Yogi Tandon, 25, was trying to finalise a wedding venue for his sister when he received an urgent call at 11.30 pm one night in January 2021. It was from an ad production house. They needed a happy-go-lucky, bouncy music track for a client. The deadline? Eight hours.
This was exactly the break Tandon and his partner Harsh Tokas, had been looking for. The duo had secured funding for their startup, Dibbl, a music discovery service for creative professionals, just a few months before. If they managed to deliver it in time, it would be a perfect proof of concept for other companies that they might approach.
Tokas, also 25, was attending a gig in Hauz Khas when he got the call. He immediately rushed home to look up his Excel sheet of artists who had shown interest in their company and who would even entertain the idea of composing a short piece with such little notice.
“We thought that the musician who was working that night would be able to deliver it, but he followed the wrong reference because of some miscommunication,” Tandon recealls. “He created an amazing piece, but it was not what the client needed.”
To make matters worse, the same musician was not available to compose another piece the next day. They moved on to the next artist. Finally, at 4 pm of the following day, Tokas and Tandon decided to let the production house know an hour before their meeting that they might need to find a backup audio, just in case. The two managed to get a clip to their potential client minutes before the meeting began. It was too late – the clients decided to use their backup clip instead.
“This was the first project we ever did, and it was a complete disaster,” Tokas said, laughing. “But in the end, the client was so impressed with our initiative that they became one of our first customers.”
Dibbl, which formally launched on April 24, 2022, now has 250 musicians and 30 companies signed up for its service since December 2021. The company promises to cut through the murky layers of music licensing to provide audio to customers ranging from vloggers and wedding DJs to filmmakers and ad producers. The prices vary at a fixed rate for the more non-professional categories, to a negotiable sum for the professional ones.
Tokas was an architect and Tandon an analyst at KPMG when they begin to discuss ideas for a music startup. The two Delhi schoolmates decided to go into business together in 2019. Their first idea was akin to an Indian version of Bandcamp, which would serve as a marketplace and engine for discovering music. But with the pandemic, musicians were signing up everywhere for online gigs and streaming events. Since that market was saturated, they pivoted instead to Dibbl.
“Our first challenge was that we are totally new faces in this market,” Tandon said. “This is a very close industry where everyone talks with each other and collaborates with each other. We had to figure out how to build that trust.”
One of the first things they did was to learn. For every person who hit them with series of questions about how viable their project would be, they came back with researched answers, going as far as to plunge into the tangled web of licensing laws in India. The key gap, they soon realised, was that licensing was difficult, that musicians often were unable to negotiate good prices for exposure to their work, and that producers were often limited to musicians in the contact lists of their phones.
Dibbl aims to address all three at once. When musicians sign up with Dibbl, they can assign a series of tags to their music, marking it by mood, genre, instruments and even films or advertisements in which they might be placed. Artists also verify who owns each part of the audio tracks, from background score to vocalists, and all those who have a claim to that audio must give legal consent to license their music via Dibbl.
“The priority for all musicians is food on the table,” Tokas said. “Since offline gigs were gone, we wanted to help musicians generate a source of passive income. That is how Dibbl can play a crucial role through licensing.”
They have plenty of potential clients. India’s digital advertising industry is expected to grow to Rs 23,673 crore ($3.09 billion) in 2022 from Rs 18,938 crore ($2.47 billion) in 2021. India’s subscription revenue is projected to reach Rs 940 billion ($13.34 billion) in 2023, from Rs 631 billion ($ 8.95 billion) in 2020. By 2030, India’s OTT entertainment industry will be worth $15 billion.
Music will supplement these allied industries. More so will be the impact of original work. Of note is the music industry itself, which is touted to reach Rs 23 billion ($330 million) by 2023, from Rs 15 billion ($210 million) in 2020 at a CAGR of 15% between 2020 and 2023.
“We started with a list of names that we knew and with each name, we found so many more artists,” Tandon said. “If you speak to any artist in any state, you will end the day by finding so many more artists who do not get placement opportunities to showcase their art.”
Check out Dibbl