Insights - Design & Product

Yes, You Can Crowdfund a Music Festival

Control Alt Delete has been championing Indian independent music since 2010 and is completely crowdfunded! In March 2019, a few thousand fans descended upon a dirt track in a quiet corner of Mumbai. The music ranged from electronica to metal, there were plenty of black tees and beer-induced vibes–all the trappings of a typical music…

Control Alt Delete

Control Alt Delete has been championing Indian independent music since 2010 and is completely crowdfunded!

Picture Credit: Control Alt Delete

In March 2019, a few thousand fans descended upon a dirt track in a quiet corner of Mumbai. The music ranged from electronica to metal, there were plenty of black tees and beer-induced vibes–all the trappings of a typical music festival with one big difference. This festival was paid for entirely by the attendees.

What’s the big deal?

The costs for artist bookings, production, stages, venue costs and insurance easily run into crores for a major Indian music festival. That’s why festivals often rely on sponsors to make the property viable. Trying to host an Indian music festival fully paid for by the audience, who pays what they like, is ambitious, even reckless! Good thing, then, that both qualities abound in Nikhil Udupa and Himanshu Vaswani, the Indie gig scene loyalists behind Control Alt Delete (CAD). 

Control Alt Delete
Picture Credit: Control Alt Delete

CAD started as a one-evening crowdfunded gig in 2010, with six bands and a few hundred people crammed into a room.  Attendees could drop what they liked as fee in a ‘daanpeti’ (donation box).

“We were just keen to see what would happen, whether we could even pull off a crowdfunded show”, says Nikhil, who, along with Himanshu, runs 4/4 Experiences, a subculture talent, event management and programming outfit that works with indie musicians and artists. Several CAD editions followed in the subsequent years, including events in Bangalore and Pune.

It is their latest avatar, however, a two-day, five-stage festival, that has truly shown the power of crowdfunding. CAD now takes place in Roaring Farm, a large open space in Mumbai, complete with top quality infrastructure and equipment. The last gig in March 2019 had 3500 attendees.

Some of India’s biggest independent musicians have been on the CAD stage, including Skrat, aswekeepsearching, Bhayanak Maut, Sapta, Zygnema, Bombay Bassment, The Ganesh Talkies, Undying Inc, Blackstratblues, Split, Demonic Resurrection and Divine (of Gully Boy fame).

What money can’t buy

CAD’s records are meticulous (down to the price of vada pav) and public. The property has made a net loss just thrice in the 9 editions it’s kept a tab. Profits are split between the bands (regardless of billing), while losses are borne by Nikhil and Himanshu. 

The last edition of CAD saw collections of close to Rs.23 lakhs, which after expenses, left each band with the princely sum of Rs. 3253. 

Luckily CAD was never about the money. Says Mumbai-based guitarist Warren Mendonsa (whose Blackstratblues played at CAD 2013), “It was a good opportunity for us to play to a new audience we had not been exposed to.”

Sidharth Raveendran, a Mumbai-based musician whose bands, Tadpatri Talkies and Pacifist played at the 2019 edition, echoes this thought. “Tadpatri wasn’t specifically looking at playing live a lot, but since the entire hip-hop junta was there for the show, it was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss!”

CAD’s vision is supported by a tightly-knit community of sound engineers, photographers, designers and stage hands willing to step up and contribute their expertise and talent, often charging little or nothing at all. “I do CAD pro-bono. Like every professional, my skills are worth money, and I see it as a fair contribution.” says Pritesh Prabhune, one of the most experienced indie gig sound engineers in Mumbai.

Sajid Wajid Shaikh, a Mumbai-based visual artist who designed a festival poster for CAD agrees. “When I worked on CAD, there was no brief, I was allowed to think of stuff that was inspired by the music itself.  CAD is like fine art, while a sponsor-led festival is like commercial art.”

“CAD is like fine art, while a sponsor-led festival is like commercial art.”

Open to everyone

“CAD is not a charity”, says Nikhil. “We want people to pay what they think the music is worth”. There are donation boxes at several points at the venue as well as options for online payment. He brushes off any suggestions of free-riding. “Today’s free-rider is tomorrow’s contributor”

In fact, breaking the class bubble was a key motivation for Nikhil and Himanshu. As someone who has attended several editions, the author can testify that there are all sorts of people who are made to feel welcome at CAD. 

The future

Nikhil is clear that he is more interested in inclusivity than scale. “We know this yearly thing in Mumbai will happen now. I’d really like to take this model to other cities, starting with small gigs”.

While upbeat about the potential of crowdfunded gigs in India, he cautions in favour of pragmatism and not getting carried away. “This is people’s money that we’re playing with and that means a massive responsibility”

Loyal audiences are surely putting their money where their mouth is. “I’ve attended CAD since its initial editions and I discover a few new bands/acts each time”, says Peter Kotikalampudi, seasoned gig-attendee and co-host of the metal podcast, Horns Up. Reinforcing the CAD ethos, he says “it’s not just the organizing team’s festival, it belongs to each attendee. It’s OUR festival!”

(CAD) belongs to each attendee. It’s OUR festival!”

CAD merch is very popular, and often sported at several other shows. #represent.

5 tips from CAD’s organizers: for anyone looking to do crowdfunded projects

  • Be transparent, put out all details, down to the smallest one
  • Be accountable, have a clear rationale for what you do with the money
  • Be professional, put out a good product/ service/effort with all quality checks in place
  • Be sure you are enhancing your offering every time you ask for money 
  • Be transparent 🙂

The next edition of Control Alt Delete will be held between Feb 1-2, 2020, at Roaring Farm, Malad, Mumbai. Details and contributions here.

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