To say that Independent music is an all-pervasive genre today won’t be an exaggeration at all. Things were not so in 2012 when we decided to go out on a limb and launch India’s first Indie music web radio station. We had to explain to people what Indie really meant. And today, a Hindi film is being made on an Indie artiste.
When I started my career in the mid 90’s in radio, I recall that the divide between ‘Indi-pop’, as it was known then, and the mainstream (Hindi film music) was not stark. For all our music concerts and events, we always planned an eclectic line-up of artistes known for creating original music, and those who performed in films. Purely, because the sound was very fresh and Hindi film music was becoming increasingly dated. Gen X and Y took to it because it was the sound of the new, ‘Global’ India and suddenly it wasn’t uncool to be listening to vernacular music. And Indi-pop grew far and beyond. Pop stars such as Alisha Chinai, KK, Silk Route, Daler Mehndi, Colonial Cousins and many more became huge celebrities.
Among the many factors that contributed to the growth of Indie in the 90s and early 2000s, the key was Radio station and Music TV channels. Indie got a major fillip from both these music-heavy mediums and artists thrived. And soon (in most cases), they exceeded the popularity of their Hindi film counterparts, who were just voices, not faces. As far as the youth of that time was concerned, both these media vehicles were the ‘Carriers of Cool’. Anything they aired, Hindi or English, Film or Indie was loved by the audiences. In the case of radio, we tuned in on the go and as far as music TV channels were concerned, they soon became Youth Entertainment TV. Those brilliant sketches and fillers on Channel V and MTV contributed to the vibe and built a whole new ecosystem with VJs, Actors and Producers. In fact, some of the content that they created decades ago was way funnier than anything you see on YouTube today. The irreverence of the VJs and the surround content added to the popularity of the music being played on these channels. For any Indie newbie, getting a good rotation schedule, both on Radio FM and on these channels was hitting the jackpot. It was boom time for Independent artistes and the world was a happy place.
And then, somewhere in the mid 2000s, things changed. Hindi Film music had not moved on and a new sound for this new generation was coming from elsewhere. Inevitably, ‘Indi-pop’ stars slowly started crossing over to Film music and gradually, their ‘independent music’ output, reduced. With this fresh new talent, film music modernized and started sounding much like the Indi-pop, the youth knew and loved. Sadly, for the Indi-pop genre, the music shrank, interest diminished, bands broke up and the opportunity of distribution and monetization started shrinking.
Music channels soon pulled the plug and Indie musicians found it hard to reach their fans. Producing videos and then distributing those were practically impossible for them. Digital media was starting to emerge and traditional music distribution and consumption patterns were starting to disintegrate. Music companies and music channels alike were facing the heat of this unplanned change. It was a disaster. Digital monetization was a fuzzy concept and years away from coherent execution. Indie musicians struggled in this period of confusion. A way of life was rapidly giving way to another and drastic change had its consequences.
A good thing that emerged out of this miasma was, all indie artistes came together again as a close-knit community and spawned new sub cultures, like in the 90s. A lot of people tended to view them as purists and accused them of being too judgmental. But, here’s the thing: when you take the high road and stick to your beliefs, spending long hours of hot summer afternoons at a small rented space, composing music that you believe in, will guard that freedom that musicians hold dear.
A new sound was starting to emerge and this was coming largely from the newly connected small towns in India. Their expression was their own and it reflected the sound of a new India. From college bands performing at hole-in-the-wall venues to classically trained musicians creating contemporary tunes, Indie music found a new calling.
Technology came to the aid of disparate musicians and connectivity was no longer a hurdle. A sense of belonging kept musicians going through hard times. And then by the late 2000s, YouTube emerged. Around the same time, big music festivals came to the rescue of Indie artists. Both developments expanded the reach of Indie music and gave a new dimension to the artistes, who were hungry for an audience. Gradually, the fan following for these artists grew and recognition followed. YouTube and Online Radio played a vital role in reshaping their journey. Not only did Youtube become their online distribution channel but it also gave them the control of publishing and releasing their music to their fans directly.
The good news is that the age of revival is here. All forces are converging to take indie music, out of its niche. Quoting an interesting insight shared by a friend, recently it has been observed that smaller meaningful films have found their favour with the industry and audiences alike. No more is a playback song being mouthed by the hero, but songs have now become a constructive element of the narrative. This has led to film music scouting for fresher tunes and talent. Better late than never, but mainstream media has finally started talking about Indie musicians and artistes, which is seeing an upsurge of radio stations playing Indie Music on a regular basis and newspapers writing about the scene frequently.
Today, Indie Music commands cult popularity amongst GenZ and Millennials. Performance venues are mushrooming in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Artists from small-town India are creating music in genres that were used to be considered niche. Categories like Metal and Hip-Hop in Radio City Freedom Awards garner the maximum number of entries. Far flung parts of the country are organizing music festivals where the local talent is exposed and recognized, living up to the basic premise of Indie music. I walked in to a popular chain of stores and heard some brilliant Folk Fusion music being played as a part of their in-store radio and I marveled at how far the scene has traversed.
Even the parallel sub cultures of Poetry and Spoken Word have found their feet now. Music Labels and OTT players are lining up to sign Indie musicians and fees are bing commanded that would have been unthinkable a few years ago for any Indie musician. Vivian Fernandes aka Divine has a film being made on his life with none other than Ranveer Singh starring in it. Indie is connected to the roots of our culture and its unique sounds have stood the test of time. The new breed of musicians is waiting in the wings and the fans are going wild. As that famous song goes, “Things can only get better…”
This article has been written by Ms. Rachna Kanwar, COO, Jagran Digital (parent company of RadioCity).
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