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Impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on the music label business in India

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As humanity tries to negotiate through these tense and uncertain times, it is becoming extremely difficult to plan or take business decisions. The enormous economic impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on financial institutions and vulnerable industries such as manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, and travel is hard to fathom. Along with these sectors, even the music industry and live entertainment have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. The music labels have their work cut out and have had to react immediately.

The music industry is essentially dependent on large audiences and live-experiences. So the music labels have had to strategise, devise, assemble and optimise new resources for music promotions.

How big an impact has the Coronavirus outbreak had on the Indian music industry so far, is a speculative question.

“The music business is adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We are in a non-necessity business and the first thing that gets affected is non necessities, simple,” explained Mandar Thakur, COO, Times Music.

Not helping matters is the, though completely necessary, lock-down called by the Government of India. The lock-down has resulted in lesser productivity, slower work rate and an overall atmosphere of uncertainty. It has had an impact on the production, distribution, marketing, and sales chain too. This will amount to losses.

“The Coronavirus pandemic is a national issue so everyone has to cooperate. We have to follow the government’s directive on the lock-down. The music industry has taken a hit of 10-15% after the lock-down. Even the streaming platforms have taken a beating as consumers are indulging in audio-video formats. The revenues have been adversely affected due to this.” Satvinder Singh Kohli, Managing Director, Speed Records lamented.

Music industry veteran and CMD, Tips Industries Ltd, Kumar Taurani has witnessed the effects of recessions, wars and other calamities on the music industry.

He feels,

“These are difficult times not just for the music and film industry but for every business and every individual across the country. The industry has taken a severe hit and it will take time to recover. I am proud of our industry and each of its members. Surely we will come back together much stronger post this lock-down.”

Redrawing strategies

Along with mainstream music labels, independent music labels have also changed their strategies.

“We at 9122 Records are being extremely selective on what content to release. We won’t risk putting out projects that need robust marketing plans. 9122 Records will be choosy and picky,” asserted Sunil D’SA, Founder, 9122 Records.

With the film industry downing its shutters, no new music releases are expected for months. The ones that were ready for release have been postponed due to the prevailing circumstances.

“We are not releasing any new content as morally this is not the right time and situation for it. I think it will take around 6 months to recover from this crisis,” said Satvinder.

The importance of film music

It is no hidden fact that the music industry is heavily dependent on film music. The business of the music labels revolves around film music. Labels are known to pay astronomical sums to purchase the rights to film music. This is not limited to Bollywood music but also regional sectors too.

“The south Indian music industry is reliant on film music. With the postponement of major film music releases, the industry is bound to suffer. We have made advance payments to producers to acquire the rights to their music and the content won’t release as planned. Importantly as Indian music industry is very much depended on Advertisement spends on YouTube, streaming platforms, FM, TV, etc, which are actually major avenues of revenue. The industry shall have to face major blow to these revenues streams. This will create a problem of cash crunch,” stressed Aditya Gupta, Director, Aditya Music.

Adding to Aditya’s thoughts, Mandar said,

“The business of some of labels is dependent on the cash advances paid out to film producers amongst others. With films being delayed, live shows being cancelled the entire revenue from multiple sources is under heavy duress. Due to this the daily session guys or backing musicians suffer the most as so many recordings and shows are at a standstill.”

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The independent music labels

Due to the nature of the novel Coronavirus, and the way it spreads, live music, concerts, and festivals have been officially postponed or cancelled. It isn’t just the mega festivals and events that are being affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, smaller indie festivals and gigs are also taking a hit. Independent artists and labels largely rely on Live shows and gigs to promote their music and artists. Budget constraints and fairly unpopular genres of music make these events an ideal opportunity for them.

“The music industry will be hit at all levels but I think the independent scene will be hit much harder. With marketing and promotion opportunities severely restricted and the Live scene on hold, it’s going to be a tough few months ahead for indie artists and labels, till things settle down,” expressed Sunil.

Adding,

“A-List artists will have it slightly easier, as they already have an established fan base in place to communicate their music directly. Besides, they are not totally dependent on the Live scene and can ride through these rough times. Let’s hope and pray this passes soon and the entire industry is back in business.“

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