The year was 1996. A young lad in Noida enters an establishment for a job.
“It still feels like yesterday when I entered the gates of T-Series in Noida for an interview,” reminisces Neeraj Kalyan, President at T-Series.
With the opportunity to meet Gulshan Kumar, the founder of the organization, after a series of interviews, Kalyan was ecstatic. He remembers how he considered himself fortunate to have had the opportunity even if he were not to be given the required job.
“He spoke to me for mere 5-7 minutes. In the next minute or so, I was offered to join the next day. That next day became the beginning of my long journey which soon became my life,” adds Kalyan.
With little to no knowledge of the music industry, Kalyan began working as an Export Manager. Looking after export documentation, his responsibility demanded he knew the cassettes, which were not named after albums or titles but, by their numbers or series that were linked to various export benefit schemes. For example, C-45, C-60, C-90, E-180 (length of tapes).
Ostensibly, the weight of the job and learning as he went, became a fine balance with time.
Bhushan Kumar, a young boy himself, was ushered into filling his father’s position as the Chairman of T-Series. However, till 1999, Kumar had no idea about the man who managed Exports. But it took one accident to bring them together. In the third quarter of the same year, Kalyan met with an accident in the factory.
“I received a call in my hospital room. It was late in the night. The voice from the other end introduced himself as “Nannu” (Kumar’s nickname). He had called to extend his sympathy and support to me. That was the first time I spoke to him,” remembers Kalyan.
After getting back from the hospital, Kalyan and Kumar in a formal rendezvous found that their visions matched. Not withholding another second, Kalyan was offered to take distribution of music overseas as an additional responsibility.
Hesitant at first to take up the new challenge, he was instantly encouraged by Kumar’s thus spoken words, “I am also new, let’s build this together.”
With the change in paradigm, Kalyan never had to look back.
Taking charge and marching on
With the change in the musical landscape, Kalyan’s responsibilities also started demanding more of him. What began from export documentation to music distribution overseas, Kalyan found himself striking licensing deals with major music labels such as Warner & EMI in ASEAN region in no time.
Then came the era of ringtones, from which he took over to streaming, and UGC content, in today’s terms, YouTube, Short Format Video Apps, etc.
“We both worked and traveled like mercenaries to grow sales and revenues from around the world. We wanted to build a strong foundation for digital distribution in the future. It was Mr. Bhushan’s belief and trust in my abilities that kept me going. He encouraged me to take up new challenges at every step. Every 2-3 years my role was enhanced with a new challenge so, the monotony never kicked in,” claims Kalyan.
Recapitulating his glorious 25 years in the grand organization that T-Series is today, he says,
“I believe in Karma, and not being entitled to the fruits based on my labour.”
And this he assures to have applied in his professional and personal life. He quotes,
Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana,
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani
(Chapter II, Verse 47)
Meaning, ”You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.”
Befitting in Kalyan’s life, the role of Krishna was played by Bhushan Kumar.
Betting on the future
Between 1996 to 2021, the musical metamorphosis is inexplicable, especially when as an organization, you are bringing in ¼ of the transformation yourself.
“Forward-thinking and advance planning for the future has been key to our success. Early adoption to digital distribution and revenue generation helped us maintain our leadership position and perhaps we were the first company in this part of the world to adopt digital transformation with open arms,” says Kalyan.
T-Series has not only contributed to the musical trends but is also equally responsible for creating a domain in film and non-film music.
“There are many instances and anecdotes on how we struggled to be an orthodox non-tech company and how we managed to succeed despite all odds and I think to cover it all I might have to write a book one day,” he smiles.
In the ’90s, what was called Indi-Pop, is now largely known as non-film music. Sonu Nigam’s Deewana would be a successful example. In the ’00s, T-Series started remaking songs widely known as “remixes.” The first and the most popular to be known was Kaanta Laga.
“Good music backed by narrative-based music videos kept us ahead of the curve. It has always been our endeavour to offer the best to our discerning consumers worldwide. Mr. Bhushan was always and still is very meticulous in music selection. He stands to offer sound which will resonate with young audiences, the prime TG in the digital domain,” says Kalyan.
Today, the industry and audience stand as witnesses to the raging popularity of remakes and the careers it has shaped of singers and composers alike.
Popularity, Global Representation, and Market Unpredictability
In a span of sprawling 38 years in the market, T-Series has diversified whenever it deemed fit. With music as the core business, films have remained their area of interest, wherein they were producing 18-24 films a year. With expansions into making original content on OTTs and social media, the common factor that still binds the entire organisation together is Kalyan through his expertise in Copyright Management, Entertainment Licensing, Digital Music, Negotiations, Strategic Alliances, Business Development, etc., all from the chair of the President.
