SkillBox’s Anmol Kukreja believes building your own IPs is the future of live music

When Anmol Kukreja founded SkillBox in 2016, he had the vision to create a live entertainment platform that would make a positive impact on the fragmented music space in India. “It has been a long and challenging road, but I am proud to say that we have made significant progress towards realising that vision,” says CEO Anmol Kukreja in an exclusive interview with Music Plus along with Amarjeet Singha, President – IPs and Programming; and Chief Business Officer Roydon Bangera. The top brass at SkillBox are talking to us about the evolution of their business and what’s going to make the live industry tick in 2023.

SkillBox is a live entertainment and ticketing platform but it all began with personal investment from Kukreja who used his own resources to make sure the business hit the floor in 2016. Following that, the company was fortunate to secure initial support from then MD of Harman India – Sandip Ranjhan, who later became one of the main investors in SkillBox. These funds covered initial costs including first hires.

Today, the business has evolved to propel the amalgamation of club/music festival curation with ticketing business while becoming a one-stop solution for all artist needs. Kukreja explains, “We are a data driven artist and promoter friendly live entertainment platform with strong focus on making the technology part of the live entertainment industry robust and this will be our core focus area in the year 2023 where we will provide artists and promoters with data-driven analytics.”

Could you talk about Skillbox and the journey from the beginning to now, where the platform allows people to book artists as well as buy tickets to some of the country’s biggest events? Plus, you’re are also venturing into the live music space with Lemonade Goa. 

Anmol Kukreja (AK): Our goal was to break even within the first year of operation but achieved this feat only in the fifth year of our operations as Covid restricted the growth for a couple of years but once the covid wave ended, we were not only able to break-even but make exponential growth and profit by continually seeking out ways to streamline our processes, and continuously seeking out new sales opportunities.

Once we had established a solid foundation and were consistently turning a profit, we began to think about scaling up. We expanded our business model, opened up brand agency model, and invested in people to scale up our team.

Overall, it has been a challenging but rewarding journey as an entrepreneur. It has required a lot of hard work, persistence, and the willingness to take calculated risks, but seeing the business grow and thrive has made it all worth it.

Can you comment on the growing numbers of the Indian music industry/ live IPs space at large? 

Roydon Bangera (RB): We are a live entertainment company. On one hand, we are a ticketing services company and the other side of our business is fuelling our own events/IPs and festivals, we also work with a number of brands handling their pan India experiential marketing activations. Data is the most important when it comes to planning, be it owned IPs or planning events and activations for brands. And, because of how we operate, we have access to a great deal of data from our own platforms and IPs + insights that brand partners share with us for their IPs. 

We match ticketing data as proxy for where an artist’s fans are located, the scale of their audience determining the scale of the gig. For e.g. we recently got down Australian guitarist and songwriter, Plini. Our ticketing platform data signalled that we should focus efforts on club gigs in Delhi and Bangalore and as part of a larger line-up in Mumbai (where we programmed his band as a part of Live Box festival). 

What sets SkillBox apart or provides you guys with an edge over the others? 

RB: We operate in every part of the live entertainment flywheel. We have different verticals consisting of event ticketing, IP conceptualisation and execution, brand activations, content & performance marketing. We truly believe that building your own IPs is the future. The way we are licensing international IPs to bring them to India, would like to see the opportunity of licensing one of our own IPs to the world someday. We both service other promoters in the country and also work alongside them as a fellow promoter. We both service artists as their ticketing partner for their tours and also program them for our IPs. This puts us in a unique position within the live music industry. 

Could you comment on the evolution of live events in the last couple of years especially with the digitalisation of Indian music? 

Amarjeet Singha (AS): Live Events have been growing exponentially in India and we have all seen this very evidently post the pandemic. The digitalisation of Indian music has given new insights and brought in more promoters and fans in the ecosystem. As data via DSPs, social media handles, etc, are public, this affects the decision-making for both promoters and fans but overall has helped push the live events industry in the right direction.

We have seen many new artists come into the picture just driven by streaming numbers during the pandemic and who have become major mainstay artists right now. Live music discovery is also changing, with a bulk of it being discovered socially on Instagram. The number of live events happening all around the country is at an all-time high and the same goes for fans attending these events across all genres. 

What sort of trends have you witnessed in terms of live music in the country?

AS: We have seen that there is always a trending genre in the country, which goes on for a couple of seasons / years before it shifts again. Ten years ago it was rock and EDM (commercial) and then we saw the trend shift to hip-hop (thanks to the Bollywood push) and right now the trending genre is techno and house (more underground). We are slowly seeing the Indie / singer-songwriter space rise and we also hope that rock will be making a huge comeback soon.

