Last fall, Drew Smith, an independent Canadian musician was looking to break away from the regular cookie cutter ideas and create an “out-of-the-ordinary” video for his single. Seeking a novel product while balancing cost with creativity, he found the answer in a dance studio thousands of miles away in India.
This spring, Christine Leakey, another solo artist from Canada, was looking to create a video to compliment an east-west fusion concept piece from her newly released album and found the match in a multimedia studio in India.
Smith and Leakey are not alone. They are part of a burgeoning new crop of clients for the Indian outsourcing industry – only this time for creative work.
Smith was looking for online resources for his video when he connected with Asha Sarella, a Bangalore-based virtual assistant who also runs a dance school. After an initial exchange of ideas, Smith outsourced the creation of the video for his single “Smoke and Mirrors.” Sarella put a team together to work on the concept, choreography, filming and editing and delivered the project in three weeks.
With more than 200,000 views on YouTube (significantly greater than the 7,000 views for his other video “Love Teeth") in less than three months and positive reviews from the audience, Smith got exactly what he wanted: a novel concept for his audience and attention in the music industry. For Smith, the arts outsourcing experiment paid off.
“Asha and her team completely surpassed my expectations,” he said. “I was thrilled at the end product.”
India is no stranger to outsourcing. In the past decade, it has established itself as a leading outsourcing hub with almost all major Western corporations opening back offices in Indian cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Most of the work outsourced to the country has, however, been technical, but artists like Smith and Leakey are now pushing the envelope by outsourcing arts, media and other creative work.
But much like the big corporations, the idea behind creative outsourcing is the same – a cost-effective solution.
At $2,000, Smith’s outsourced video cost him a fraction of the at least $40,0000 that would have taken to make a “real industry standard” video.
Despite the lowering of costs in video production as a result of inexpensive digital filmmaking technology, in current economic times, it is difficult for small artists to fund the production of a music video. With grant money and other funding drying up and labels shying away, most independent artists in the West find the production of professional music videos an unviable option.
Leakey, whose outsourced video is expected to be released by the end of April, said being able to afford the sort of video she hoped for, is definitely good.
She said the current economy and high living costs put a stress on artistic budgets. While she believes in a balance to support local services, she said outsourcing was the answer for this project.
“If this was a $10,000 thing, I would have not been able to do it,” she said.
The Cultural Factor
But Smith and Leakey both admit that cost is not the only determinant. Treating the audience to a novel idea and opening them to a new culture also played a role in their decision.
Smith, whose video (see below) features a kaleidoscopic blend of scenes from Indian culture and Bollywood-style dancing, said that though cost was important, he chose India because he wanted his video to have a Bollywood flavor.
“I am sure that businesses have always looked at India in that way,” he said. “For me it was simply about tapping into India’s culture.”
Leakey agreed. She said she was primarily drawn to India for cultural reasons and the affordable outsourcing costs sealed the deal for her.
“It is about balancing cost with a different perspective,” said Vishwas Avathi, a Bangalore-based filmmaker who worked with Sarella on filming and editing Smith’s video.
Avathi said he feels cost-effectiveness is just a part of the outsourcing process. He said the audience loves new flavors and Indian culture offers Western artists an opportunity to explore that.
“What people are talking about is how different the video [“Smoke and Mirrors”] is and the culture it shows.”
India is a land of myriad traditions and cultures with rich diversity and Sarella said she feels that it is the colorful and vibrant heritage of the country that makes it a potent arts outsourcing hub.
“India is truly on the edge of becoming a potential arts outsourcing hub,” she said. “This is mainly due to rich and diverse tradition that is yet to be captured for an international platform.”
But India is not the only culture that Western artists can explore. There are several other countries such as the Philippines and China that can offer cultural and creative options at reduced costs to small and upcoming artists.
Avathi said that while every country has its own distinct culture, India’s reputation as an outsourcing destination acts as an added advantage. He said India is the first name that comes to people's mind when they think of outsourcing, giving it an edge over other countries.
And that advantage already seems to be kicking in. The successful response to Smith’s video has made other low-budget artists from Germany, Italy, US and other Western nations inquire at arts studios in India such as Avathi’s “Fstopro and Sarella’s “I Can Dance 2."
Avathi, who is currently working with six different artists from the USA, UK and Canada said while most of his clients are independent, low-profile artists, he thinks that once the arts outsourcing phenomenon grows bigger and becomes more visible, bigger artists will most likely follow.