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Chat with Gaurav Dagaonkar, IIM-A alumnus and professional pop singer
| The biggest feature of a top business school is not the prestigious degree that it helps you earn. It isn't even the elite alumni network that people yearn for. No, its isn't that plush job that such a pedigree help you get. Though these are top reasons why the premier B schools are coveted, they remain fleeting explanations and are incidental to that most enduring quality that a top B school imparts. The most extraordinary piece of attribute that one acquires is that quality to know who you can be and the courage to go where you want to. It helps you discover the passion and aptitude in you, and strengthens your initiative with oodles of self belief, courage and confidence - vital ingredients that fuel your passion.
It is this rare strand of education about oneself that has resulted in many examples of premier school grads rediscovering themselves as entrepreneurs, writers, public servants, sports broadcasters etc. Even in such a rare company, it is unusual how IIM-A, one of the top B-schools has helped unleash a music talent in Gaurav Dagaonkar. Gaurav, emerging pop musician and pursuer of his passion, found music as his calling for life during the days spent on the Louis Kahn plaza on campus. He found the necesssary self belief and confidence to pursue his passion as a career, while at IIM. When the time for making a choice arrived at his doorstep, Gaurav, unlike his peers, chose to become a musician straight after IIM.
Gaurav had to face a lot of hardships when he decided to cut an album. Initially it was difficult to establish contacts in the music industry. When work on his album began, it progressed very slowly since the producer was busy with film music work. The background music of a film got priority over Gaurav's own album. Even when the album was completed, there were problems of selling it. To start with, a prominent company rejected it. However, he kept working hard on convincing people to listen, and things started to change. Gradually, his resilience, patience and determination triumphed over adversity. Universal Music listened to him and loved his songs. Luke Kenny of Channel V liked Gaurav's music which helped him get an entry into Channel V, B4U, ETC and Radio One.
When you take a plunge into an uncertain future after having gone through the best of B schools that fast tracks your professional career, it is an extremely hard decision to break away from the conventional mode and go about choosing a career in a field like music which demands a different set of skills. In Gaurav's case he had to do two things - one, decide whether he was good enough do what he liked and second, make the right business moves in terms of internships and networking. To his credit, Gaurav did both very smartly. During his internship, he studied the business side of music with a prominent label in order to understand the working of the industry. Gaurav's parents were supportive of his dreams and were extremely passionate about films and music. His family had seen him perform many times, so they knew he wasn't being unrealistic when he confessed to them that he wanted to be a professional musician.
When we spoke to Gaurav, we realized how clear he had been about choosing his passion. He knew he had to make it big quickly in a field where public appreciation can be hard to come by and criticism can be barbed and acerbic. The ability to follow his passion, without being cluttered in mind is what makes him an inspiring, clear thinking role model. He spoke to us about his unique route to music from a management school, and how single minded he has been in his quest to be the person he wants to be - a successful singer.
Gaurav spoke to 6bridges about his journey until now, on how he chose to follow his passion over other options, about what drives him and also about the playful pranks he survived to enjoy on the IIM campus. Gaurav has several creative and business ideas connected with the field of music, however his current focus remains that of establishing himself as a successful artiste.
6bridges: Where did you learn your music in the initial years? Was there any hidden desire to become a singer at some point of time early on in your life that revealed itself at a later stage?
A: Since my mother has a bit of classical training and quite a good voice herself, I took to singing naturally as a kid. I remember singing at times in school or at birthday parties etc. though I was extremely shy then. But while I knew I sang fairly well, there was absolutely no desire to become a singer. Since everyone in my family has been a doctor/engineer/mba, that was the only natural path for me as well. In fact the only other option I had seriously considered was to become a cricketer, since I was a good left arm fast bowler. Even by the time I became the vocalist of my college band during engineering, I had received no formal training of any sort. I learnt to play the guitar by myself. Formal training in music began after IIM.
6bridges: You chose music as a career straight after IIM. It was a unique and bold choice. What made you choose music as a career after IIM? Was there a particular incident that opened you to such a possibility, or was it always at the back of your mind?
