Thursday, January 08, 2009

Inside Event Promotion in India with OranJuice founder Owen Roncon: An Exclusive Drift Interview

Guided by his love of music and the burgeoning but still largely untapped live music market in India, Owen Roncon founded OranJuice Entertainment with V. G. Jairam to produce and promote concerts and music events. Last year, they worked the incredibly star studded Rock On For Humanity concert and raised Rs 3.2 crores for flood relief in Bihar.

Owen's being doing this for a while - he's literally seen the arena events market in India bootstrap itself. So I thought it'd be fun to have Owen stop by the Drift and tell us about the world of event production and promotion.

(All pictures are copyright Owen Roncon) Owen, let’s start with what you do. Pretend I’m Sonu Nigam and I just got married to Beyonce. Now I want to perform in Mumbai with my spouse. Hrithik Roshan would love to come and shake a leg. Oliver Stone wants to make a documentary out of it. It’s going to be huge. What aspects of the show would you handle for me?

Owen: OK firstly, in this case, I’d like to play the role of your lawyer...but seriously... Oranjuice Entertainment would not have too much of a role here, my other interest, Fountainhead Promotions & Events however will.

This is a professional event management firm we run with offices all over the country specializing in large scale high logistic events. We work primarily in the corporate sector but have varied skills that qualify us for anything really.

We have an in house Production Company called The Production Terminus which specializes in sets and fabrication, a full fledged production department specializing in tech, a small studio set up called the HotBox that does audio visual and commercial films… so we pretty much geared up to handle anything.

Oranjuice specializes in concert promotion and production. We primarily do international concerts here in India, but of late have been doing a few large format Indian gigs as well. Give us an idea of the different kind of shows you’ve done. 

Owen: Our most recent gig was the Rock On for Humanity concert organized to raise money for flood relief work in Bihar. This concert raised money to run and operate medical camps in the affected areas. We do an annual event called the Johnnie Walker One Tree Music Festival. This has been on for three years now and will be in its fourth this February.

We have featured artists like Uriah Heep, The Allan Parsons Project, Walter Trout, Buddy Guy, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang and many more.

We have also done tours with INXS, and concerts with 50 Cent, Akon to name a few.

We have been cited as being the ones to promote the Blues in India, a sound alien to many here. Also dabbling in the electronic market from time to time, we've featured DJ’s like Paul Van Dyk, Sasha… etc. are people in India thirsting for these days?

Owen: The audience here is demanding. Even though we operate in a market primarily dominated by Bollywood, we have a decent following. Younger audiences are hungry for the latest and newest music, but good old rock works the best here. We have a thirsty audience for the classic rock bands. These are audiences that have been listening to this sound for 20 odd years, with never a thought of seeing them live on home turf.

The trend of live music is getting real now. Lots of new bands have cropped up with original sounds and their work is outstanding. We have a festival planned primarily for this format, where we will only feature Indian bands with original sounds. How is an event born? Who initiates it? Who has to be sold on it to make it happen? And at what point do you get involved?

Owen: At Oranjuice we only do our own events. We have been doing so for the past few years now. We had to literally create the need for our product, live music concerts. Once we started putting it out there audiences started to buy into it. With a little more work we will be set. So we identify an artist that will work, establish contact, negotiate, set dates. And then the work starts.

In India we cannot do concerts without corporate sponsorship support. So we use these event as large advertising opportunities. 80% of our work is selling these events to sponsors.

Once this is done we get to the production phase of setting up the gig, with staging, trussing, tech, infrastructure etc. We have to activate promotion of the gig using traditional as well as non traditional advertising methods. We then pray like hell that people turn up for the gig. Tell us a little bit about how Oranjuice got started. What motivated you to be in a world where so much can go wrong? How did it come together? And why on earth did you name your company after a rapper?

Owen: I love music. Its even on my resume under hobbies! I genuinely see the advertising potential in these gigs. The way I see it is the best way to advertise yourself is to entertain your consumer. We are one of two companies in India in this space. I enjoy the work, I love seeing people having a blast, I thrive on stress... so why not huh?

The name did not come from the rapper...(is there really one named thus?) My Business partner’s name is Jairam. When we were starting up, at the high point of his creativity he wanted to call us OJ entertainment. Luckily I was awake that morning and figured OJ was actually Orange Juice, and viola! the name was born. Let’s assume you’ve got an event all lined up. Everyone is on board and cash happy. What will be your single biggest challenge going from this point to curtains on event night?

Owen: Ticket Sales. This is always a challenge. You never know what you have till the very last minute. India is not the best for ticket sales. We are used to free passes, so getting people to buy is always a challenge. Also we have to deal with things like fake tickets, and fraud. Internet ticketing is still not come of age for us because the government department still needs to stamp each ticket, so this acts as a big deterrent for us.

So yes, this is my biggest nightmare, all dressed up and no one to see you… In terms of event publicity: what are the different avenues you use and which one is hands down the most effective?

