I am a TED Fellow!

The last year has been the most incredible time of my life with so much happening and things taking such drastic turns! right from quitting my IT career to now getting married, it has been a series of waves I have been riding!

One thing that stands out is becoming a TED Fellow, a dream I have cherished from the first time I heard and read about TED a couple of years back!  I have always dreamt of speaking like those people on stage at TED, or atleast, sitting down and listening to them first hand and it seemed so unreachable until TED decided to hold a conference in Mysore in November!

I had a whole plan of getting in by hook or crook, my last resort was to try and convince the sound guys at TED to take me on as part of the crew! Which could have well worked :p – but becoming a TED Fellow seemed a much better way to do it!

I applied on a whim, not expecting to get in at all, but the selection was a dream come true and with a week to go for the conference, I couldn’t be more excited 😀

Kiruba Shankar started the TED Fellows project trying to get all TED fellows profiled and Rohit Awasthi interviewed me a couple of days back as part of this project. Here are my answers to his questions originally posted on his blog at – http://www.rohitz.com/2009/10/keeping-the-groove-with-gaurav-vaz-ted-india-fellow/

1. How did Raghu Dixit Project help you in getting more perspectives about music and expectations of people?

The Raghu Dixit Project completely changed my perception about how the music scene in India can work. At a time when bands are complaining about the lack of gigs and various things that are “wrong” with the scene, we’ve played almost a gig a week last year!

When I joined the Raghu Dixit Project, I came from a much smaller band (my college band Phenom) and had a very constricted view of how things worked and about the type of music that I listened to and played. Infact, before I started playing with Raghu, I had never played a Kannada song on stage EVER! All that changed and how! Over the past 4 years that I have been actively involved in the project, we’ve toured 7 countries and played over a 100 shows and have taken our own original brand of music to places very few Indian bands have. The learning for me has been immense.

The Raghu Dixit Project is a testament to the fact that regional music works in India and also, the importance of being original with what you do. A decade back, a bunch of South Indians singing in Hindi and Kannada would have been brushed aside as a bad idea, but what we have managed to achieve in the last 2 years after releasing our debut album is quite extraordinary.

But frankly, that has been the easy part, these were songs we’ve played over a long time, and with them, have set the expectations of a LOT of people. Exceeding those expectations with the next album (due in the first half of next year) and giving the audience a whole new experience live is where we are focussing our energies and I am quite confident we won’t let people down there!

Q.2 What did the IT Industry (un)teach you?

When I was in Engineering College, I was told that I would not use most of what I studied there. I do was skeptical about that statement, but now I can completely vouch for it ;)

Yet, it’s not that I didn’t learn much from the IT Industry. In reality, I learnt a lot from my first job at NetScaler; a dream-company, now called as Citrix. One of the most important things I learnt was that there is a LOT of money out there to be and it can be earned if you do things the right way.

Moreover, I was never the someone who could be coupled to his desk-job. I pursued my music and other passions along with my first job. My bosses there were most co-operative of my other pursuits and allowed me to take time off work. They redefined the concept of “flexible work hours”, i.e. all’s well as long as you get the work done. This is something I will never forget!

That job made me a happy man as I had the flexibility to work without interruption; was very productive at work then. I had a point to prove and the folks at NetScaler let me prove it! I will carry that work ethic with me wherever I go.

Q.3 Has Radioverve become profitable? What are the future plans? Is there any update about MuckWork?

RadioVeRVe was never meant to become ‘monetarily profitable’. However, the profit that we have gained is that we have achieved what we set out to achieve, i.e, to provide a platform to the Indian Indie scene and make “Indian Indie” a recognizable genre. This is an achievement because we started RadioVeRVe at a time when there was no other platform like it. Today there are similar, well performing platforms and that in itself is brilliant because we too are working towards the same.

Although, RadioVeRVe has been lying low for a year now (as Shreyas and I are figuring out our careers, and that there have been recent developments in the Indie music scene), I am working with OML Digtal (Part of Only Much Louder, founded by Vijay Nair). OML is supposed to be an evolved form of RadioVeRVe. The project has been named as NH7; after the longest national highway in India and should be ready by the end of this year. With NH7, we will work on Indie music, all over India.

MuckWork is currently on the back burner. But will be up soon as it is a fantastic idea; as some brilliant people alongwith Derek Sivers (my idol) are involved.

Q.4 From Phenom to TED India Fellowship, what has been the most challenging phase of your life?

I’m not sure I can point to one phase of my life and say, there, that was the most challenging! My career has shaped in such a way, that I am jumping from one challenge to the next. Managing my IT career, creating and running an online radio station and at the same time playing in one of the biggest bands in the country was quite challenging, but it was nothing compared to quitting IT and with it, letting go of that financial security blanket to work with someone you have admired for years! And then to the next challenge, building a brand new start up, setting off on a very ambitious dream and hoping to make a difference with it while working on how to take the band to a whole new level with our music and the way we market it in a music industry that is in such a state of flux and a world where physical boundaries are inconsequential.

All of these phases have been critical in helping me become the person I am today and I am lucky to have gone through all these phases because they ground you! The perspective you get when you carry your own equipment, wait for your turn, perform the show of your life, pack up and then go sell CDs to people after your gig can never be substituted when you try to build a store that will sell music!

Gaurav in a concert

Gaurav in a concert

Q.5 You mentioned in one of your interviews, “Be true to yourself”. Easier said than done. Has there been any time when you have given or almost gave to the easy way out?

Many times! There is always the temptation to stick to the “formula”. But today, its much easier, you can actually categorize and hold a ‘job’ that pays the bills when you work on what you are passionate about and have a good working balance between the two until you are actually ready and confident to go one way or the other. I’ve had a lot of things fall into place for me and that has helped me be true to myself but things just got started!

Q.6 The independent music scene in India is quite fragmented and you have been part of taking some initiatives to bring it together. How do you see it shaping up in the few years to come?

The Independent scene in India is all set to explode. It just requires the right trigger and its all building up now. The gigs have increased, the clubs holding these gigs have increased, there are a lot more original bands, musicians and most importantly, music has finally started to become an actual career for musicians and that is a sure sign.

People have started realizing that there is music beyond Bollywood, and infact, Bollywood has started recognizing that there is music beyond Bollywood.

Bands need to support each other and get more serious about their music, release quickly and release often and get more professional about how they go about their careers. The tools for all this are being put together by various people in the scene and very soon I am sure it will all come together very soon.

Q.7 Lastly, does the ring on the finger now makes it difficult to play the guitar or it is easier than before?

Well, I’ve played half a dozen gigs now with the ring on the finger and they’ve gone well, so I guess the ring is staying :p

But seriously, Shilpa has been the most amazing thing to happen to me. She has finally gotten used to the musician / entrepreneur lifestyle and even pretends to like it sometimes! and at this point, I can use all the support I can get. Also, guitar playing is never easy, it takes a lot of hard work!