For the new year, is there anything that Indian festival goers can look forward to?

AK: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of life around the world, including the way festivals and other large gatherings are organised and attended. In India, the situation regarding the pandemic and its impact on festivals is subject to change and may vary depending on the region and specific festival.

Are there any trends in ticketing/ booking artists/ live IPs that you can talk about? 

AS: Trending genres tend to be cyclical which I had mentioned earlier. We are definitely tuned in to those signals. As for booking acts – we are always on the lookout for breakout / fast developing acts across different genres and this is tracked on a daily basis.  There may be a  breaking artist even from music that is trending on Instagram Reels or TikTok.

DSPs and social numbers also play a huge role for us at the moment while booking artists at any level. While we do initial research on market sentiments, we majorly base our decisions on online numbers where applicable it’s backed by past ticketing data.

Another important factor for us and all other promoters in ticketing is creating the right hype. A fan may like an artist on streaming platforms regularly but that doesn’t necessarily translate to ticket sales. This goes back to when and why they might be listening to an artist for e.g. some music listening is activity driven (working out/focus time, etc.) and they might be listening to some artists purely because they like the artist’s brand of music. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two cases. 

Could you talk about the intersection of blockchain technology and the metaverse with live IPs in India?

AK: An emerging area that has the potential to significantly alter the Indian music industry is the convergence of blockchain technology, the metaverse, and music festivals. Tracking the ownership and rights of music and other creative works can be done more transparently and securely using blockchain technology.

Additionally, blockchain could also enable a more secure and transparent way of ticketing and managing the attendee’s information and ensuring that there is legitimacy in the event ticketing space by restricting scalpers, patrons using fake mobile tickets.

The metaverse, on the other hand, is a virtual world or universe that can be fully immersive, where users can interact with each other and digital objects in real-time. By combining the metaverse with music festivals, it is possible to create virtual festival experiences that are fully immersive, where users can interact with each other, the music and other digital objects in real-time, in a virtual environment. This could enable music festivals to reach a wider audience and overcome the limitations of physical space.

It’s still an emerging field in India, but with the increasing awareness of the potential of the technology, it is possible that we will see more efforts to explore this intersection in India. However, the potential adoption of this technology would depend on the infrastructure and regulatory environment available in India and the willingness of the industry to adapt to these changes.

Overall, the intersection of blockchain technology and the metaverse with music festivals in India has the potential to revolutionise the way music festivals are organised, and experienced, and will be interesting to see how this technology evolves and how it will be adopted in India in the future.

What are you currently working on?

AK:  As a tech platform, we are working towards driving platform growth by the use of data and algorithms to personalise the user experience. We are working hard on creating a recommendation system for the artists, promoters and consumers and a very strong analytics engine that will use data from the platform on the past behaviour of similar events to suggest predictive sale metrics, provide promoters with real time artist data and understand ticket buyers behaviour, making the platforms more smart and efficient with time.

AS: We are currently working on some projects starting Feb 2023 (to be announced soon) and the calendar for the main 2023-24 season which will majorly involves tours with international artists and some big one off concerts. Our owned IPs will be back for a new season. 

RB: The past year has seen us working with a number of brands, be it for our own IPs or SkillBox working as an agency for brands to help them reach out to their desired audience through the medium of live music. We have been working with brands such as Royal Enfield, Diageo (Royal Challenge American Pride, Johnnie Walker), Pernod Ricard (Jameson, Absolut), Budweiser, Corona, Heiniken Silver, John Jacobs, Greater Than to name a few, the next year will see us strengthen these partnerships and at the same time build  partnerships and also new brands who are looking to live music to build their brand. 

What will SkillBox offer consumers in the next few quarters? 

RB: SkillBox has seen exponential growth in the past year, seeing a 5x increase in events listed. The New Year will see us grow our own IPs and festivals at a much larger scale, bringing down some us of the most awaited international artists in the live space, there is a very strong electronic international base but lacks live artists right now and we hope to be able to fill that gap.

We will also be expanding into the comedy genre and are working on some interesting projects in that space. The next year will definitely see us grow stronger in brand activations and we already have things lined up for that. We will be strengthening our tech that will be providing ample analytical data to our partners, promoters & artists that in turn helps them.

For now the next big focus of ours is going to be powering ticketing and technology for VH1 Supersonic. Our aim is to create as seamless an experience as possible for attendees, lowering the time it takes them to get from the time they enter the festival gates to their favourite stage. 

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