As an agent for young musicians and with dreams about an indigenous hip-hop label, Ankit Khanna goes wherever his love for music leads him
Hailing from a humble background, 30-year-old Ankit Khanna, founder of DNH Artists and AK Projekts is considered to be of one of the most versatile and dynamic artist agents and producers in the Indian terrain.
With more than a decade of experience backing his enterprise, he started off with a base investment of close to $8,000 and today the company’s turnover stands at approximately $4 million.
Currently his agency roster includes the likes of Raftaar, Akriti Kakar, Rashmeet Kaur, KRSNA, Deep Kalsi, Yunan, Karma & Harjas.
With music being his passion project and true calling, Ankit is painstakingly carving out a niche for himself with a hip-hop label and R&B festival in partnership with Raftaar in the pipeline for 2020.
When and how did you first make your way into the music scene?
I was a DJ and a programming head for some of the biggest nightclubs in the country when I started out, so I enjoyed a firm foothold in the business. I understood the talent and the agent side of the business.
However, at one point I decided I wanted to push my boundaries and expand with new goals. I was just making ends meet, my job was not a permanent one but I knew music was my calling and I could add strategic value to the industry, so I decided to take a big leap of faith.
With regards to talent management, I got a raw deal when I signed on RDB, who at that juncture was a huge hit in India and ever since everything has been history. We hustled our way through and became the hottest selling acts at shows and weddings and had the best line-up of collaborations in the film and music industry. Luckily with talent management, I got hands on experience with other departments such as legal, technical as well since it was a one man show when I started out.
What was your ambition as a kid? Was it anything close to what you’re doing today?
As a kid, I always dreamt of being in concerts, so I pretty much have lived up to my childhood expectation of myself. However, I am blessed that I’m an entrepreneur and not just making the millions for myself but also funding projects for people who may not have the financial backing.
I think it’s important to give back to the world, that is how it becomes a better place — not just monetarily but also by imparting knowledge. Music and working in the music industry has been the best thing that has happened to me. It’s like my second family.
Given that DNH is one of the biggest names of its kind, what was the one thing that helped the company soar?
Well, the initial push came from RDB and later, launching Raftaar and Akriti Kakar as talent and building them into the act they are today. I think the main ideal has been the loyalty and trust that our artists have invested in us.
They knew that as a team they’re working with some really passionate and hardworking people in the business and their dreams were ours too. Today we are not chasing big names, we are chasing good talent because if everyone begins to chase the names and the money — what will happen to the deserving candidates?
After DNH Artists, AK Projekts was launched because I truly admire Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande’s manager, who started off with nothing and has built an empire and someday I will have a company as respectable as SB Projects.
How did you translate your music career into a company with a massive turnover?
Well, eventually I never thought of owning a brand or company when I started out. But in 2009, almost a decade back, I took the risk. I put in my 100%, spent sleepless nights away from family and invested all of my hard-earned money to enjoy the branding we have in the market today.
It was built brick by brick with a lot of patience and perseverance and not overnight like a fly by night operator. I’m extremely grateful to my core team who has been with me since the start and supported my vision. By the grace of the almighty we are currently doing a $4m to $5m turnover and looking at VC funding over the next 3 years. We are also planning a homegrown hip hop festival as well as a music label in partnership with Raftaar.
What does it really take to be an artist agent? How well is this job received in our country?
Well in my opinion there isn’t a fixed success formula. However, the only learning I’ve discovered is that one has to be madly passionate about what he/she is doing, along with the creative artist they’re involved with professionally.
The opportunities and boundaries are countless but it takes two to tango and that’s how this business works. Unfortunately, our industry and the artists haven’t explored much beyond traditional tried and tested methods; but off late especially with the Internet being such a powerful tool, this has been changing.
With the digital era booming now artists also understand how important it is to have a manager or a team and in sync they’ve to work together for their respective successes. Unlike the West, we still need to bring in more structure to the various roles in the administrative office, such as talent agent, booking agent and tour manager.
An instance from your childhood that cemented your desire to want to do this for a living?
I remember attending a wedding with my parents where I saw a person on a console and a singer bringing such happiness onto the dance floor. It somehow struck me that being an entertainer can definitely be a full-time career because you’re bringing joy, even if it means for a few hours, to so many people and today with our insipid lives we all want that extra dose of entertainment where we can let all our worries rest aside. I just happened to follow my calling. That’s all.
Is there a spirit of competition between artist’s agents? How does it play out?
To be honest, competition exists everywhere. How one looks at it and handles it is more important. I believe you are your biggest competition, the minute you start following what your peers are doing you will be investing most of the time being unhappy about what they have that you don’t.
It’s important to support one another and not pull down one another. I have always supported other agents whether it is bringing business to them or advising them on strategies because the industry should grow as a whole and remember the mantra is always empowered people empower others.
What has been the biggest change in your life post the company doing well?
Well, work has always been my first love since it has been 24×7 365 days a year kind of a job, but I guess marriage brought about a huge change where I understood that having a work-life balance is important. If one can’t draw a line between hustling between the shows and also taking those detox vacations, you will never be truly happy. Holistically speaking, today people look at me differently than 10 years back. It feels good to have earned that respect and admiration.