A: As the vocalist of my college band, I used to perform at other colleges in Mumbai and was having a great time being on stage. The turning point was in the third year when I had a real heartbreak and wrote my first song. It was an English song called 'Time Heals' and when I completed it, I couldn't believe I had composed my own song. The process of creating the song itself was so phenomenal that I knew this was it! There was nothing else I'd ever done that was so much fun. Later I played the song to my classmates and my band and they loved it. That's when I also realized the satisfaction one gets when he plays his own song. I never looked back since then.
6bridges: You have spoken in an interview earlier about how your 'summer internship with Times Music was part of the big plan.' (summer internship at IIM). Were you clear where you were going at that point of time?
A: Yeah, I'd realized that if I wanna become a singer/musician, I needed to build inroads right away and also learn as much as I can about the industry. While I was quite sure that I wanted to pursue music after IIM, I had no real clue how I would go about it. Hence I decided to spend some time learning the business and the summer internship would provide me that opportunity. I wrote to Mr. Arun Arora, who was then the president of the Times of India Group and he recruited me that day itself.
6bridges: Whenever a person breaks away from the expected trail, there are bound to be doubts and concerns in terms of family pressures, peer pressures etc. What were the obstacles / downs in your life and how did you manage to get around them? Did people around you get shocked when you told them of your decision?
A: Thankfully, no one was shocked. I already had this maverick image which everyone was quite familiar with! Rather I was shocked to see my parents being quite cool with it! The IIM community was also quite supportive and no one ever questioned my decision since I had been performing regularly on campus. Everyone knew that the path would be tough, but since I was geared up and confident, they all came on board with me!
6bridges: There was a time when uncertainty would have been higher, considering you were starting out new. How did you sustain the mental battles of the period between working towards becoming a singer and actually realizing that goal? Did it ever occur to you that you could fail?
A: In all honesty, my initial plans were to get an album out as quickly as possible and to start playing live. However, I realized that I didn't have the right kind of songs to get me college shows. I also became more aware of some of my musical skills or rather the lack of them and started training in Indian and Western Classical music. I abandoned my 'quick album' plans and started working on composing new material. The next 7-8 months were spent in daily practice/riyaaz and composing/writing. Out of the 7 songs on my album, 5 including 'College Days' were composed during this period. I also started meeting musicians to see if a band could be formed. There were several days when there would be absolutely nothing to do! But I never panicked or felt disheartened. I always know that my album would come out!
6bridges: There are regular professionals who pursue their passions along with their job. You made a choice very early on to strike out full time. What, in your opinion, are the decisive factors that a person should consciously internalize in choosing the full-time pursuit of one's passion vis-√ -vis doing it alongside a regular corporate career?
A: When I was working at Times Music, I realized that I wasn't enjoying the 9-5 life. I also knew that if I wanted to become a singer/songwriter, I would need to do it full time. If you wish to be a singer who wants to cut an album on a major record label, make music videos and appear in them and on TV interviews and perform in various cities of India to large audiences, then you have to do it 24/7! If you do wish to pursue a regular corporate career alongside, then either it should be because it is directly related to your passion and will help you in your future plan of starting your own venture (like working in a consultancy firm for a couple of years before starting your own firm, or working in the hospitality business and then starting your own chain of restaurants) or then it should pay you really well which will help you financially in settling down or maybe again for your venture. In my case this really didn't apply cuz you cant become a better singer/songwriter/performer by working even in a music label. You just have to become a full time artiste.
6bridges: You have said earlier that you received a lot of support from family and from your professors at IIM. Do you think you have been lucky in that sense? How much does financial security play a part in a young professional's ability to take a decision to follow his passion?
A: It plays a great role, no doubt! When you have the support of your family, the entire journey becomes smooth and a lot more fun. My professors also supported me and the other students who started their own ventures. But this generally happens when they also see your talent, your passion for your field and the desire in you to work hard all the time. The bottomline is that if you are 100% sure of it, your confidence will motivate the others too. The financial security is also a big plus, it enables you to keep minor things aside and focus on your goal. But the lack of it shouldn't deter one. The story of my batchmate Sarathbabu is a good example of someone going for it without any financial security and making it!
