Is India the Future Destination for Global Indie Music Companies?

“India’s wide music fandom base and digital revolution is leading to increasing data penetration,” elucidated Blaise Fernandes, President and CEO, Indian Music Industry, in an exclusive conversation with last year, “which are key reasons for foreign companies investing in India’s music industry.”

So too it is in reality as several music labels and music service companies strengthen their association with India. Some of the early winners have been Believe Music, which commenced operations in mid-2013 and, as Vivek Raina, managing director of India operations, correctly boasts:

“[We are] now one of the Top 5 music companies in India.

The other is UK-based Horus Music, which CEO Nick Dunn admits has

“invested close to USD 500,000…to help not only grow our business in India, but to help local musicians and labels. There is a lot that needs doing, and we always knew this was going to be a long-term investment.”

Another label that has an ongoing relationship with India is the Beggars Group. Floated in 1977, and based in London, it has become a forerunner for the independent movement by owning or distributing various labels, including 4AD, Rough Trade Records, Matador Records, XL Recordings, and Young Turks which, through the years, have released music by Tubeway Army/Gary Numan, Bauhaus, and The Cult. Since then, the Group has expanded its operations across all continents through digital distribution. Although currently non-committal about setting up an office in India –

“there are no plans for an office at this stage,” announces Beggars’ Simon Wheeler, Global Director of Commercial Strategy – but he does not rule out the possibility of doing so by philosophically adding: “Markets need to generate business to fund the overhead of an office or staff [and], even though India is a large market, the amount of people paying [for consuming music] is still fairly small and the value is low”.

Foreign Music Companies In India

Another label that needs to be referenced is Bohemia Junction Limited, a U.K.-based company that was floated in 2013, and has since set up a team in Mumbai in August 2020, a culmination of services provided by founder Andrew Mackay to Indian musicians and composers over the past seven years. Mackay is also a composer-producer and is surprisingly transparent on why he decided to commence India operations – through an entity named the Bohemia Junction Record Co. [“Bohemia”] – in the midst of the pandemic:

“During the lockdown,” he says, “our other sources of income and work were stopped as our partners like Abbey Road Studios in London shut their doors, and our orchestra in Macedonia, which records so many of the soundtracks to Indian cinema, also shut down. So I had to look at other ways of engaging with our audience, partners, and clients.”

In bringing focus to his efforts, Mackay actually preponed the launch of his Indian arm from 2021 to 2020

“not just to test the waters, but also make some great music available.”

Hence, in terms of the roster, Bohemia launched two singles from Meghdeep Bose, including Bose’s latest effort that was released on November 24 last year, “Maine Dekha Hai” [featuring Pratibha Singh Baghel], a ghazal dedicated to his aunt who passed away due to cancer last September. Two ambient albums are due for release in 2021 by British guitarist Adam Lamprell, as well as various soundtracks, including some which Mackay himself has composed.

“I personally have enjoyed more than two decades of involvement in the music scene in India [Mackay’s efforts include recording large orchestral scores for ‘Dhoom 3’, and undertaking the mastering for indie bands such as F16’s and Ska-Vengers]”, he reminisces, “and with the formation of Bohemia Junction, we’ve been working closely on film soundtracks and also recording Indian musicians for British and American TV and films. It’s a cross pollination, which was always my plan…”

Who Else?

Another company that has placed money where their musical mouth is one that has created an industry that thinks “out” of the box and, hence, appears to have created an appropriate moniker for it – Outdustry. Launched in 2006 in Beijing and in 2018 in India, the company is a music services company providing A&R, marketing, and rights management in China and in India.

But the biggest pride of place for Outdustry India occurred with Dua Lipa, who opened for Katy Perry in 2019.

“We had arranged an iconic meeting between her and Shah Rukh Khan,” reminisces Outdustry’s Senior Marketing Manager (India) Roochay Shukla. “With the right content localization approach, we’ve got India as one of the leading markets on our artists’ top YouTube countries – currently, #3 for Lauv, #8 for Dua Lipa, and #3 for Major Lazer – of which, two years back, we were just outside [the] Top 10.”

“Apart from marketing and promotions,” adds Shukla, “we are always looking out for that next big collaboration for our artists, be it with local talents or [with] local influencers. For Major Lazer, we got indie superstar Ritviz to drop a remix of the crew’s 2015 hit single, “Light It Up”, on Diwali in 2019. In 2020, we executed a full-fledged global collaboration between Major Lazer and king of bass music Nucleya for a Hindi track, “Jadi Buti”, on the crew’s fourth studio album, ‘Music Is The Weapon’. Both of these tracks have cemented themselves into relevant playlists and have amassed millions of streams, making Major Lazer one of the most loved electronic groups in India.”

Similarly, another music services company that exists within India is the appropriately named Mixtape, an initiative floated by founder-director Naveen Deshpande in June 2010 that specialises in booking and managing talent. In fact, Mixtape focuses on various exclusive Indian artists such as Pentagram, Naezy, Ox7gen, and Bhayanak Maut, among others, with the intent of collaborating with international agencies such as United Talent (UTA), Earth Agency, Paradigm, Blow Up live, and Solar Management

“to develop our roster into the UK, US, and EU markets,” explains Deshpande. “We have been in an active conversation with [these] agencies on how we can break some of the Indian talent within their territories.”

Then there is the Copenhagen-located streaming platform Moodagent Music, which was launched in 2020 as a premium-only service, specializing in dynamic playlists based on personalized music recommendations.

“Our catalogue consists of an offering of close to 53 million tracks,” says Moodagent India MD Jyoti Handa, “and [we] will be launching in India…by the end of 2021. Moodagent has India as a prime market and has been continuously investing in various functions like musicologists and marketing as localised efforts.”

The challenges

But not all investments have borne fruition. UK-based Ditto Music commenced operations in Mumbai in October 2017, but their presence was short-lived inspite of having licensed content from over nine regional labels, totalling more than 36,000 tracks and 2,100 music videos. Former South Asia Country Manager Gautam Sarkar, based in Mumbai, readily admits to the reason behind the company’s collapse and withdrawal from the Indian market last year, which was specifically due to a flawed model of the label in utilising a subscription model for music consumption in India.

“We paid huge advances to acquire content at the time of breaking into the market,” acknowledges Sarkar, “obtaining 360 degree rights, inclusive of publishing, YouTube CMS, etc., but we really were not a player in terms of recouping these advances.”

Nevertheless, despite this one disappointing occurrence, India is still in the midst of welcoming labels, and music service companies into the market and, in 2019, India’s total wholesale market (i.e. the money paid to labels) rose 18.7% to US$181.4 million. With this kind of income in play, India, which is currently the world’s 15th largest recorded music market, and with further potential income arriving from publishing and other music services, India is expectedly on its way to meet its goal of becoming one of the world’s top 10 music markets…sooner, rather than later!

Text by Parag Kamani

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