It all boils down to how you manage your finances! Abhilash E. K. talks about his career as a drummer, how he started out, and most importantly, how he manages money.
Here’s something you probably didn’t know – musicians are good with their finances. Don’t believe us? Hear it from the drummer of the popular Bangalore-based band ‘Best Kept Secret’ Abhilash E. K. We caught up with him recently to talk about his journey so far – professionally and financially.
Trending (as of September 2018) – Abhilash’s band, ‘Best Kept Secret’, has been signed on by Kwan, the celebrity and artist management company that handles the marketing for hotshots like Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan, Sania Mirza and the like. The band has been making waves in the international scene lately, especially after their 10-day tour in Germany in July.
Hey, Abhilash! Let’s start with the basics, shall we? How about you tell us and our readers a little bit about yourself?
Well, I did my schooling in New Horizon, Indiranagar, and then went on to graduate from Chitrakala Parishath. I hold a degree in fine arts. It was during my time there that I got into music, met a few of my musician friends, and even formed a band.
Post college days, I started teaching music. I taught for almost 7 years. At the same time, I was playing professionally as well. It was a tough juggle between the two. And in between all this, I also joined a team-building company, which was into experiential learning, as one of the head trainers in their music department. I worked with them for 3 years. But, music (my professional gigs) became really hectic for me and I had to give up everything else. So, since the past 4 years, I’ve been into music full time.
Growing up, was drums your first love? Or were there any other instruments before that?
I have been playing the drums since 2004. Almost 13 years now!
It wasn’t really something I had thought about doing nor my childhood love. Actually, I come from a music background. My dad was a musician. But I never got into music then. I was just a good listener. I used to listen to a lot of music. That was also because of my parents, especially my dad. He used to perform back then as well.
I initially started with the guitar. My dad was a guitarist. And I learned quite a lot from him. Then, I played a little bit of percussion. Drumming came to the scene after my college band asked me if I would be interested in playing the drums. I gave it a shot and then got completely hooked to it. And since then, it has been my life.
How difficult were the initial days? What did you learn from those times?
Initially, it was tough. Even though I was teaching music to students, the money was hardly enough. Well, it isn’t really easy for a 22-year old to teach music. But I consider myself quite lucky because my teaching and professional music career started almost around the same time.
I played at a couple of schools and at a few festivals. Post this, around two to three schools approached me and asked if I’d be interested in teaching music. I was a little sceptical at first, but then I agreed. This turned out to be a big boon for me. People spread the word and I started getting more students.
I used to take individual classes along with teaching at schools. I would go to the student’s house and teach them. The ultimate aim was to make it convenient for students and their parents. It wasn’t very easy, you know, travelling all the way for just a small amount of money. But I was certain that it would help in the long run. More than anything, you have to put yourself out there. You have to make an effort to market yourself. I would go to music shops and put up posters about my music classes. I started with just 3 students. And in the 7 years of teaching that I had, I had close to around 35 students.
Being a musician means there’s no fixed salary. Like, this week there might be a show, but the next week, there will be nothing. So, it all boils down to how you manage your finances.
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And how do you manage your finances?
There’s something my mom always used to tell me when I was a kid – even though you have a lot of money or you earn extra money in a week or in a month, you shouldn’t just spend it all. You should always balance it out so that in case of an emergency, you always have a stash of cash to fall back on.
That’s something that I still stick to, something that I religiously follow. As in, if I get extra income from anywhere, I don’t just go spend it all. Instead, I keep most of it aside. If I can invest it in something, I do that. Or if there’s any equipment that’s required which will benefit me in the long run, I spend on it.
This habit has helped me sustain myself, I would say. I always put aside any extra money that I make. Also, I account for everything and make sure that I always have money.
I learnt a lot from my parents too. I mean, my dad was a musician too, and my mom knew what to expect in terms of lifestyle. But they figured things out. And, trust me, I was quite the spoilt brat. They used to give me whatever I would ask for. But, at the same time, they also taught me not to take anything for granted. Just because you can afford something, doesn’t mean you get it for yourself without a second thought.
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You seem to be really good with money! On that note, how would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is excellent and 1 is pathetic)? Not that you’ll be anywhere near 1. But still, we’d like to know how you perceive yourself.
But, on a serious note, I would say that I am still only half-way there. Maybe I would say that I am superb with money (probably give myself a 10!) the day I buy a house. It’s like my BIG financial goal.
I’ve always tried to reach my goals. And as of now, the only big goal that’s left, with regards to my personal satisfaction, is getting my own house. Hopefully, soon, fingers crossed. When that happens, I could probably say that I did a good job as far as money management is concerned.
Two Credit Cards? Wow! Considering your Credit Score is excellent, what’s the secret? How do you manage them? Help our readers out – pretty, please.
To be honest, it’s pretty easy. Just use it wisely!
