The rise of a musical entrepreneur - AR Rahman

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The rise of a musical entrepreneur - AR Rahman

Post  ravinat on Wed Sep 20, 2017 3:34 am

I watched the AR Rahman interview with Thanthi TV recently and I am surprised at a number of Raja fans getting emotional about this interview. Most of them who reacted have taken it very personally too. I look at it with a completely different lens.

ARR does not claim that he is a great composer. He just wants to establish that he is a musical entrepreneur. His entire interview is a testimony to the fact that he is a solid businessman. Music happens to be the product that he sells. Like many corporate giants, his product sucks, but he has created the necessary apparatus that will keep it alive and thriving. He operates like Oracle or SAP or Microsoft. Most Raja fans argue as though product quality is the single criteria. Most corporations know how to get around product quality issues. So does Rahman. I will tackle this by first listing a set of focus areas for any large corporations and in the detailed posts try to point out the parallels AR & Co  in these areas.


  1. Financial and business management
  2. Human resources management
  3. Customer relationship management
  4. Legal and public/media relations
  5. Product portfolio expansion
  6. Marketing and product management
  7. Corporate social responsibility
  8. Globalization initiatives


  I have taken these 8 areas to draw parallels to ensure how the AR juggernaut works and how product quality does not matter anymore. It is a clever way of growing an enterprise on weak foundations. Like corporations, such endeavors do not last long. However, all these business processes ensure that the product, despite its poor quality survives longer than it truly should. 

  Those in the computer industry will remember OS2 from IBM, Lisa from Apple, Oracle reporter and many such adventures - add AR's musical albums in the 21st century to it.

  Feel free to add your views as we navigate the AR enterprise.


Last edited by ravinat on Sun Oct 01, 2017 2:45 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: The rise of a musical entrepreneur - AR Rahman

Post  Usha on Wed Sep 20, 2017 12:19 pm

ravinat,
   +1... ungalai pola solla theriyavilai.. anal en ennamum idhu dhan.

veetil solluven........  Musicai business aga parukum oru person....... 

IRai patri.. indirect or direct comments.. idhil 2 ennam iruku.......

1. IRin isai vetri.. ARR parvaiyil.. vetriyaga ilai.. ( apadi oru garvamana humble md....)

2. ipadi sonnal.. IR Fans.. enna solgirargal endru....

sila varudangal munbu... (Bengal interview.. endru ninaikiren.. correct aga theriyavillai.. andha interviewil.

ARR solgirar.. India vil mudhal mudhalaga... Harmony ( idhai than sonnar endru ninaikiren.....)  than seiya povadhaga... 
idharku enna artham....

idhu varai.. Indiavil irukum harmony ellam harmonyaga ARR ku illai............. idhu dhanae artham......... idharku peyar
humble aaa..........

neenga solvadhai pola.. ARR oru entrepreneur dhan.. anal .. Marketing illamal ponal.. kanamal pogum......

Grade ...down agi ponal...local market ku varum............

Grade......  idhu ivar kaiyil illai.. ivar kodukum panathil dhan iruku.........

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Re: The rise of a musical entrepreneur - AR Rahman

Post  ravinat on Thu Sep 21, 2017 4:29 am

Financial and business management
----------------------------------------


AR enterprise may not have formal accountants and financial managers, I guess. But, he has a number of business managers, looking after his financial interest, safeguarding his royalties and other income in various currencies very carefully. (he says that clearly in his Thanthi interview)

He definitely has a business strategy of growing his musical enterprise. In my observations, here is how he has approached the various markets he operates:

- Create an impression of a tech wiz, who is shy and geeky (a cue from the earlier Gates, Zuckerberg)

- Create an impression of an innovator - detail credits, promote team over self in the earlier days
- Obtain expertise in music technology (gadgets) and software - this is an easy way to beat a behemoth like Raja, who is full of knowledge that is impossible to beat. Remember how Microsoft took on IBM in the late 80s. Called it an Incredible Bunch of Morons and promoted team over starch collared direct salesperson, promoted channels based distribution. MS showed the world that they are nimble and on top of technology - something IBM was good at, but could never break that impression. IBM did not want the message of technology as it feared that it will hurt its business revenue. Raja never put technology as his center piece as it was just another way to do music, which was his center piece. It is all about shifting the center of gravity and destabilizing your opponent. This is the AR enterprise lesson from Microsoft. To this date, Raja is unable to reset this.
- Shift focus on the mainstream delivery mechanism - in the case of AR enterprise, use of new voices such as Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Unnikrishnan or Chinmayi. Get them to be his promoters and spread the message of his 'humble' nature. Though many composers have tried new voices (Vidyasagar in particular, after Raja), they never used that as a strategy to promote themselves. Coupled with the explosion of TV, AR managed to create brand ambassadors who would promote his message of a humble talented musician. (three oxymorons rolled into one). 