6bridges: What advantages does a well-qualified professional have over others in regard to pursuit of a creative career like music? For instance, in your case, how has a professional MBA degree from a premier school helped in a field where musical talent is the key deciding factor?
A: That's a very interesting question actually, cuz I believe it does help, especially in times like today's. The music industry is shrinking in the physical space (sales) by the day and new artistes have to find innovative ways of reaching out to an audience. My MBA degree helped my pitch myself as a brand to various potential sponsors out of which one signed me up to endorse them at college festivals. That paid for my music video and I was then signed up by Universal Music. I think being an MBA has enabled me to think of ideas to make me and my music reach out to people. It has also given me the opportunity to make several corporate songs and jingles, since I can understand the positioning of a brand and make something accordingly.
6bridges: What would you have done if things hadn't worked out the way you envisaged them? Would you have still persisted with a music career, and how much time would you have given yourself? What was your back up plan if your music career didn't take off or if it had taken longer than expected to take off?
A: I had no backup plan. I believe you will give more than 100% when you truly feel there is nothing to fall back on. I would've persisted with music in any case, cuz that's what I love the most and do the best!
6bridges: Was the song ‚ÄėCollege Days' inspired from the memories and recollections of your own time spent in college and at IIM in mind? You even shot the video on the campus with students from NIFT.
A: To be honest, most of the lyrics and content of college days, both the song and its video, were derived from my engineering days. We only shot the video at IIM-A since I was from there and also because the campus itself is so picturesque. But the life at IIM-A is pretty different from that during graduation and I wanted most of the students from across the country to relate to the song. So I deliberately chose to use words and lyrics which everyone would've surely come across. Bunking and proxies are not commonplace at IIM-A! J But yeah, the chorus of the song - "I'm really gonna miss this place" was written in the last week of my MBA. I was sitting at the LKP lawns on campus and was feeling quite emotional about missing the campus life. That's when I wrote the hook lines of college days.
6bridges: Rock and pop music aren't the usual genres that Indians have welcomed easily, though Indipop has done well recently, driven by the market. Do you think a musicians output is driven more by his internal creativity or is it driven more by what the market wants. Where does your album 'College Days' lie in this territory?
A: I would say it is a mixture of both. For a new artiste, he/she does have to please the record label people, who in turn, are looking to please the market. In my case, ‚ÄúCollege Days‚ÄĚ was a song I wrote with true emotion, but there were other songs on the album that were musically more superior and stronger songs. However, both me and the managers at Universal felt that College Days would click faster as a song. And in the end, I guess we were right. Also as far as genres go, India is more melody and emotion driven. If you look at most Bollywood hits, they have strong melodies and catchy hooks. So if a rock/pop song has it, it will work too. The success of some of the Pakistani rock artistes and the OST of films like Rock On show this.
6bridges: If there was one thing you could do again on the IIM campus, what would that be? Tell us about an anecdote that from your IIM days that you cherish (We have members from those institutes in our community who would love to know about this)?
A: Lol, I think I would love to go back and study more! I guess as my passion to make a career in music grew stronger, I was finding it a little difficult to balance my studies and music simultaneously. So maybe going back and studying certain courses again would be fun! At the risk of sounding nerdy I do read some of my textbooks every now and then! Was recently on campus for a talk and came back with a couple of text books and case materials as well!
Well, as far as anecdotes go, there are too many to tell. But I'd probably not forget my first WAC run at IIM-A in the 2nd week of campus. We have this course called WAC for which a report needs to be submitted by Saturday 4:30 pm or something like that. Submitting it even a minute late results in the loss of a grade which is why everyone is scurrying around at the last minute trying to complete and submit it. So I completed my first WAC report a good half an
hour earlier, took the printouts, stapled and decorated it etc and was calmly going to the classroom when my dorm senior asked me to show him the report so that he could give me some feedback. I had about 15 mins so I gave
it to him and was horrified to see him start running away with it. The chase went all over the new campus then to the old campus and finally he gave me the report. Running back to the classroom, huffing and panting, I managed to
submitt it just 1 minute before the deadline! Still reeling under the chaos caused by this bizarre incident, I managed to come out with a smile on my face, only to be dunked (bucket of water) by a group of PGP-2 (senior)
girls! :) That was actually when I fell in love with the incredible life at IIM-A!