How do I use it? Well, for all my monthly expenses like groceries, bills and other basic expenses, I usually swipe my Credit Card. This, I believe, helps build my credit. And then at the end of the month, when I get my bill, I pay it all off. So, I am still using my card, but I am not going bonkers and over-spending.
Also, when I want to buy an equipment or while travelling (especially while travelling abroad), using my Credit Card is the smarter option. But, as I mentioned before, at the end of the month when I get my bill, I make sure I clear it. Paying the minimum due is a rare case. I always try to clear my dues. For me, a Credit Card has never been a bad thing.
The only mistake that most people make when using a Credit Card, I believe, is paying just the minimum, month after month, hoping to clear it when they get a raise or a bonus, but failing to do so. So, their dues end up rising. This can be because of less awareness, which happened in the case of my girlfriend. She always used to have a massive outstanding and only paid the minimum. She clearly didn’t have a good idea about Credit Card payments until I actually explained it to her. Then, she got the point and became better at paying off her Credit Card debts.
On the other hand, the only downside to a Credit Card, I feel, is the interest that you pay on it if you pay only the minimum due, you opt for EMIs on your purchases, or take a loan against it. The interest rate on Credit Cards is quite steep.
When there are situations when I need to make big purchases or need quick cash for an emergency situation and I don’t want to dig into my savings, I always look at how I can afford to repay in a month and then use my Credit Card. That’s how I bought my bike. Yes, I used my Credit Card to buy my bike! Though I knew the interest rate is going to be quite high, I balanced it out with the EMIs. Apart from all my expenses and savings, I could keep Rs. 7,000 aside every month. So, I converted the purchase into EMIs of Rs. 7,000 and I closed the debt in 2 years.
But you need to be really religious with your payments, like no skipping the monthly payments. You need to practice a little bit of discipline when it comes to money matters.
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Do your parents still support you? For instance, you’re totally broke and need help to sustain yourself for a few days, do your parents help you out financially then?
Well, my dad passed away six years ago, so I am basically the man of the house. And my mom depends on me. So, I really don’t have the choice of going back. And that’s why I always keep funds aside. Every time I make extra money, apart from servicing my already-made commitments, I always look at investing it, like opening a Fixed Deposit or putting it in Mutual Funds (this is the next thing on my to-do list).
For us musicians, this is kind of the peak season, like from August to December. This is the time we make extra and I always make sure that I do something useful with this extra income.
Of late, I have been spending a lot of money on buying equipment, so I haven’t really made any personal investments. But this time, I have decided to put some money aside, like open another Fixed Deposit or invest in Mutual Funds.
People often say that they’ll start saving or investing, but it always just remains a plan. Why do you think that happens?
It’s all in the mind. I would say that you keep a certain amount aside every month. Lock it up or invest it as soon as possible, and don’t think about it for the next five years (or more). Don’t reach for it, just let it be. It’s creating this mindset that’s important.
I also think of the outcome of the investment. Imagine the happiness you’ll feel when you see the amount you have saved after five years like you invested Rs. 50,000 and it grows to Rs. 75,000 or Rs. 80,000.
Also, if you’re wise enough, you’ll reinvest the money and let it grow even more. Think of it as a small investment you’re doing for, maybe, your retirement days. So, when you’re 60 and you want to take a world tour, you don’t have to break your head thinking about the expense.
What would you say is your biggest fear or concern around finances? That is if you do have one.
Yes, of course, there is always a fear in me, especially during off-season times. During season time, I am usually doing like 7 to 8 gigs a month, or even sometimes 10 or 12 also. And in the off-season, it’s like 2 gigs a month.
In case of a major financial crunch, God forbid I ever be faced with such a situation, I would look at some investments that I have made. My drum kit, my equipment, things that I may not be using anymore because of an upgrade, I can always sell them. I might not get the price that I bought it at. But selling them can fetch me a decent chunk of money to sustain my expenses for the critical situation. Every time I buy something, I always check if it would have a resale value or not.
At present, although I do not face any big financial crunches, whenever there is a crisis, I stop going out much and I stop spending unnecessary money. Nowadays, hanging out with friends during weekends is expensive. You’ll need to keep anywhere between Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000 in your pocket if you want to have a good time. And that is a lot of money. With that amount of money, I can buy a month’s grocery and still have some left. So, I try to save there, I become a little kanjoos there.
I feel it is okay to give up on a weekend if that will help me sustain my finances for the next 15 days. It may be easy for me to just pull out my Credit Card and swipe away. But, I think it’s plain stupid to put yourself in a deeper financial mess for just a few hours of fun.
I have planned finances for my mom too. I got medical insurance for her. I also got myself a Life Insurance policy where my mom is a nominee. So, in case if anything happens, whatever I have invested goes to her. Financial planning shouldn’t just be restricted to oneself. It should involve the ones close to you too.