- Shift focus away from Indian classical music systems. Create a false impression of expertise with Western music by obfuscating electronic music with classical. This is like the earlier application strategy of Oracle, where as a database vendor, it could not establish itself in the application space. It managed this by a huge set of acquisitions and re-positioned itself.
- Operationally create layers of bureaucracy and barriers of entry to ensure that only the most funded producers can ever get to him. Small directors get weeded out by this setup
- Collaborate with musicians around the world and create an impression of a global player, regardless of how successful such collaborations are

- Provide easy entry into the AR enterprise for those who fit into his expansion plan (RGV or Subash Ghai or Danny Boyle) and use them as loss leaders to tap into a new market (standard enterprise strategy of many corporate vendors). 

I can list some more, as this is a carefully crafted enterprise with a strategy where he tries to understand the playing field and tries to shift it (Microsoft).  It also involves understanding of your strengths and your opponents'. Avoid getting sucked into your opponents strength. You can see that AR tries to stay away from ICM discussions for the past 25 years as that is his weakness. You do not see a Ajoy C or a BMK praising him, but that does not matter. You are a global player and you get to represent a nation of very rich musical traditions, thanks to your focus on things that matter in today's world - tech savviness, collaboration and presence.




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Re: The rise of a musical entrepreneur - AR Rahman

Post  ravinat on Fri Sep 22, 2017 3:26 am

Human resources management
-----------------------------------


This is something that the AR enterprise in my observation does very well as it is first made to look like a job. You have defined role and you get a chance to show up on the album cover credits. That easily buys bragging rights to most of the musicians who work for the enterprise. If you observe his Thanthi interview he clearly outlines his inner circle - H Sridhar (sound), Murthy,(conductor),  Noel (manager) and a few others. These are like his top management team that sort of deal with his interests. The rest of the teams fall under two categories (which will sound very familiar to most of us in the corporate world).


- Employees in different facilities with defined job functions
- Contractors (they can be musicians, technicians) who are brought on an as needed basis


Don't get me wrong. Raja has used several musicians on a one-off basis. This is different.


Contract musicians are sold the idea of bragging rights (I have worked for AR) and unlike other composers, they get a different treatment.
- their shortcomings are glossed over as they can be fixed in post production
- they are allowed to improvise as there is no definitive plan of the composer on instrumental music
- where possible, they are utilized as brand ambassadors


Contrast this with a composer like Vidyasagar. He has used Rajesh Vaidhya more than any other Southern composer. On rare occasions, Rajesh does talk about VS. But that's about it. Being a veena player himself, Rajesh does not get much slack from VS. VS operates pretty much like Raja, where he drives the instrument player to deliver what he wants. He does not let RV do the improvisation as he chooses. RV's mastery gets him repeated assignments with VS - this is perfect old music school.


With the exception of a select set of musicians - Keba, Naveen, Shivamani etc, all others are simply contractors to the enterprise. This includes Western conductors who take care of AR's Hollywood scores and also a similar set of hired guns in Bollywood. AR does understand the production process of all the three centers (Chennai, Mumbai, LA) and operates on Hollywood terms in LA, Mumbai terms in both Mumbai and Chennai. Chennai composers are very fast compared to AR, but that is something that can be handled by careful PR and marketing. All you need to do is to do a quality spin.

Not sure, if there are promotions, in the enterprise, but you can see AR talking a lot about teamwork in the Thanthi interview. Music is definitely teamwork - however, he sounds more like a HR guy than a musician.

This whole HR setup around him is very crucial for the success of his enterprise. Most of his inner circle is intact and they know exactly how he operates.

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Re: The rise of a musical entrepreneur - AR Rahman

Post  ravinat on Tue Sep 26, 2017 3:12 am

Customer relationship management
---------------------------------
The CRM strategy of the AR enterprise is not exactly the same as a corporate organization. It is full of holes. These holes are managed with the public relations which is one of the other areas that I will cover later. All large enterprises try to address a customer base that is banded into groups. Tier 1 customers have a far more preferential treatment than tier 2 and they in turn enjoy a better treatment than tier 3. Most of the large enterprises are transparent about how they arrive at these tiers and make their customers clearly aware of  the tiers and the benefits of being in that tier. Airlines are good examples. You can be a loyal, an elite or a gold customer and depending on how often you fly, you get into various tiers and enjoy preferential boarding, lounge access and so on. In the AR enterprise, there is tier 1 and then cattle class. Tier 1 is for Maniratnam, Shankar, Kathir (you can see this confession in the thanthi interview)  and a few moneybags of Bollywood and everyone else is cattle class. 

