Talking to us from his home in Boston, USA, Sriram Emani, the dashing young CEO of IndianRaga announced the launch of his company's Malaysia operations. Steadily growing IndianRaga dedicated to popularising Indian classical and contemporary music and dance is the proud owner of a version of Ed Sheeran's ‘Shape of You’, which has garnered over 25 million views across various platforms.
“It has always been interesting to me as to how people spend their lives on something so complex and so beautiful, but we have not been able to create a strong enough ecosystem to promote these performers. I have taken it up as a challenge to address this problem and try to create such thing which is exciting and valuable for everyone.” says, Sriram.
An alumnus of IIT, Bombay and Sloan School of Management of MIT, Emani traces the beginning of his journey to watching ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ in New York. “I still remember I was so dazed after the experience coming out and being like ‘Wow’. It was so incredibly beautiful. I decided that I should be doing something in that space.”
Emani founded IndianRaga when he was a student at MIT. He says, “I came to MIT to do my MBA and I was in this class at the Media Lab called Media Innovations and as part of the final deliverables, I wrote my first business plan for the IndianRaga. At that time, it was just academic. Some point in time my professor said to me why haven’t you started the company already? That spurred on the action to actually go ahead and do it. So I started the company when I was a student.”
IndianRaga present in over 40 cities proudly claims to have a viewership of over 100 million audiences from 65 countries on its various social channels. The company has collaborated with more than 3,000 artists and has a network of about 250 performing fellows across the world.
Talking about the high points of IndianRaga regarding its performance at the prestigious platforms, Emani says, “We have opened for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the World Government Summit in Dubai at the invitation of the Prime Minister of Dubai. We have opened for Arijit Singh at the first ever Times Group Gaana Music Festival in San Jose last year. We have also been invited to perform at Jacobs Pillow, Lincoln Centre, Chicago Cultural Centre, and many other prestigious platforms.”
IndianRaga offers a holistic approach to learning music and dance, in both classical and contemporary styles. It provides a platform for aspiring artists to explore their talent, with opportunities to focus on presentation and performance, high-quality audio and video production for digital channels, and learn how to collaborate with fellow artists.
“The company offers five different projects so that people can be part of. Broadly, what we are trying to do is to identify the best possible talent in classical, contemporary and folk music and dance, across the world and provide them a meritocratic platform to be recognised, build an audience and start finding opportunities,” said Sriram.
Talking about the five different projects of IndianRaga, Emani said, “The first one is the Indian Raga Fellowship with the artists who are very well trained and very well established. We invite them to collaborate with us and create interesting new work that we promote and then they get invited for performances. We run this in both North America and India and we are looking to launch it in Europe as well.”
“The second project is called Raga Labs. It is for those artists who are looking for a mentor for some sort to help them in this process. So, the only difference between the Fellowships and Raga Labs—for a fellowship if you want to do it for yourself, we invite you and for Raga Labs, we also provide you with a mentor for that. But basically, the programmes are similar in nature in that sense,” he adds.
“We also run the IndianRaga Certification. If someone is interested in finding what are their strengths and weaknesses, what they need to do to improve and become better, then we provide that feedback on their videos. So, that’s the third project.”
Speaking about the fourth project, Emani said, “The fourth project is IndianRaga Digital where you can see a lot of work on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Saavan and all of these platforms. We are opening it to many producers and creators. So, it is the digital side of the music.”
“The fifth one is IndianRaga Live. So, whenever organisations like the United Nations or TEDx or Jacob’s Pillow or any of these prestigious organisations invite us to perform. We take our fellows to curate those performances and present it to new audiences across the world. We are getting invitations from multiple countries, from multiple types of organisations, right from music festivals to weddings to corporate gigs to other media companies and so on. Overall, the goal is if you have the talent and you are very, very good at what you do, you will find something to engage with IndianRaga,” he adds.
Talking about the need for having a big platform for the budding artists to showcase their talent, Emani adds, “Compared to just fifteen years ago, there are many hundreds of thousands of people who are training rigorously. The education part of it has been democratised but after they learn for about five to ten years, they really don’t know what the next step is. So, they are trying to do local performances and either try to make a living or try to do it semi-professionally. But there isn’t an established way in which you can go and build a name for yourself and start performing at big platforms. That’s the gap we seek to bridge.”
“We also support the work being done towards preserving the repertoire of music from the past generation, which entails long form, full-fledged concerts where you have to invest the time to see a two-hour concert. But not a lot of work has been done on how to bring new audiences to it. Today’s audiences are watching three to four minutes videos on YouTube and that’s the biggest way to discovering new music and new talent. Unless the classic art forms are present there as well, in addition to this long art form concerts, it is going to be very difficult to bring in new audiences, especially younger audiences. So, that’s the other side we are trying to do,” he adds.
Case in point is the 'Carnaticised', awesomely revamped version of 'Shape of You' featuring Aditya Rao, Vinod Krishnan and Mahesh Raghvan. Says Sriram, “I did not expect the video to get so many millions of views. What made this piece go viral is that the idea resonated with a broad set of audiences. People who are deeply rooted in classical arts were proud that the essence of tradition was not lost and lovers of fusion music loved it too.”
From my side, there is one question I forgot to ask Sriram, "Has Ed Sheeran seen this video?"