well.”
Essentially, the point is to create an environment where talented artists can flourish, developing a kind of ecosystem that allows for a collective and sustained growth of the scene. “I don’t believe enterprises that focus on making money as their primary objective can ever succeed. I believe money is a byproduct; success is a byproduct. The key is to do something with passion and that you believe in.” It’s an ideology that’s served Dadlani well, considering that he co-founded Only Much Louder (OML), the company that runs the hugely popular NH7 Weekender, in addition to plenty of other ventures that all fall under the independent culture bracket.
VLT doesn’t have a single-minded emphasis on profit generation, but there exists a clear thought behind sustaining the company. “The thing is, there are many ways to value a company. It isn’t just the ‘bottom-line’ anymore. There’s equity, your standing in the industry, how unique it is. That’s what finds you a special space… where your intrinsic value is far beyond just your bottom-line.” He’s fronting the set-up, but he’s also making sure he’s surrounded by enough industry insiders to assist him. “Right now there’s me and the Vishal-Shekhar support staff. OML is helping me with a lot of things; a lot of friends in the legal and record business… they’ve all kind of stepped forward, saying this is something they’d be interested in doing. I’m talking to people and figuring out a plan. Rather than it just being a passion project from someone who doesn’t know how to run a business — that’s something I despise! — I’m looking for like-minded people who’ll run the company as it should be run.” He emphasises how the idea behind VLT isn’t for it to run as a patronage — “These aren’t artists who need to be ‘patronised’; they’re artists who deserve to be better known,” — and that he’s looking at a long-term plan that incorporates the essence of support and sustainability.
He has financed Visvanath’s album, produced by Keshav Dhar of Skyharbor, whose work Dadlani appreciates greatly, but the procedural intricacies of VLT remain flexible. For instance, if an artist he has on board already has recorded music ready for release, it would make more sense to direct resources toward heavy (and targeted) marketing of the music. So in that respect, the approach differs as per the needs of the artist and Dadlani’s own seasoned understanding of the craft and the business of music. He’s not technically “managing” the artists who’re part of VLT yet — instead tying up with artist management agencies — but he admits that eventually, he would want to have an artist management firm as well.
CD sales, either in India or internationally, have been dwindling for a while now, and established record labels have been periodically shutting shop, so it might, on the surface, seem ill-advised to be setting up new ones in a country where independent music hasn’t traditionally been a big pull. But Dadlani stresses on the need to move with the times: “Man, honestly, you have to approach the music marketplace with a view to what’s going on in the world; how people consume information, entertainment, music. You have to kind of evolve to stay on the ball; I see it as a challenge in a way. The focus is not on physical distribution at all. I think it’s pretty much self-evident that physical modes of distributing music are dying out, and it’s unnecessarily expensive. [VLT] is a virtual label in a way.” They’re targeting digital sales primarily, while also trying innovative new models of physical distribution—Visvanath’s album, in physical format, features the music, an inlay, the story behind the music, his many YouTube videos as well as the video for Enigma. He stresses how most of the revenue in the music business today is off the live circuit, so reaching out to audiences becomes all-important. He also, once more, talks about collective growth and how support from friends could ideally propel the company in the right direction. In the past, Dadlani has faced criticism (misplaced or otherwise) in some quarters for crossing over to a mainstream music space, but his continued presence in the indie community — VLT being a further marker of that — and his influence as well as connections to influential figures can only be a positive for younger artists. It’s a mini-industry starved of exposure, so ventures aiming to rectify that act as a ray of hope.