Deals that Shaped the Indian Music Industry in 2021

The music industry shifted shape and adapted in its own ways with a little bit of start and stop through different points of 2021. And not just the artists. We’re talking about the many companies – big and small, new and seasoned – who made moves with a keen eye on the future.

As the year comes to a close, Music Plus looks back at some of the big labels, entertainment companies, investors and social media apps that forged partnerships to sustain or break new ground.

Warner Music India

Since launching in March 2020, Warner Music India has had expansion firmly in focus.

The company inked an exclusive distribution agreement with Punjabi music company Sky Digital India in January, that has 15 million YouTube subscribers and boasts releases by the likes of Sidhu Moose Wala, B Praak, Gippy Grewal and more.

Warner Music India along with its Canadian counterpart (Warner Music Canada) and longstanding artist management/record company Toronto-based Coalition Music teamed up to launch 4N Records in May, helmed by rising Canadian Punjabi artist Ikky.

This was followed by an ‘exclusive strategic partnership’ with tech company JetSynthesys in September, with a focus on licensing and acquisition, artist management, event management, original content creation across music, short videos and films, along with mobile gaming and esports.

Universal Music Group/Universal Music India

After launching Mass Appeal India last year to capitalise on Indian hip-hop, Universal Music Group took another leap by signing pop superstar Badshah in a multi-year ‘exclusive global agreement’ in July.

Within the country, Universal Music India launched VYRL Punjabi in October, partnering with seasoned music composer Jatinder Shah. The domestic imprint is an extension of VYRL Originals, which launched in 2018 and focused on ‘non-film’ music in India. The launch of VYRL Haryanvi and VYRL Bhojpuri also followed.

Elsewhere, UMI also teamed up with Hyundai Motor India Limited for a new music platform called Hyundai Spotlight, launched in December. Six original songs across languages will be released in a year.

Times Music and Triller’s Global Licensing Partnership (April)

Among the big moves that Triller has made in India to compete for the TikTok-shaped void left behind involves partnerships with labels.

They signed a global licensing partnership with Times Music, which included the label’s repertoire (over 56,000 songs) for Triller users. But also, that Times Music releases could appear on the Top Triller Global chart, launched with Billboard.

T-Series joins IPRS (April)

The Indian Performing Rights Society welcomed major label and music company T-Series chairman and managing director Bhushan Kumar to its board earlier this year.

It likely indicates a forthcoming thaw in relations between the rights collection body and other major labels such as Zee Music and Yash Raj Films Music, although only time will tell.

Tencent Increases Stake in Gaana (June)

Tencent Cloud Europe B.V., the European entity run by China-based Tencent Holdings, added another $40 million (nearly INR 300 crores) in debt financing to Times Internet’s Gaana. The move increases Tencent stake in Gaana – pegged at 34.44% – exponentially.

NODWIN Acquires IPs and Talent from OML Entertainment (September)

In a deal pegged at INR 73 crores, e-sports company NODWIN Gaming acquired ‘gaming adjacent IPs from Only Music Louder aka OML Entertainment. This meant long-running music festival Bacardi NH7 Weekender would now on be run by a gaming company.

While a three-city setup for the festival has been announced for February, NODWIN’s properties such as Dreamhack and India Premiership are now expected to be run by the team which transferred from OML.

Merlin and JioSaavn’s Global Music Licensing Partnership (September)

Independent digital music licensing partner Merlin ‘enhanced and extended’ their partnership with streaming company JioSaavn earlier this year. Merlin is reported to account for at least 15 % of the digital music market globally.

And this ‘expanded partnership’ was inked to increase their South Asian presence. It is said to also expand JioSaavn’s catalog offering to its worldwide audience.

Sony Music Publishing and White Hill Music (October)

In October, Sony Music Publishing struck a partnership with Canada-based Punjabi and Hindi studio White Hill Music. The deal promised Promising international collaboration opportunities and more synchronisation avenues. “Teaming up with Sony Music Publishing will undoubtedly facilitate a more transparent and efficient means of licensing and royalty collection,” Gunbir Singh Sidhu, White Hill Studios said in a statement at the time.

Believe Acquires Think Music (November)

On a slew of deals and expansions ever since it entered India in 2013, music company Believe announced last month that it had acquired a 76 % stake in South Indian label, Think Music for €13 million. Film soundtracks as well as music outside of the film space has been Think Music’s strongpoint, ever since they launched in 2007. They currently have over 11 million subscribers on YouTube.

Crate Music Acquires Nirvana Digital (November)

American music and media company Crate Music Group bought over distribution rights management company Nirvana Digital. This is a first investment from the estimated $50 million intended for the Indian market. It allows Indian artists (Nirvana’s represents everyone from the Art of Living organisation to rapper Bohemia) to make the most of global distribution and monetisation opportunities. It also allows Crate Music’s U.S. clients to access India’s music and content market.

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