Earlier this year, The Orchard – A Sony Music subsidiary – appointed KGV Kiran Kumar as the India Country Head. In his new role, KGV will head all business operations for India and he will report to The Orchard’s EVP, Head of Strategy, Prashant Bahadur. Prior to joining The Orchard, Kumar worked with independent distributor Believe as its Distribution Director – Label & Artist Solutions, India. KGV comes to The Orchard with two decades of cross-industry experience in banking, telecom, tech, and music. We caught up with him for an exclusive chat.
How did the transition happen from banking and telecom to music distribution?
The music industry today, sits at the intersection of technology and entertainment and is constantly evolving. My experience in the banking and tech industries have prepared me well as we are seeing plenty of innovation coming out of both sectors and the transition has been seamless. When I accepted a position at The Orchard, I was determined to be a service-oriented and results-driven team player while focusing on learning something new in every assignment. More importantly, I’ve been lucky to be able to blend my personal love for music into my career, and my goal has always been to love what I do. I was introduced to multicultural music at a very young age and I’m delighted that this role enables me to do what I love.
What does music mean to you?
From the very beginning, I’ve always felt music has kept me grounded, bringing a sense of clarity and healing to my life. I love discovering new sounds and artists from around the world. I grew up in a traditional Southern Indian family, and remember waking up at 5am to the sounds of “Suprabhatham” by M.S Subbulakshmi. My family grew up in a very multicultural neighbourhood in Odisha, which exposed me to a wide variety of art, music and cuisines. As a child, I enjoyed listening to the radio and grew to love music thanks to Indian artists like Kishore Kumar, RD Burman, Lata Mangeshkar, SPB , Ghantasala , Yesudas, and Janaki. As a teenager, I immersed myself in the rich culture of the local tribal community and their music, which featured instruments like the Dhol and Mahurie, and I always believed music was key to self-discovery. Every time I heard a new sound, I found another part of myself that I never explored.
What’s on your playlist at the moment?
Telugu – ‘Oura Ammaka Chella‘ by M.M Keervani
Telugu – ‘Manchu Kurise’ by Ilaiyaraaja
Hindi – ‘Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le’ by Ilaiyaraaja
Hindi – ‘Zindagi Aa Raha Hoon Main’ by Kishore Kumar
Punjabi – ‘Bulla Ki Jaana’ by Rabbi Shergill
Punjabi – ‘Qismat’ by Ammy Virk
Hindi Indie – ‘Rihaa’ by Arijit Singh
Hip Hop – ‘Teesri Manzil‘ by Divine
English – ‘Eye of the Tiger‘ by Survivor
English – ‘Breakaway‘ by Kelly Clarkson
How is your role at The Orchard different from what you’ve done before?
As Country Head, I am able to tie all my experiences together, working with a team that is fantastic, and from whom I’ve already learned so much. The Orchard has been in India since the mid-2000s, working with artists and labels across the country. My vision for the country is to focus on the rich talent that exists in the country and mentor and provide label partners and artists with all the resources we have. India has grown exponentially and will continue to grow over the next few years. We have a unique ability to nurture talent and create young future leaders who can uplift Indian music on a global stage, and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously.
I am relentlessly focused on delivering tangible and perceptible value to all our label partners. The distribution business is very scale driven just as much as it relies on market knowledge. Having a natural vantage point in the music ecosystem, our role is to work hand-in-hand with the demand & supply side and get the best of both worlds. I am focused on driving value for our partners while striving to be an ultra-premium player in the local market.
What will be your biggest challenge at The Orchard?
Today, artists have a huge choice and so many ways to create music, and at The Orchard, our goal is to provide every type of artist with the tools to create freely. We want to empower them so they can choose to make music anyway they please. It’s about giving them the power to be in charge of their own art. The rise of the independent music community is an opportunity to push the limits of this new creator economy we are experiencing. Some would think this would pose a challenge, but we’ve constantly adapted to add to our comprehensive suite of services.
This year alone we added podcasting, advertising sales, publishing administration, and more. The musical landscape is constantly evolving, and there will always be challenges and opportunities. However, at the centre of music distribution is renowned “Expertise” backed with “Transparency” which leads to equitable partnerships with artists and labels. At The Orchard, our mission is to bring all of this to life.
You’ve said in an interview that “With The Orchard’s comprehensive suite of services, I’m looking forward to helping create an innovative global pipeline of audience development for local artists and labels backed by premium distribution services”. Can you give a few instances of what these tools will be and how will you achieve your goals?
The Orchard offers a diverse range of services to our artists. These include music and video distribution, analytics and business intelligence, retail support across 45 offices, targeted and optimised digital campaigns through in-house advertising, fan engagement and audience development, UGC/Fingerprinting services on YouTube and SoundCloud, premium content generation and organisation with our YouTube channel support, Global publishing royalty collection for owned and controlled compositions, performance collections with direct deals, and sync/licensing services. These services along with local on the ground experts help create The Orchard’s artist and label’s reach and capture that global audience support.
Do you think there’s been a proliferation of original content during the pandemic in light of film music taking a backseat?
The idea that original content will take a backseat with the new onset of film music is misleading. During the pandemic, we saw consumers favour Indie music, and gradually evolve into ‘Lean Forward’ listeners. That’s good news for the industry at large, because it shows consumers are actively searching and discovering new music and artists. While India is primarily a film music market, the independent music sector has grown tremendously.
What trends can we expect from the Indian music industry?
India has always been a video-first music economy largely due to the impact of film music dominance. The success story of YouTube in India is testimony to the early adoption of video that comes very naturally to Indian audiences because of our appetite for screens. Typically, from a consumption point-of-view, YouTube alone multiplies over consolidated audio streaming by 2X across languages and genres. It is also a direct indication of the impact of the use of smartphones and cheaper tariffs, which we have seen in the last 4 to 5 years.
However, I think consumption will eventually shift to audio in the coming years due to three factors: Short format video platforms turning into “Discovery Engines” which have a tangible crossover to DSPs; the onset of technology developments by DSP’s to bring more value to listeners and drive a more personalised experience; and personal listening will all take prominence over time, leading to increased demand for paid subscriptions.
Lastly, how will The Orchard, in your opinion, help the discovery and moulding of new musicians, especially in regional languages, in the next few months?
We want to shift the approach to drive the right scale and right economics, keeping value at the centre of our strategy. There is significant opportunity in the region from IP awareness to content monetisation, and so a lot of awareness needs to be built in the local markets backed by the right service and local expertise. We are focused on ground-breaking business models that will be market-firsts for both artists and labels, developing more and more opportunities for content collaboration, and building innovative and unique marketing strategies through our global network of partners.