Owen: We use all traditional means of marketing, electronic, print, outdoor etc. But the most effective is word of mouth, which we do thru network sites, BTL activity, promo gigs and SMS. My mom once hosted an event with Shiamak Davar to collect money for her school. She had great police bandobast. Turned out most of the police gate-crashed the event and were watching the show instead of checking other gatecrashers. My mom barely made the money she had in mind. Has that ever happened to you? How do you manage your relationship with organizations like police, unions, etc?

Owen: Ha ha ha, sounds so very familiar. This happened to me in Delhi at the Akon gig. We officially sold 4000 odd tickets but had over 7000 people in the audience. We fought till we were blue in the face, but to no avail. I do not work in Delhi now, unless we are doing a free concert.

We work with the powers that be very closely here in Mumbai. Over time we have developed a relationship with them, so we cruise pretty nicely now. Bottom line is you need to make sure that every one is happy and you will have a super, hassle free gig.

Tell mum to call me the next time she needs something done... :) Ok let’s talk specifics: what are the events you’ve hosted that have given the most satisfaction? And which ones have boosted Oranjuice’s profile the most?

Owen: I would say the One Tree Music Festival is my best baby thus far. It was the first international festival of its kind. We introduced the blues here, and now we have a loya following of one tree enthusiasts who have all but claimed ownership of this event. It was something that everyone said was impossible to pull of in our market.

We featured almost unknown names at this festival, (given the market) and yet managed to establish an event which has pretty much become a calendar marker with music lovers here in Mumbai.

I love it because it has the music that I love, the people who turn up are super cool, and the vibe is something that no other music scene has in India. Johnnie Walker has been the angel of this event, and I have a sneaky feeling that much of the love comes from the Johnnie Walker that is served here. Owen, if you can talk about it in generics: I’d love to understand how money gets made here. Who takes the lion’s share? Who gets percentages? Who gets flat fees? What is Oranjuice’s business model like?

Owen: At OJ we firstly have very slim overheads. We keep ourselves lean, although you may not believe me if you see Jairam now. We cover up to 60% to 70% of the event costs from sponsorship. We make money off gate, merchandise, satellite, etc. What we offer sponsors is ownership and media that we generate that more than compensates their investments. We also offer cross promotions and other sales related activities that boost their bottom lines. Any event story you recall where you felt you just weren’t going to make it?

Owen: The very first gig we did. This was an international Jazz band, name withheld. We were way out of our league here, running around like headless chickens trying to raise money to cover our costs.

Eventually we managed to get a bit of sponsorship, and together with ticket sales we managed to show a profit of 27 grand. We were so happy that we took the band out for a grand dinner. Now these boys were eaters, and decided to try everything on the Indian menu. I sucked on a coke all evening, and when the bill came in it was 26 grand, so we made a handsome Rs. 1000 on our first gig. Close but still safe… You are a two-career family: your wife is a Lok Sabha MP (Priya Dutt). You have two young kids. How do both of you manage it all – Late nights? Cell phone surgically attached to your ear? Lots of domestic help? You just take the kids everywhere? You schedule date nights in your organizer? All of the above?

Owen: Yes all of the Its not easy at all but then again who has it easy today. The good thing is that we both thoroughly enjoy each others work. My family are all big music buffs. In fact most of our artist recommendations comes from the inner circle. My brother-in-law [Sanjay Dutt] is a huge blues buff, and is solely responsible for the blues at the One Tree Festival.

I enjoy Priya’s work as well. We lend a lot to each other and when it all comes down to it, we both are in the business of making people a little happier so it works.


Anonymous said...

Good to know about Owen. I'm going to be in Mumbai for One Tree later. Looking forward to a rocking time.

musical said...

Great inteview! Thanks Owen and Aspi!

My favorite question: the one where you ask about police bandobast! The people in event-management business truly have a lot to deal with.

Anonymous said...

lol. if you want to watch a lot of concerts, join the police force.

Unknown said...

Aaah! Recent comments are working again. Looks like someone at Google just got back from vacation.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting insider look at something that we ususally say "huh?" about.

I am intigued by Owen's euphemistic reference to bribing the authorities. He calls it "working with the authorities" or something like that....Does this mean that the henchmen of the city politicians must be paid off for concerts to happen?

Anonymous said...

Gloden Globe for 'Slumdog Millionaire' -Best Motion Picture Drama.

Yay,loved the film.Saw apna 'Lakhan' all excited with the rest of the cast and crew on stage.


Unknown said...

Darn it, I forgot to watch. Wasn't SRK supposed to giving something away?

musical said...

SRK (along with Freida pinto) introduced Slumdog Millionaire. Despite all the comments on his tie and how he wore it, i think he looked hot as ever ;).

And A. R. Rahman won!

Anonymous said...

..although mispronounciation of rahman's name and duchovny (I think) coming up again to correctly say and still saying it wrong (roohman) was hilarious.

Unknown said...

I found this youtube vid of SRK with Frieda (and Amy Adams ogling).

Anonymous said...
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