“We strive to strike equitable partnerships with our distribution partners so as to drive more value to the entire ecosystem of platforms, creators and consumers. T-Series has sustained its leadership position by keeping its feet grounded and adopting tech advancements with pro-active approach to business development,” he says.
In 2011, T-Series enabled their entire catalogue on YouTube. They were also felicitated by the Guinness World Records for amassing a subscriber base of 100 million on YouTube becoming World’s No 1. Music Channel.
“Our catalogue is going global because of the fresh content that we deliver. The worldwide exposure of the musical talent of T-series has given many of them a universal recognition. We as a label, offer a platform to all the deserving talent and bring them forward to the world to witness. India will probably become the main battleground of the global music industry in the years to come,” assures Kalyan.
As of today, T-Series stands with 190 million subscribers on the main channel, and 356 million subscribers across genres, on YouTube. Making T-Series the most followed channel on the platform in the world. Besides, it is the biggest music label in India. All under the leadership of Kalyan, with a hand-in-glove alliance with Kumar.
“I believe that it’s always team effort that leads a company to achieve its goals. These achievements give me a sense of accomplishment professionally but then there is always hunger and desire to soar higher and take up new challenges,” confides Kalyan.
“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create – this is man.”
(The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck)
This is Kalyan!
Celebrating the man of the hour
Kalyan is a man with a stellar 25-year career, the energy of a 25-year-old, and a reputation created to last 25+ decades. To commemorate a luminous journey, here are some of the head honchos of the music industry, competitors included, lauding Neeraj Kalyan, President, T-Series.
Neeraj’s contribution towards T-Series’ growth in the entertainment and digital sector is immense. For the past 25 years, he has stood strong next to me and has been an integral part of the company.
He has handled his responsibilities towards the company and the brand fabulously. I am grateful for his loyalty and proud of his dedication to getting us better each day.
-Bhushan Kumar, MD & Chairman, T-Series
I have known Neeraj for a very long time. And I know what sits beneath that sometimes aggressive exterior and that’s a deep-rooted knowledge about the industry, an excellent grasp about digital, quite honestly more than most and relationships once built that for him are forever.
He’s an asset to the industry by any metric you use and I’m proud to call him brother and friend.
-Devraj Sanyal, MD & CEO, Universal Music Group, India & South Asia
The T-Series channel on YouTube, today, stands at 190 million subscribers and has created fans of Indian music all over the world.
Neeraj has been the driving force behind the success of T-Series on YouTube.
His drive, energy, and passion are inspirational.
Over the years, Neeraj and his team have been true innovators on the platform and an inspiration to many other channels all around the world.
He’s been a great partner to YouTube for over a decade now and we look forward to continued success in the future.
–Gautam Anand, Vice-President, YouTube APAC
I have known Neeraj for 16 years. He has built an incredible business for T Series, from the world’s largest YouTube community to relationships with some of the largest tech giants like Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, etc.
An incredible deal maker, but equally a true partner who believes in building and sustaining relationships, Neeraj is an asset to T-Series.
Hungama’s partnership with T is built on mutual respect and trust and we will always cherish it as something very special. We will continue to consolidate into more meaningful avenues.
I wish Neeraj and T-Series all the very best, always!
-Neeraj Roy, MD & CEO, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment
Neeraj is a force of nature. Period. I have seen his personal journey from when he took over digital and then onto legal and it’s a really impressive one. Neeraj has the knack to pick things up fast and also learn them deep enough to fulfill the task at hand.
Although his public persona is combative, he is one of the shrewdest dealmakers I have seen, and much of T-Series’ success revenue, growth-wise especially over the last decade or more, I would attribute to him.
Neeraj has also grown into a great industry leader alongside his peer group and I wish him all my very best to the next leg of his journey at T-Series.
-Mandar Thakur, COO, Times Music
Neeraj is an enterprising leader and has been pivotal in RED FM’s and T-series association, which goes back to 20 years.
His business acumen, competitive drive, and enthusiasm has positioned him to be a great business head.
He is truly BajaateRaho and we look forward to the next 25 years!
-Nisha Narayanan, COO & Director, RED FM & Magic FM
A tough negotiator, an exemplary business partner and one of the best music executives in the country, congratulations to Neeraj on completing 25 years with T-Series in style.
I wish him all the success in the coming years and hope he continues to collect accolades while pushing the boundaries.
-Kabir Chandra, Head of Music Partnerships, Facebook India
Text by Aakanksha Sharma