How independent music is making its mark in India

May 29, 2021 10:05 AM

In 2020, independent artists got attention from the available ecosystem which was largely focused on Bollywood until then

In a country like India, Bollywood has always been the only source of popular music.In a country like India, Bollywood has always been the only source of popular music.

By Soumini Sridhara Paul

Music has been known to play a pivotal role in a human being’s life. Be it at birth, during various stages of life or even at the time of death, music brings people together and helps them communicate or express an emotion or celebrate an occasion. Regardless of being instrumental, vocal or even in a language that is alien to one, music has the ability of creating a sense of tranquillity through its melody and/or lyrics. As a subject, it has also been known to help students concentrate better in their academics.

In a country like India, Bollywood has always been the only source of popular music. There is a song for every occasion that Bollywood can provide. While ghazals and devotional music have managed to stay relevant throughout the years, the former is a more intimately experienced genre while the latter is largely linked to festive occasions or to senior citizens.

From 1996 – 2002, the Indi-pop scene brought in a huge wave of fresh non-film music making the artist very popular, a phenomenon that was new and welcomed. The popularity of the artists and the music gave rise to a lucrative live scene where artists would perform for events across occasions. Music channels conducted brand sponsored events which had a footfall going up to 10 to 15 thousand people per event. Prior to this, most events were limited to artists from the Bollywood, ghazal and devotional space.

Post the decline of the Indi-pop scene, there was an active growth of the live scene spearheaded by bands who performed in colleges and venues and over a period of time also in ticketed festivals which were becoming not only lucrative but also commercially exploitative. With the entry of a renowned international F&B outlet into India, other restaurant entrepreneurs started building their F&B model including live entertainment as an offering. The value add to the service for the consumers created regular patrons to the restaurant and helped artists generate regular income for themselves as well, albeit a small income.

The early 2010s saw an interesting entry of digital concerts with a couple of platforms spearheading it. Being a new format, even some of the biggest artists were willing to adapt to it and brands saw an opportunity to present a unique approach of engaging with their audience. This was the beginning of digital in the music space and for the artists. Music streaming on digital platforms had already gained traction in India with several platforms amongst the various bands who were building their community via concerts and digital platforms. However, 2010 saw a new era where artists were able to monetise their content via digital distribution provided by content aggregators. This grew in momentum over the years where there are now a number of Indian, as well as, International aggregators in the country distributing independent content.

Until 2020, the ratio of artists releasing their content via distribution for commercial exploitation and those generating revenue via live gigs was heavily skewed towards the latter. Most artists who released their music for commercial exploitation looked at it as a marketing tool to showcase their original work and use it as an avenue to build their show-reel to showcase to potential clients who could commission them for musical projects or live gigs. For popular Bollywood singers, up until 2020, every song released through the movies they sang for, was an opportunity to build their profile, as well as, rate card for live gigs or other revenue opportunities including television shows, social media fan base, etc.

Things changed drastically in 2020 once the lockdown was announced. The biggest victim of the lockdown in terms of music has been Bollywood. While Bollywood has always been one of the biggest entertainment industries in the country and across the world, one realised the interconnection between the different verticals that make Bollywood such an enormous industry. While Bollywood music was already seeing a dip in new content for almost 2 years prior to the pandemic, 2020 and the first 4 months of 2021 have seen even more of a decline.

However, as they say, when one door closes, another opens and that is what we saw in 2020. Social media, short form video platforms, audio streaming platforms and video streaming platforms had been existing for the last 3-4 years and we had seen artists adopt them intermittently but the limitation brought in by the lockdown created a new opportunity. Artists became more digital friendly and wanted to engage with their fans. It was obviously the music and their need to stay connected with it that made them adopt digital with open arms. With the advent of multiple middleware platforms, as well as, social platforms becoming more robust with their live features, it was the only way that artists could stay connected with their music and fans. While artists were able to stay connected with their fans, none of these media enabled a steady income for the artists that could replace the kind of earnings that they were making. However, the void left by Bollywood allowed independent artists to get attention from the available ecosystem which was largely focused until then on Bollywood. It became a simple case of supply and demand.

The downside of this however has been that artists have lost out on a large part of their income and are now having to either move back to their hometowns to manage their expenses or look at other sources of income such as online classes, session work, etc. While this is an entrepreneurial approach artists can take and still stay connected with their music along with using their talent for greater good, it is definitely a scenario that needs change. This change will only come from brands and consumers who are willing to invest and spend on digital and talent in a way that helps artists come back on their feet.

With no Bollywood and no artists, can we imagine our lives without music?

The author is senior vice president of Hungama Artist Aloud.

Read Also: ASCI guidelines on influencer marketing to have a positive impact

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