Sohini Sen

"We will speak about competition when we have it": Percept's Harindra Singh on Sunburn

While talking about Sunburn, his popular EDM (electronic dance music) festival, the pride in Harindra Singh's words, and voice, is hard to miss. Look at the headline to know what we mean.

But the confidence of the vice chairman and managing director of Percept is not unfounded. After all, Sunburn - an intellectual property of Percept - is Asia's most popular music festival. According to IMS APAC Business Report 2014 (a study on the regional electronic music industry), Sunburn Goa is as big as Tomorrowland and Ultra Miami, leading international dance music festivals.

Over the years, Sunburn has become a huge attraction for youth-centric brands across product categories (See Box).

The first ever Sunburn concert was held in Goa in 2007; it pulled in a crowd of 2,000. Last December, Sunburn Goa was attended by almost three lakh people. Last year, around 80 Sunburn events were held across India; overall, around seven lakh people attended them.

"We will speak about competition when we have it": Percept's Harindra Singh on Sunburn
Unlike the day-long Sunburn concerts held in Indian metros and mini-metros, Sunburn Goa is a three-day festival that offers more than just music (read: food, shopping, giant wheels, bungee jumping, etc.). Interestingly, around 20-25 per cent of those who attend Sunburn concerts across India through the year, end up attending the mega-event in Goa, that takes place every December.

Having successfully infiltrated the Dubai and Sri Lanka markets, Singh's wish-list now includes places like Russia, South Africa and Indonesia.

Sunburn gets 40 per cent of its total revenue from ticketing, another 40 per cent from brand sponsorships, and 20 from its merchandise and F&B associations.

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What does it take to put an event like this together? Scale brings with it newer challenges, doesn't it?

With size, comes an increased focus on security, safety, and behind-the-scenes issues.

During Year One, we didn't have to look at parking, for instance. But last year, we had a team of a few hundred people managing traffic and parking. That's a big challenge for an event like this. Every square meter - whether indoor or outdoor - is on camera. Our target is - if anybody needs relief or help of any kind, they should get it within 30 seconds.

We put up two gigantic towers in Goa during the festival - one for bungee jumping, the other for telecommunication. So everyone at the festival has strong network. As a music festival organiser, you don't expect me to do that.

This is a serious business and needs a hell of a lot of planning. Even today, we continue to improvise.

When you started Sunburn eight years back, what was the plan, really? What part of your success has been, well, 'off script'?

We launched Sunburn along with Metal Fest. We believed Metal Fest would do better because people in India understand rock.

In Year One we didn't make money on either of these and had to choose to keep one alive. Even though Metal Fest did better than Sunburn, it was the team's passion that took Sunburn forward.

With metal and rock music we had history to go by, but there was no recent phenomenon. In the case of EDM though, we had the then recent global revolution to go by.

Theoretically, EDM looked better. So we decided to do it for one more year; by the end of that year, we began to see the potential.

We broke even in 2009- that part was as planned.

So people actually accepted EDM... but what did they think it was, exactly?

EDM is a wider form of trance, and 'trance' was equal to 'rave' in people's minds. It was perceived as a 'shady' and 'underground' genre... related to 'bad things'. So we struggled with that.

But, with the extra effort we put in, we cleaned it up. Now we are seen as an indispensable media product for brands that are trying to connect with the youth.

Speaking of brands, what kind of companies and categories have tried to connect with the youth through Sunburn?
"We will speak about competition when we have it": Percept's Harindra Singh on Sunburn
All brands that want to reach young people want to be associated with us.

So far, we have had a diverse selection of brands from various categories - automobiles, beverages, lifestyle, telecom... The number of brands associating with us has also grown. In the last few years, we have been more than doubling our sponsorships, year on year.

This TG game is very aspirational. A lot of brands have tagged along with us because they want to look sexy... the way a Rajnigandha Pan Masala may show a guy in a Bentley chewing the product.

We have category exclusivity, which means we can't take two brands from the same category. But they all want to be with us.

Sunburn gives the urban elite youth a platform to meet up in person.

'Urban elite youth' is an interesting term. Is that how you define your core TG?

By default, so far, yes.

We started out in Goa. Then we did Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. From there we moved on to Hyderabad, Chandigarh and other places. So every year we are going deeper and deeper.

By default, so far, we have been stuck with the so-called 'urban India', but we are going deeper and are getting more and more people to come in from nearby places. So when we do an event in Delhi, we get people from Haryana and Rajasthan as well.

Demographically speaking, the attendees are around 16-35 years of age, broadly.

At a Sunburn event, around 20-25 per cent of the attendees are global tourists. The rest are domestic tourists. And of the Indians, local population forms only a single digital percentage.

The music scene is picking up in India. Which festivals do you consider to be your competition?

Ah. We'll speak about competition when we have some.

Sunburn has come to stand for more than just music. How do you define 'brand Sunburn'?

We have evolved into a lifestyle brand.

We're now consumed in forms other than music. We have been playing with merchandise for a while. Last year we went professional on that front and tied up with Jabong.

Provogue has tied up with us to introduce Sunburn Provogue deodorants. They are planning to bring the entire range of toiletries and cosmetics under that brand.

Around 60-70 per cent of our audience has expressed the desire to consume Sunburn through lifestyle, fashion and accessories. So we'll try and extend the brand accordingly.

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