Originally published in The Hindu Metroplus on September 6, 2011.
Stoner rock band Bevar Sea played as part of ‘The Mighty Riff’ concert line-up at the Alliance Francaise a few weeks ago, along with fellow-metallers Inner Sanctum, Pillbox 666 and Culminant. Outside the auditorium, a merchandise desk was set up with promotional flyers, posters and rates pinned to a billboard; T-shirts were spread out on the desk. There were slick designs, sharp graphics and colours included much more than the stereotyped black. Bevar Sea’s ‘Valley of Doom’ poster, Inner Sanctum’s ‘Demon Goat Head’ t-shirt and Mighty Riff promo posters instantly caught one’s attention.
The artistic minds behind the goods on display prefer to think of merchandising more as a means of facilitating fandom, rather than a marketing strategy. Gaurav Basu and Rahul Chacko, who play for Inner Sanctum and Bevar Sea respectively, are the brains behind the Bangalore music scene’s art. Both consider themselves fortunate to be able to apply themselves towards the mutual art-forms of music and design.
While Rahul is relatively new to the scene, Gaurav, who is a graphic designer and illustrator by profession, says he got his big break with the Big Mushroom Cloud festival last year. “I did a postcard for a band that was being given out for free at the festival, a lot of people liked that piece and since then a lot of cool work has come my way,” he says. Gaurav has since worked with bands such as Parachute XVI, Abandoned Agony, Theorized and The Bicycle Days, in addition to being art-man in charge for Inner Sanctum. There are flyers, posters, T-shirts and album artwork credited to him. “I particularly enjoy making posters and flyers. In fact, I’m trying to bring the whole flyer culture into the independent music scene in India; very few bands are making their own flyers for their gigs currently,” Gaurav adds, about his personal goal for the scene.
The effort they put into making eye-catching designs for t-shirts, posters and album artwork seems to reflect their passion for music. “I treat it like all the other integral parts of the band, like the songwriting, the instruments or the tonality,” Rahul says. Currently working at a game development studio, he cites a trial-and-error approach that helped them figure out merchandising. “When the band started out, we had to cut losses for the sake of getting more exposure. For example, the first round of t-shirts we printed, our margins were really low, but the shirt was more affordable as a result, which meant that there were more impulse purchases at our earlier concerts,” he says, adding that although reaching the break-even point took a while, it prepared them for the second round. “This time, the margins (and the price) were higher. And we spent more time on the design to justify the price. Also, to ensure we didn’t end up with too many unsold copies, we took a Facebook survey before going to the printer to get an approximate head count for the t-shirts,” he explains.
Not too far away, in Mumbai, is Sahil Makhija, the frontman for popular Death metal band Demonic Resurrection (DR). For their latest album ‘Return to Darkness’, Sahil decided to overhaul the band logo and art. He got lucky pickings when Michael ‘Xaay’ Loranc responded positively. Loranc – who had previously worked with Metal’s big names (Nile, Behemoth and Kamelot) – designed a band logo, poster and album artwork for DR. All that at a “reasonable rate”, Sahil says. Not that he was apprehensive on the sales front, since DR’s popularity was an advantage. “The merchandise sells out eventually, so I’m never worried about sales,” he says. Sahil, who also plays for Workshop and Reptilian Death, feels “people should have a band memento.”
Although Sahil plans to sign Loranc for work on the art for DR’s next album, he defends his decision, saying that Indian graphic designers have a style that reflects newer styles of metal. “That’s why for Workshop, I got Gaurav to help me out.” Sahil, Gaurav and most other graphic merchandise artists are appreciative of Delhi’s Reuben Bhattacharya from Undying INC and R. Venkatraman from Bhayanak Maut in Mumbai, who design t-shirts and posters for their respective bands.
When asked whether the demand for International bands’ merchandise hinders their sales, Gaurav admits that local bands’ merchandise would never outsell the likeness of Iron Maiden, Slayer and AC/DC. “But hey, we are not trying to get rich here, we just want the people who love the (local) bands to have some cool merchandise they can take back home as a souvenir,” Gaurav interjects, reflecting Sahil’s earlier sentiment.
“Most of the international bands’ merchandise you get here is probably bootlegged, resulting in shoddy quality. They’re made from thin material and prints that start cracking and fading after a few washes. We made sure both the material and printing were top-notch. All this while charging much less than the lower-quality international merch,” adds Rahul.