RadioandMusic
| 11 Jul 2020
OK Listen Vijay Basrur: "Indian Ocean and ThemClones drive traffic"

With the digital trend set to dominate music market, artistes too have willingly accepted this inevitable change and are exploring newer opportunites to attain the right exposure for their music. Also encashing on this move was music enthusiast Vijay Basrur who founded the digital platform OK Listen.

Having over 16 years of experience in digital, mobile, internet, e-commerce fields, Basrur’s aim was to provide a one-stop destination for independent musicians to sell their music through the platform globally, also creating a user-friendly experience for aficionados purchasing the music. The online store is just about three-months old and already boast of a vast repertoire of 47 bands and 50 plus albums.

In a dialogue with Radioandmusic.com’s Chandni Mathur, Basrur elaborates on the functioning of the portal and his initiatives to stay apart from the increasing herd of digital platforms.

Excerpts:

When did the music portal launch and what was the aim?

The idea struck me primarily because I wanted to buy some music of ThemClones which was to be sent by post as a convenient digital platform was not available. I tried using Artist Aloud and I found the experience very confusing. And Flyte on the other hand did not have smaller musicians. They were more tuned to working with record labels. So I put my money into building a digital platform for independent artistes. We started working on it since February-March, with a design studio in Goa and a technology partner in Pune. We have been operational for about three-months now and we have a repertoire of artistes like Raghu Dixit, Indian Ocean, Yellow Pages and more.

Elaborate a bit on the platform and its functioning.

It’s a non-exclusive, contemporary site that fits across all devices including tablets, PC and mobile. The music purchase process is also pretty simple. Secondly, I think we are the only digital platform today which allows Indian musicians to sell globally. We have kept the proposition very simple and share 70 per cent of the net profit with artistes. The minute the music goes up for sale, the artistes are provided with a login id and password to check their sales. Secondly, we pay out every month directly into any Indian bank account. Within three-months of being operational, our revenues have doubled and the traffic has increased. We also have a wallet based system for payment with top-ups and 25-30 per cent of the traffic use it with around 40-45 per cent of returning traffic which keeps coming back to discover new music.

A couple of artistes also decided that their music should be for free so a band called ‘Colaba Point’ from Mumbai and ‘Emergence’ from Auroville put up their albums for Rs 50 on our site. Inspite of that ‘Colaba Point’ sold around 30 copies of their album on our platform.

How is the music selected? Do you have an internal panel to judge the quality?

As long as the musician own the rights of the music, it is studio recorded and good, we feature it on the site. We do run it through a small panel since we don’t want to just put any music on the site. There are a couple of musicians and friends who judge the quality of the music, the facebook page and the number of likes on it and sound cloud link to see how many people have played that song. So we look for quantitative information which validates if the music has been heard.

How do you promote the music to boost sales?

The beauty of the platform is that so far we have not spent a single rupee on marketing. We are putting in place a very strong social media strategy. The band also talks about the music which lends itself towards promotions. We have also come up with an interesting way helping musicians monetize their music offline. Most of the musicians earn through gigs and the only way to monetize through that is when they carry cds with them and sell it. So we have launched ‘Album Cards’ essentially the size of a visiting card and has a unique code number attached to it which is also present on the album.

So after a gig, instead of selling the cd, the band sells the card. The user pays the band for the card and gets the code number from the card, puts his email address and code number and starts downloading the music from the site. It’s an offline way of payment but an online way of consumption. Through this the band takes ownership of driving up the sales, gives us a lot of visibility and the investment from the artiste is nil. We have also curated sets or compilations like a top 10 from the site and the idea is to sell it at a very aggressive price point of Rs 50. We can still share revenue at the backhand with every artiste on every song sold. We are also talking to a couple of people in the music industry to help with the curation. The idea is to help music personalities endorse or help newer musicians through this curation.

What were the initial challenges you faced? Did bands readily sign up considering the digital viability?

Honestly, no they did not. In digital music today, there are two problems. The mindset of the consumer and the band. A lot of the bands are not aware how the digital platform works. Some of the bands are very comfortable selling cds. It took us a long while to convince Indian Ocean. Raghu Dixit took a shorter time and signed up two days after we spoke to him. So a lot of newer musicians are very open to embrace this digital platform. The older musicians are probably taking a bit of time but they know that it is inevitable that music is getting digital. And fortunately for us, digital sales are overtaking physical. Flipkart has around 59 albums and is eight-months old while we have around 43 albums and are three-months old, so it’s not a huge gap. We are catching up and adding more albums and bands to our catalogue.

