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Abstract Logix's Souvik Dutta: From Living Room to Center of the Universe

Ian Patterson By

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Kinsey is hardly alone in his praise for the way Abstract Logix is run, and indeed, all the artists on the label's roster speak glowingly of the way they are treated. For Dutta, the philosophy of the label is a simple one: "The love of the music and the fairness of the business collaboration are the two fundamentals," he states firmly. "I was aware that the relationship between an artist and a record label was not usually great due to the unfairness of the business. I didn't have much of a financial motivation in creating Abstract Logix. I wanted to make sure that a major portion of all the profits went to the artist that made the music, because there wouldn't be any point in me even existing if I was doing it the way the rest of the world was."

"Firstly, I have to like the music, because I am the only one who makes the decisions. If I don't like the music, I just don't put the record out. Secondly, the way I approach the business is as a partnership between us and the artist. It is always a collaboration, because there is no point putting records out if the artist doesn't feel good about it. I don't want any artist to work with me if they feel they are not getting a fair deal. It has to be a very fair collaboration. Then we work as hard as possible to get the word out on the music. "

Dutta has a dedicated team of people around him, all of whom share the same philosophy, and first and foremost comes Dutta's wife Shweta: "She's my right arm in this whole operation ," says Dutta. "She handles a lot of the logistics and the financial side." The day-to-day operations are run by John Angelo, the current Director of Operations who Dutta describes as "a big part of our success." Then there is Troy Cole, who's going to be launching Abstract Logix's new digital initiative in partnership with DIY Media. This means that the website will offer its own version of digital downloads, though like pretty much everything else at Abstract Logix, this too will be something out of the norm, as Dutta explains: "Musicians will be able to price their songs or albums themselves, control it based on the various geographies, and be able to see sales and activity instantly. We are going to be able to provide total transparency."

For those who would prematurely mourn the passing of the CD, Dutta has some comforting words: "As long as people still want to buy hard copy, we want to have hard copy."

Abstract Logix prepares tours for its artists as well, and the heavy logistics of this side of operations are handled in the main by Richard Groves. The touring is one part of what Dutta refers to as "a 360": making the record, promoting the record, distributing the record, arranging the tours, managing the tours and the artist—in other words, the whole caboodle. This year, Abstract Logix took Wayne Krantz on a big tour of Japan, Korea and India. "This is one of the benefits of becoming an Abstract Logix artist," explains Souvik, "because we have the collaboration and the infrastructure to work in all those parts of the world. And they are releasing their records in these territories, which is an incentive to have our artists play there. This is something we're going to continue to grow because playing live is a very important part of the game now."

Attention to detail is another hallmark of the Abstract Logix way of doing business, and this can be seen in the professional, attractive artwork on the CD packaging. The Creative Head of Abstract Logix is Amol Tikam, though Dutta is very quick to highlight the important contributions of CD cover designer Arjun Mitra—responsible for the covers of John McLaughlin's Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2006), the Alex Machacek/Jeff Sipe/Matthew Garrison CD Improvision (Abstract Logix, 2007), and Machacek's 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010). Then there is Robert Cairns, who oversees the physical infrastructure of the office as well as customer relations; Dutta describes him as "one of the most important people in the growth of Abstract Logix."

It's evidently a team effort, and as in the best teams, each person's role is seen as vital to the overall success of operations, something which Dutta is at pains to express: "Everybody that works or contributes to us is 100 percent about the music. We don't have anybody on board who we just hired off the street as a paid employee; this is not about that. All these people are an intrinsic part of our success. The logo, the covers, the advertising— every bit of it is so important. "

If Abstract Logix's artist roster is expanding, so too is its role as a distributor, though once again in its own inimitable style, and one at odds with traditional distribution methods: "We make it clear and transparent," affirms Dutta. "We have a roster of our own label artists—who play whatever you want to call this style of music, instrumental, progressive, improvised music—who need a platform to get their music known. They may have their own websites and they sell through other websites, but with the platform we have—a very niche platform—they have become a very important part of our success.

"Anybody who sells music with us gets to keep 75 percent of the retail price. We have created a business-to-business interface—and we have to thank our programmers at King Webmaster here—where people from anywhere in the world can upload their CD, they can price it themselves, insert their own description, everything themselves, and with one click of a button we turn it out for sale. Twenty-four hours a day, the artist can log into a certain part of the website and see who bought the music and how much they've paid for it. And on the first day of the month, everybody gets paid."

