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The Truth Behind the Surge in Independent Music During the Lockdown

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The independent music space seems to have benefited the most from the ongoing lockdown. It has witnessed an upward spike in numbers across music streaming and other digital platforms. Previously lesser-known artists have become stars in their own right.

Since the lockdown was implemented, music streaming platforms have indicated that Indian audiences are now discovering more non-film/indie music. The growth in listeners has been so remarkable that the genre has now entered the mainstream category and many streaming platforms have now incorporated it into their playlists while radio stations are giving it more minutes than ever.

While many independent artists have been topping the charts, many others have taken over the live digital space. These artists have been performing live shows regularly which have been watched by their fans across the country and even aboard.

Artists along with the digital platforms are using the medium as a means to provide safe and uncompromised entertainment options. These mediums not only ensured that fans don’t miss out on the entertainment but also made certain the larger good of the community by encouraging them to stay safe at home.

How much of the spike in numbers can be accounted to independent music and musicians?

Or should it be attributed to the absence of film music? Will the independent space retain the ground it has covered once film music is back? Are live digital shows sustainable in the long run?

A virtual rendition of a live experience breaks geographical boundaries and restrictions allowing consumers and fans who are unable to physically attend an event, to still experience the same virtually, thus growing the live entertainment ecosystem, slowly but surely,” said Albert Almeida, COO – Live Entertainment, BookMyShow.

Music-related digital offerings have found a good amount of success and popularity with fans nationwide. This has brought into the fold audiences from markets, the tiers 3-4, that have not experienced live entertainment previously thus potentially reflecting in positive outcomes when on-ground concerts and festivals start again.

Artists across genres and formats have welcomed this move and this transition has enabled them to witness a phenomenal audience demand for their performances.

Shedding light on the digital medium’s recent growth, Almeida added,

We have seen a strong uptake for mainstream as well as niche genres such as Indian classical and fusion for our music-related offerings apart from workshops and masterclasses. With the number of offerings having significantly increased since we first started on March 25th, the customer engagement and the size of the community has grown steadily, with audiences lapping up these experiences like never before.”

This format will help grow the reach of quality content, bring artists closer to their audiences (across the world), allow them the opportunity to experiment with newer formats, and build a possible new and steady revenue stream.

The way to success

However, such a model can be successful at scale, only if all stakeholders across genres and formats of entertainment – from talent managers, artists, promoters, production entities and labels to marketing & distribution channels, regulatory bodies – work together and remain flexible to ensure a new economic model is created and sustained.

With the investment and innovations that are being seen around this virtual model that has emerged in these pandemic times, will the digital entertainment format live on even when we return to on-ground live entertainment experiences? Can an out-of-home live experience and a live experience delivered home co-exist? Will the average Indian audience, who looks out for freebies, dole out cash to watch a performance at home?

When we started offering virtual events for the first few weeks of the lockdown, they were completely free. Today, 70% of the virtual events on the platform including music-related offerings are ticketed, with a majority being hosted on BookMyShow Online, our streaming platform for live & virtual entertainment. The ticket sales for the category have catapulted, growing over 100x in less than 3 months (as of August 2020). While these early signs of revenues through ticket sales and brand partnerships have been encouraging, they do not compensate for a live experience in anyway,stressed Almeida.

These are certainly encouraging signs for the music industry. The digital mediums have served as ideal platforms for the ‘niche genre’ and indie artists. Various lesser-known artists and genres have found new audiences and are gaining in popularity. Artists and collectives like Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Rashid Khan, Ustad Shujaat Khan, Taufiq Qureshi, Parikrama, Rupam Islam, and Carlton Braganza to name a few, have attracted thousands of music-lovers from across the country.

My initial shows were free for the audience but then I realised to increase their interest I needed to do ticketed concerts with better audio-visual quality. What we also understood that if it’s a free show, people don’t really value it. For the first show we sold around 630 tickets and for my recent show we have had 1400 plus people buying and attending our shows,” informed Rupam Islam, singer/songwriter and front man of Bengali rock band Fossils.

The role of streaming platforms

It is not only the live performance space which has witnessed a spurt of indie and niche musicians. The music streaming platforms have witnessed a similar rise. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a strong affinity for non-mainstream artists in India. The preference to listen to artists and bands that not many people have heard of is higher when compared to the average Indian music listener.

Commenting on this development, Spotify said,

Consumption on Spotify in India reflects a good balance between international and local music. Within local music, the demand for film music continues to be steady, but what has grown substantially is the ecosystem around non-film, and specifically independent music. Several artists, even those who are predominantly associated with the film industry, released their non-film music more frequently over the last few months. On the platform side, Spotify has several playlists that feature this non-film music not just locally, but in curated playlists across other Spotify markets as well.”

Several indie labels have emerged to serve the needs of the booming indie music scene in India. This development along with the keen interest of radio stations, music distributors, and music streaming platforms, in indie music, has been an important component in the segment’s growth. They have provided artists a vital and stronger platform to break through the local and global music stages.

This has helped propel the music journey of new and local artists including Mali, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, When Chai Met Toast, Dhruv Visvanath, and Hanita Bhambri.

A lot of singer/songwriters or bands record their music at home and don’t have to visit a studio. This helped them record and release new content even during the pandemic. Along with this the roles of distribution companies, playlists and social media also helped. The independent musicians have a bunch of interesting music ready which the OTT platforms are keen to explore. Also film music is mostly recorded on a work for hire basis which wasn’t really possible. Things will change once film music makes a comeback but the lockdown has given us a loophole to squeeze in,” feels Ashwin Gopakumar, vocalist, When Chai Met Toast.

Will film music prevail in the end?

It remains an undisputed fact that film music has always ruled the charts and airwaves in the country. The high production quality along with star power gives it a huge advantage over the other sectors. Film music is and will continue to be popular in India. Recently many Bollywood music composers such as Amit Trivedi, Vishal Bhardwaj, Salim-Sulaiman, and singer Arijit Singh have also launched their own labels.

The recorded music industry is like a Systematic Investment Plan (SIP). Value of a music IP will always grow. COVID 19 has changed some music consumption patterns and non-film music has done far better than film music. But the real reasons for it are far different from what may be publicly assumed,” stressed Mandar Thakur, COO, Times Music.

He further added,

Non-film music has anyway been doing much better over last 2-3 years due to the sheer amount of talent we have and amazing songs that are being put out there by labels like us and many others. Platforms like YouTube and Tik Tok have supported this big time and reached regional markets like never before. Due credit must be given to them. COVID has nothing to do with non-film music doing better. However because of the sheer non-availability and non-releases of films, film music has been consumed less and non-film music has replaced some of those listening patterns. It is quite simple, people listen to what is put out there. Whilst search and recommendations certainly do play a role, there is nothing like upfront exposure to songs or genres to get them moving and listened to.”

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It goes without saying that the independent music space has no dearth of talent. With the exposure, it has received recently and bigger industry players looking to explore this space, it remains to be seen if it can cope with film music when it makes a comeback.

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