How do you aim to stay differentiated from similar platforms like Artist Aloud? Considering their repertoire, they have launched several initiatives on the web and now TV. Are you also thinking of the same in the long run?

We would be open to expose the catalogue of our artistes. But if you talk about many of the upcoming artistes, they have not really got much of a push from Artist Aloud. The bigger artistes are still getting the cream out of the platform. Somewhere we want to be true to the fact that we will continue to promote independent and new music. It’s challenging but at the same time I think going big, dilutes the entire experience of music. The paying consumer of digital music today, is a very sensible and sensitive consumer whom you cannot attract by just throwing a TV ad. Bringing forth a new experience to the users, we are talking to a couple of Assamese musicians to get an interesting Assamese folk album exposure. I am also looking at Carnatic classical as a genre and talking to young musicians to come up with their music.

What are the kind of downloads you receive? Is the trend more towards new releases or popular albums?

New releases tend to see a bump really because that’s when people start hearing about it. But what we have noticed is that while people come to buy a certain kind of music, they are also discovering other music. We have built a very simple discovery mechanism based on genres and tags, and that helps discovery.

Could you elaborate a bit on the revenue deal with artistes? If an album does not sell, what is the criterion for payment?

We don’t charge the artistes to put up content on our site. If they don’t earn money then obviously we don’t remit it. But we have something called Song of the Week where we put out a song for just Rs 5. So even if you sell one single in a month, you can still remit the revenue share of that money. 70 per cent is the net revenue, so if it is a Rs 100 album, we deduct a certain fee for payment gateway charges and service tax. So net of all these charges, 70 per cent of it is what we remit to the artistes.

Name an album and artiste/band who have got the highest buys until now?

The album name is ‘The Inner Self Awakens’ by the band called Agam. Being their debut album, they are nearly touching 300 downloads now being just over a fortnight that they have started selling their music. People are buying it from across the globe like Germany, UK, New Zealand, Malaysia, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and more. That’s been our biggest success so far.

What are the initiatives you are offering for artiste promotion?

Every time they upload an album we give them some space on the website. We have a space where we always talk about new releases. We promote them extensively on social media and are in talks with a couple of music magazines like Score and Big M to give music reviews and link it back to OK Listen. People can read about the music and they know where to buy it from. So whenever new music comes out we will feed it into these magazines, blogs and digital sites making sure they drive traffic back.

What is the kind of research you do to witness the trend of sales?

We compile reports every fortnight and going forward we will make it real time also. It gives us an ability to understand what is selling. What we are focusing right now is to increase the reach of independent music both offline and online. A couple of independent film-makers have come to us and asked if they can use some of the tracks from the site in their movie. There is definitely consumer unrest around discovering new content and our aim is to feed it at the right price and conveniently.

Being an online platform, have you faced any piracy problems?

No, we have not faced any piracy problems. Today what is really very popular is bound to get pirated, and with us the people who have heard the music are the ones who have bought it. But if an Indian Ocean album releases on the site, I know it’s bound to get pirated. So you have to start looking at the positive side and see how many people are actually buying the music. Pricing things conveniently and also making it available will help solve piracy.

Do established artistes help drive traffic?

Our strategy is to obviously reach out to bigger artistes as that is where the fan following will come from. Indian Ocean and ThemClones help drive traffic. We talk to a lot of artistes but most of them have an agreement with record labels and we don’t work with labels as they have a limitation to sell only in India.

Do you have any promoters or advertisers on-board?

Right now it’s just a self-funded project by me but we are working on partnerships with magazines like Big M and Score, digital platforms like ‘What’s the Scene’ and internet radio stations which have a very focused audience and will help take us to a very different stage.

Which are the new artistes you are featuring on the site?

We have signed up a 28 year old sarod prodigy Praashekh Borkar whose two albums will be out this week. Apart from that we are also releasing a band called Big Bang Blues which is a blues band from Delhi, Pragnya Wakhlu, Vipin Mishra Project, Grey Shack from Chennai and more.

What are some of the future initiatives you are taking for the site and artistes?

Apart from the album cards, we are also thinking of maybe promoting a band for every month or so when their album releases. In the next six-months, the variety of music that we will have will be very different from any other platform in India today.

Any plans of expanding to other music genres?

We don’t have any bias towards genres. But right now we are staying away from any kind of film music because it has always been with record labels. That’s the only genre we may not touch. We have not really explored the international music angle much, but we are in talks with some sites where we might get some content from them. But the problem with international bands is that there is very little we can do to increase visibility in India. If an international band is looking for a platform in India, we are happy to partner with them. But right now we are just focused on curating content from India. There is so much of content in India to exploit so it will be a while before we start getting into international acts.