So, summing up, I think if ever I’m faced with a serious financial situation, I would look at things around that I can dispose of for a good amount of money and also cut down on my unwanted expenses to get through the hard times. But I am constantly striving to never have such a situation where I am completely bankrupt or don’t have a backup.
Like I said before, the advice that my mom gave me as a kid has really helped me all these years. Yes, I do spend. I hang out with my friends. I party too. But I always make sure that I don’t go overboard.
Let’s talk about music now. Tell us about ‘Best Kept Secret’.
Although there were a few small projects (like Windoze), right now I am just playing with Best Kept Secret and it has been really busy. If you become part of too many things, it becomes tough to focus on one thing.
I have been with Best Kept Secret for the last 7 years. We’re a band with four members – Behram, Hemant, Jonathan and me. We’ve done a lot of shows. Travelled all over the country and even travelled outside India to some really beautiful locations. A lot of good things happening. I’ve been having a good ride with this band and I am grateful for it.
We are growing big too. So, we have our own job roles within the band as well. Behram takes care of all the client-facing stuff. Hemant takes care of logistics. I take care of the accounts and invoicing, and Jonathan handles the music production bit. Though we are a band, we still work as a company.
And what’s on the agenda for Best Kept Secret? What does the future hold?
A lot of great things! We have tied up with Radio Indigo as their entertainment partner. We are working on our album.
We are also trying to fix up a small South-East Asia tour as well. We’ve tied up with Hard Rock and they have been extensively supportive. At present, we are working with them to try and do a small South-East Asia tour. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s just crazy!
And the thing is that we’re playing in English. And as an Indian band, getting into the international circuit as an English band is quite a task. It’s a great challenge! But we aren’t going to give up.
We are trying to collaborate with some big artists as well, like a couple of DJs and a couple of singers. We have been in touch with a few over email. Let’s hope something fruitful comes out of it. Tours are happening as well. Apart from the South-East Asia tour, we are trying to fix up a small tour in the Middle East in October too.
A lot of things in the pipeline. And this keeps us motivated and sustained. It makes us push ourselves even more.
That’s a lot of great things on the way. All the best!
We heard about a video series on YouTube – Secret Diaries, that you guys have started. What’s the idea behind it?
We just wanted people to experience our lifestyle. A lot of our fans will message us, call us, and say they want to know what’s happening with us, what we do before a gig, when we travel, and all that jazz. So, with the video series ‘Secret Diaries’, we’ll be giving a sneak peek to our fans and viewers on how our lifestyle is, what we do, why we are what we are, etc.. Basically, they get all the behind-the-scenes action. It’s a way to connect and interact with our fans in a more personal way.
Nice! Now please tell us a little about the other three members of your band. Get candid, please!
Behram – He’s damn good with numbers! He’s the frontman of our band and he’s really good at it. He is also the chocolate boy of the band. A lot of people who come for our performances, usually come to watch Behram. As soon as the show is done, people just want to take a selfie with him. And the rest of us are like, “Hello, there are three of us here too”.
Hemanth – A family man. And very talkative. Once he gets comfortable around you, he will not stop talking. He will go on and on, and you’ll soon be wondering, “Oh God! Why did I start this conversation”? He’s basically the uncle in the band (laughs).
Jonathan – He’s the all-music guy. He does all the production stuff. We all brainstorm and he puts all the pieces together.
Okay, so finances aside, music aside! Now let’s talk about your other passions.
When I am not performing, I am biking. No other passions as such.
I used to be a sprinter and a national level basketball player. But that was really long back during my college days. But from when I was a kid, I was into biking. I had three cycles (laughs). I have a 30-year old Yamaha RX100 as well, which I have been maintaining all these years.
Getting an off on weekends is rare and when I do get time off, I go somewhere. I have a small biking group so we make plans, sometimes even last-minute plan, spend a weekend biking around and come back. If I know that for a few weeks all my weekends are tied up, then I take off on a weekday, like leave in the morning and get back home by evening. It’s just about riding my bike, experiencing a new location, and chilling. That’s my peace, that’s where I get my peace! Not that I am not already happy and peaceful. My band members refer to me as the calmest and patient guy in the band. All credit goes to my bike.
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Thanks a lot for your time, Abhilash! One last question – what advice would you give to upcoming musicians and the younger generation?
To any newcomer, I would basically say –get yourself out and make yourself known to people. If you have to be a little flexible, be a little flexible. Don’t be stuck up and be like I want it my way or it’s the highway. Things don’t work that way. To sum up, stay grounded, be patient, but never stop yourself.
Ladies and gentlemen, that was Abhilash E.K., drummer, Best Kept Secret. Please do check out the band’s single ‘Can’t let you go’ on their website or on YouTube. You can also keep up with the band by following them on Facebook.
(Psst! Their second single will be hitting the charts soon. Don’t miss it!)
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