Transparency? Artist control? Everybody paid on time? 75 percent of retail for the artist? This is a record company we're talking about, right?

Like any business, it is necessary to strengthen and expand horizons in order to grow and compete in an ever more competitive market, and Dutta's talent-spotting antenna is permanently switched on: "I'm always listening to new stuff," he says. "I've just been introduced by Scott Kinsey to a guitarist called Chris Taylor—he's somebody I've never heard of, but he is a fantastic guitarist. He has a unique, minimalist way of playing guitar. I haven't heard another guitarist like Chris Taylor; he's another fresh, new sound in my ears. "

Artists working with Abstract Logix get a platform to connect not only with the fans but with other musicians as well, as Dutta points out: "I'll give you an example; we have a new record coming out November 16, an amazing record by the drummer Ranjit Barot. It's a spectacular album featuring lots of Indian musicians like Zakir Hussain and U. Srinivas, and western musicians like John McLaughlin, Tim Garland, Tim Garland's Underground Orchestra, Wayne Krantz and Matthew Garrison Ranjit was cruising on our website one day and he was listening to different CDs, and he heard this French guitarist called Marc Guillermont, and Ranjit loved the music, connected with him and now the guy is playing on his record."

"Another mouth-watering project soon to hit Abstract Logix's shelves is Gary Husband's Dirty and Beautiful, featuring Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman, Jimmy Johnson, Steve Topping, Steve Hackett and Robin Trower. As Dutta recognizes: "We have a lot of things in our bag now. I have opened a can of worms, and I'm very addicted to these worms because I'm addicted to music. I'm addicted to good music. Now I have established Abstract Logix and have the infrastructure in place to produce and distribute music. This is what I want to do in my life, although I feel it's the right moment to take a step ahead and try to do new things."

One of these new endeavors to promote good music will see a bunch of the label's artists taking part in the New Universe Music Festival in November, something which has long been an ambition of Dutta: "It's always been in our minds to do a festival of this kind of music, though we really didn't start to plan it until spring '10. We were on the road with John McLaughlin starting November; he was coming to the States and I said, 'Why don't we have our party with John?' We wanted to have one night of John McLaughlin here, where we live. Then we said, 'Hey, Jimmy Herring's also going to be on the road, why don't we have an evening of John and Jimmy together?' Then it was one of those things where I was having a drink one evening and I thought to myself, 'Hey, why not have another night and invite some more of our guys?' So, I called up Jimmy, I called up Alex, I called up Wayne and I called up Lenny White, and every one of them said, 'Let's freakin' do it.'

It's everybody we love, everybody we know and all the musicians know each other, somehow. It's going to be like one big party, and, listen to this, the musicians are more excited about it than I am. It's two nights of total music, a total celebration. It's friends of ours, it's customers of ours. We have customers coming from Australia, from South Africa, from Japan and from Europe—from everywhere in the world. This is a great way for them to connect with the musicians, and everybody is staying in the same hotel, so it's like an extended family. We took this opportunity to recognize John McLaughlin's contribution to music in general. He was also important to our success—he was one of our first guys."

The New Universe Music Festival is something of a community effort; Robert Godin's Godin Guitars— the festival's chief sponsor—Michael Tiemann, Vice President of Open Source Affairs and Red Hat, and David Robb's DIY Music are all providing significant corporate support. As with everything in Abstract Logix, it's a family affair, as Dutta describes: "These are all friends of ours in very high positions who all happen to be music fanatics. Michael Tiemann is a big fan of John McLaughlin, and he said: 'Hey, we will come behind you guys and try to do our part to help make this festival happen and we want it to be an annual affair.'"

That is very good news for the good folks of North Carolina. It's also good news for Abstract Logix's customers around the globe who account for over half of Abstract Logix's business, as the resulting DVD of the festival is sure to find its way to Korea, South Africa, Japan, Australia, Europe and elsewhere.

"You know, it's all about synergy," explains Dutta, "something that started off in a living room, to now, where it's being partly backed by socially conscious, responsible corporations. It's all in the family."

Selected Discography

Gary Husband, Dirty and Beautiful, Volume One (Abstract Logix, 2010)

Ranjit Barot, Bada Boom (Abstract Logix, 2010)

Lenny White, Anomaly (Abstract Logix, 2010)

John McLaughlin/The 4th Dimension, To The One (Abstract Logix, 2010)
About Souvik Dutta
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