Music Education goes Online, Tech sees Opportunity

With the upsurge of corporate interest and investments in online education and development, this is an opportune time to review the recent explosion of online music education portals that are quietly revolutionizing music education in India and to explore ways to effectively respond to evolving customer needs, expectations and profiles.

Till a century ago, Indian music training happened only within the guild system – whether it was the classical gharana system patronized by royalty or the village artist communities performing and practicing what has come to be called folk music. As in all branches of exploration and knowledge, simple art forms and practices coexisted with crystallized classical forms that were backed by analysis and development of grammar which came to be called Shastra, giving Indian classical music the name Shastriya Sangeet. The Shastriya stream developed training methodologies too, created by intelligent deconstruction, while the so-called folk arts were passed over generations simply by direct absorption – hearing and copying.

In the early 1900’s the pioneers of modern music education – Bhatkhande and Paluskar – opened out the coffers of the gharanas and made classical music knowledge and training available to any aspirant in society, by adapting the system to institutional formats. This has grown into a huge network of music schools of various hues at one end and university departments at the other. However, the entire system has fallen prey to the malady that plagues general education – it has been virtually impossible to create and sustain a culture of creating competence and performance worthiness. Thus, sadly, a University degree in music or a Sangeet Visharad degree doesn’t connote skill or competence. Hence, private music teachers emerged as a parallel unorganized industry. Here even the most successful and brilliant classical performers set up shop, creating many performers outside the families. This industry created space for a vast number of competent musicians who couldn’t make it to stardom. The space has also been compromised by a large number of incompetent trainers whose survival proves that demand outstrips supply.

The demand for training exploded with the advent of reality shows. This demand has largely flowed into the unorganized industry, which is locally available, flexible, and even dispensable when necessary. The quality of demand also swerved markedly. The learner was no longer interested in knowing about classical music as an art. They came only because they believed that classical music is basic to all music, music and is the only learning source for their non-classical aspirations. Teachers too, naturally projected their classical knowledge and equity, preventing the development of new and specialized methodologies for popular music genres.

Interest in learning Western music has grown outside the traditional western music practicing communities, primarily with the advent of the keyboard, which has developed into a personal music arranger, and with the growing exposure of the younger generation to international pop music through the internet. Certification from prestigious bodies such as the Royal Academy of Music is highly valued in India. The reason is that western music training is more heavily dependent on music theory, allowing for performance and competence-oriented structuring and syllabi. This theoretical foundation is of value, and in the music industry professional credibility is often associated with having passed a particular grade in the Royal Academy of Music. A Berklee stamp is also of value today. Indian certificates have not been able to achieve this credibility.

Today Indian music education is ready for a makeover.

Firstly it is imperative that new methodologies for non-classical genres be developed, teachers trained and customers, especially parents of children, be educated and counseled on how music skill development actually works.

Secondly, institutions need to be able to effectively respond to customer expectations and behavior, reversing the flow into the flexible unorganized industry.

Music schools & academies have existed in India for years. There have been many music teachers who have been conducting private classes for decades. So the idea of music education is nothing new nor does it need any kind of evangelism. However, the advent of technology and global market opportunities has changed the concept of the learning process. The digitization scenario in India has reached massive proportions today. What started as a matter of convenience and ease of dealing between the physical and digital space saw a massive push with the onslaught of the pandemic. Education globally saw a massive shift in the mode of delivery which was initially a necessity but gradually gained acceptance, as the pandemic hit everyone out of the blue. Schools/Universities stopped their physical classes and shifted on to the digital mode and this has opened up humongous opportunities for technology companies to build their business models. With a population of 130 crores including a pool of hugely talented youth inclined towards learning, India is a market that is ripe for ed-tech to create a massive business initiative in the field.

In India, the existing music colleges/universities, besides local academies and music teachers who taught students from homes, bore the brunt of the pandemic due to nationwide lockdowns. However, the positive outcome of this was that teachers became tech-savvy. It is a kind of sweet spot that emerged as a result, where the use of tech made it easy for them to reach the talent out there, that is out there, unrecognized and hidden and bring them up to the possibilities of a larger virtual platform.

Today almost all the offline music academies have transformed themselves into Online Music classes., There are questions, though about the quality of music education being diluted and focus sing on a skill-oriented training process. There are different types of music teaching academies. Some like Muzigal, Spardha online, Shankar Mahadevan Academy, Furtados Music School, and Artium Academy are operating in this space of one-on-one teaching and focusing on creating the entire Ecosystem ground up. At the same time, there is a marketplace through the aggregator model, where they create a platform for the learners and teachers to meet each other but don’t have any control over teaching methods, curriculum or quality of delivery of music education.

The market size is very large globally and is expected to grow at a high CAGR. Investors are also seeing a huge opportunity in the platform. In India, there are more than 50 Million households whose yearly income is above 10 Lacs INR. On average, if at least one person in every household is engaged in some extracurricular activity, that translates to 50 million people. Now if you consider that about 33% of that population is going to be engaged in performing Arts, and 25% of those engaged in performing arts comprises Music learners, then the total count of Music learners would be an estimated 4.1 million. Globally the Indian diaspora population is around 30 million and almost all of them use Indian Music & Dance to fill the cultural vacuum when it comes to staying close to their roots. With an AOV for extracurricular activities to be around $550 USD a year, we are speaking about an estimated market size of about 7 to 10 billion USD. This is the estimated potential market size of the Indian population learning very large Market size in India Indian and western Music and globally. The average cost price per class in India ranges between INR 500-1000 for an Indian learner residing in South Asia and around INR 2500-3500 for an Indian learner in the rest of the world.

Technology is going to play a massive role in giving impetus to Music education in India and globally, however just leveraging technology to scale up won’t help. Every player will have to build depth in the Music Education process. Online training must evolve from private classes and aggregator portals to a large-scale qualitative educational system, built on authentic and skill-oriented training processes. Music education has to deliver performance competence and skill, not just theoretical knowledge which could even be considered redundant in today’s context. Then alone can an Indian music institution certificate be expected to be valued by the music industry within India and internationally?

This feature is written by Ashish Joshi, Founder & CEO, Artium Academy Pvt Ltd

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