At a time when YouTube and music streaming services like Spotify, SoundCloud, etc, are reigning supreme in the music industry, a different kind of beat is emanating from a humble New Delhi-based online community radio platform called Boxout.fm. A first-of-its-kind initiative in south Asia, Boxout.fm brings together independent artistes, musicians, DJs, music composers, producers and singers all under one roof, giving them an opportunity to showcase their work to a larger audience. “It’s easier for people to associate with a human rather than a brand or product. That human curation versus algorithm curation is our biggest asset. It differentiates us from everyone else,” said co-founder Mohammed Abood Uraibi aka DJ MoCity on the sidelines of Boxout Weekender, a music event held in the national capital earlier this month to mark two successful years of the platform’s run.
Community radio is a radio service offering a third model of radio broadcasting in addition to commercial and public broadcasting. These stations usually serve geographic communities and communities of interest. Generally non-profit in nature, community radio stations broadcast content that is relevant to a local and specific audience. As a concept, it’s not new in India or abroad. As per government data, India is home to nearly 217 community radio stations spread across the country. A lot of these stations, however, stemmed from the need to bring social issues to the limelight and educate communities on what’s happening around them. While the message that platforms like these aim to put across might reach the target audience, the lag comes in the entertainment and fun quotient that today’s youth thrives on. That’s another area where Boxout.fm differentiates itself, providing quality music while keeping its audiences entertained with interesting shows, etc.
Boxout.fm was launched in April 2017 by DJ MoCity and indie musician Sahej Bakshi, and has since grown leaps and bounds to have a solid fan base. It is listened to in over 182 cities in India and has a global presence in 169 countries. Currently, there are over 70 show hosts onboard. The founders are, however, always on the lookout for talent they can promote. “There is a great need to identify people who have the talent and ability to create. Once they are discovered, they have to be assisted in the process of improvement,” said 32-year-old DJ MoCity. “Musicians are writing music and they don’t get better at it by posting it on social media platforms. They get better by continuing to write music and taking their art form to the next level. We want to collaborate with musicians by understanding what drives them and then figure out what they can do in the process of writing and making music,” he added.
And even at a time when there is so much content jostling for space on platforms like YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, etc, musicians and artistes on Boxout.fm are unperturbed. “What a community radio platform like Boxout.fm essentially does is that it helps curate taste and that is really important for both artistes and listeners. It is also super critical at a time when we have so much content available that it’s hard to find good content,” said 27-year-old Tejas Nair aka DJ Spryk, a music producer and composer who hosts a monthly show called Skip A Beat on Boxout.fm. “We are in an era where people don’t have time… they’re moving on to the next thing before they can even finish consuming the current one. So if you’re just subscribed to a music streaming service, you’re bombarded with a lot of music, which you might not enjoy. But if you are tuned in to a radio platform, where the presenter is making the effort to take you along on a musical journey, it gives you the space to sift through everything and find quality content,” the Mumbai-based producer added. Spryk’s show is one of the most popular ones on the community radio platform, so much so that it has now taken the form of a record label.
As the venture is not yet profitable, brand partnerships, ticketed events and merchandise sale are the primary sources of earning. But artistes aren’t complaining. “I’ve done radio before and there have been instances when I’ve had to pay radio stations to play my music. Here, while I don’t get paid for my shows, it’s a kind of win-win situation because Boxout.fm has given my music wings to travel places. And I do get paid for the gigs I perform in Delhi… this makes independent artistes like me feel valuable,” said 29-year-old disco jockey Suchi Ahuja aka DJ SUCHI.
While ticketed events that don’t entail big names are treated with scorn, the recent Boxout Weekender, spanning three days, saw over 4,000 people in attendance. The feedback was overwhelming for artistes whose music is remarkably different from mainstream tunes the audience is accustomed to. “People were receptive to my narrative-based music and were patiently listening to stories as much as the songs. The most common feedback I received was that it was unique and something they hadn’t experienced before,” said 29-year-old Chennai-based rapper-producer Siva Baskaran aka Native Indian. “The response was very reassuring… It’s one thing to hear music on a drive or while working, but it has a greater impact when people hear it live… I hope to take it to live venues across the country and give people a unique musical experience,” he added.