6bridges: With a successful start to your music career, there has arrived public adulation, acceptance, criticism, excitement, praise, fame and a hectic pace of life, which would probably be a far cry from your student days a few years ago. Do you ever look back and wonder what has changed inside you to cope with the external changes? How did you prepare yourself to face these changes?
A: Thankfully, I have gone through a struggle to get my first album out - meeting people, trying to sell my music to labels, producers, seeing rejections and then acceptances, scouting for shows and events, working hard to deliver memorable performances when nobody knows you etc. All these things bring a certain level of maturity and self assurance within you. After my album, I got a lot of wonderful comments for my song. There were also some criticism and harsh comments once in a while. But when you know who you are and what you are capable of, then you can take both praise and criticism in your stride. When you've struggled to achieve your goal you will not get swayed by too much of adulation or praise and also not get bogged down by criticism. Constructive criticism should be welcome and one must only look to move on and become even better at one's craft.
6bridges: You had said in one of your earlier interviews, "I am getting into music with a long-term perspective, having a retail chain, music label because I love that; this is what I want to do. I have that kind of passion for music and this industry and I want to be a person who helps it grow in the future." Is there a plan? Where do you see yourself in a few years from now?
A: Yes there is one for sure! It all really starts with me making a name for myself in the music industry as a composer, singer and performer. Everything else will come later. For me to help out others, I need to be at a stage where people can bank on me. As of now, I don't wanna share too many long term plans since they confuse people with regards to your identity. As of now, I am just looking to be a singer/performer and music composer for films (music director). That's what I would be doing even in a few years from now.
6bridges: Now that music takes away most of your time, what do you prefer to do to relax? Where do you seek work life balance? Do you find the time to pursue other hobbies?
A: I love to read fiction and watch movies. They give you great ideas for songs. I also like to socialize and hang out with friends since I find it a great de-stresser. Travelling for shows is also great fun. I've got to see some wonderful cities across the country over the last couple of years. Also replying to fan messages and mails is a fun activity.
6bridges: Who has been your inspiration in music and in life? How do you draw energy and sustenance from your inspiration? Do you think its essential to have an idol or a hero?
A: I don't think I have any particular hero as such with regards to my shift from management to music. Inspiration comes from the various people you read about in magazines and books but I guess I have always had this inherent "nothing is impossible" attitude which is why I could move into music straightaway after IIM-A, though I hadn't heard of anything that radical myself. I also feel it is about having confidence in yourself and your talent.
Within music or films, yes, I look up to The Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson cuz they all stretched the boundaries of the artistry of their times. Shah Rukh Khan is an example of someone who made it to the top despite having no real connections in the film industry. I look up to him too for that reason! I see myself in a position where I could tomorrow be an inspiration to simple college students who wish to release albums and become popular artistes. But most importantly it is the love of making music and sharing that with people that's driven me on! I think it is pretty much a spiritual experience for me. It is the thing I know to do best and that's what driven me on. Seeing the audience singing my songs and reading their messages gives me a high! I draw my energy from that!
6bridges: What is harder to do?
a) Getting a degree at IIM
b) Making a successful music album
A: Though both are tough, I'd say getting into IIM-A is harder. It is a cumulative effort of your hard work and sincerity right through school, college and graduation. Making a successful music album, though tough, isn't in the same league. I'd say maintaining a successful music career would be.
6bridges: Who are you?
a) An IIM grad who became a singer
b) A singer who went to IIM
A: An artiste who made it to IIM-A, learnt the principles of management, and used them to make a career out of his passion.
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