Like some large companies such as Oracle or SAP, who have serious limitations in addressing the SMB (small and medium business) world, the AR enterprise has difficulty dealing with small directors or producers. Most of these ventures by the enterprise have turned out to be disasters. However, within the cattle class, there is a preferred class as it helps with improving market penetration in Bollywood. This is the cattle Hollywood class. No problem about taking on small budget Hollywood films (they turn out to be tier 1 by Indian standards anyway). Accepting work from Hollywood studios to do B-grade films improves your Bollywood penetration - it is a pure business decision. However, a South Indian small director does not fall into any of these segments and the bureaucracy takes care of keeping them away. The AR enterprise is arbitrary about its customer segmentation and is decided by the whim of AR.

The AR enterprise has done more anti-CRM than CRM itself. It has kept a large number of customers out of reach by design. In my view, it considers this approach as a cornerstone for the success of the enterprise. Remember an important thing: small charities buy you a lot more than ventures with small guys.

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Re: The rise of a musical entrepreneur - AR Rahman

Post  ravinat on Mon Oct 02, 2017 10:45 pm

Legal and public/media relations

 One of the greatest pillars of success for the AR enterprise is Legal and public/media relations. The foundation of this pillar is that any lack of musical knowledge can always be compensated and corrected by an orchestrated (pun intended) campaign.

   Music composers are generally moody, short tempered creative individuals. Nothing new with that. However, a MSV or a Raja did not get any mileage with those credentials. Also, these legends did not have a huge media presence and focused more on their work than their image. With the dawn of the Internet and the media (social networks, television, youtube etc.), these traits must be obfuscated sufficiently using the right techniques and ensure that the image that is projected is beneficial to the firm.

  Working unearthly hours, endless jamming sessions, very long delivery times - these look like disasters that cannot be dealt with. However, the AR enterprise with its clever media relations takes care of this shortcoming by way of using the very instruments that are impacted by such limitations to its advantage. A budding singer is so thrilled to get a call from AR's studio at 1:30 am for an opportunity, that the media does not question its stupidity but simply tom toms it as though it is a musical revolution.

   Very long delivery times - though there are a few murmurs from directors of small budget films (who the AR enterprise signed up unfortunately), they are successfully suppressed by an audio launch where songs with a mayfly shelf life is sold as the greatest pop music out of India. AR makes it a point never to talk about techniques in his audio launch (it was done so long ago, you cannot blame him if he forgot what he did at 4:30 am in his Logic Studio). General talk about directors, plot and some actors (you can get a film journalist to do a far better job) is all the musician would do.

  Endless jamming sessions - release it as a video to bore folks to death and make it fashionable. This technique is now copied by all budding composers including Iman (thanks to cheap storage and video).

   For those who can read Tamil, here is a spoof that I wrote some months ago:

abortedsong.pressbooks.com

  On the legal relations part, the AR enterprise is very good and a number of musicians need to take a lesson. AR himself says in the interview that he leaves the legal matters to his managers in the respective geographies to deal with and follows their advice. He ensures that folks are not screwing around his copyright and ensures that he gets paid. While he may have a good show going abroad, I still do not know how effective his managers have been in India.

  As far as public relations go, AR ensures the following message that resonates very well with minimal investment with his audience and viewers.

  - he is a shy but humble guy
  - he is not evil and cares for the good of the world (this is like a beauty pageant message - empty but works) 
  - his mission in life is to elevate people from poverty and suffering (this is to project himself like a messiah, without doing much)
  - his investment in improving musical talent in India (he actually does only technical infrastructure improvement - this is like a data center guy pretending to be an ERP guy). This requires a minimal investment that has a huge return in public relations. You will notice that in the interview he talks about people who cannot afford their next day meal playing a 2 million rupee piano). Most viewers fall for such things and say, what has Raja done to nurture new talent. Few know about the work that Raja has done by training hundreds of musicians inside his studio in sessions by teaching them new instrument techniques.
- he carefully chooses to project his Logic Studio and other gadget skills in his foreign interviews. In the CBC interview, he talks at length about how he mastered every keyboard shortcut of Logic Studio. Granted, this is his strength. But that does not fly with the Indian media.

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