| 03 Jun 2023
Devraj Sanyal: "Film and non-film music genres should have an equal play"

Universal Music India and SAARC MD Devraj Sanyal shares his view on what needs to be done to grow the music business, especially in the non-film genre and how technology can be used to achieve his mission.

The digital revolution in the music industry has by far been driving positive growth: today it accounts for 65 per cent of our business with the remainder being accounted for by physical consumption. On a historical time clock, the shift is happening in almost no-time at all.

It is estimated that 35 per cent of physical non-pirated music still generates about Rs 300 crore (or Rs 3 billion) revenues; not something you can sniff at, it is quite substantial. The fact is that while digital will continue to grow, physical will also for a while. From 2012 to 2013, there was a hockey stick rise. This transition is expected to go on till 2016.

I am concentrating on non-film music though Bollywood constitutes the major chunk of the Indian music industry because I believe the time for non-film music has come. From international stars, Priyanka Chopra, Sonu Nigam to Adnan (Sami), non-film is today growing. Five years ago, Sami was selling 10 million records.

In today’s day, Bollywood is reigning as one song from an album becomes popular and generates tremendous custom. One great song, Kolaveri or Dhinka Chika becomes popular and then overall numbers increase.

We have more than 50 per cent share of the non-film genre because of Rahman, Adnan and Priyanka’s music sales. In lhe past 18 months from nowhere, we have come to account for half of what Bollywood music churns out. I am trying to create a scenario where both film and non-film genres survive: each of them should have an equal play. For me non-film includes regional music, Indie Hindi pop and international.

The classical genre is growing slowly but the non-film part will be cracked first in its entirety before we go into niche genres. Electronica is a big part of international music; today it is on the way to accounting for the biggest piece of music sales. A year ago, we launched a sub-label called Counter Base Records that publishes electronic music alone. We have also launched two sub-labels - one is Decca and another is Deutsche Grammophon- number one in the classical domain worldwide. There are people listening to classical music but we don’t know how to get to them. Only with more and more services emerging, we will be in a position to give music lovers what they want.

Piracy is not the problem. If you pirate, you have to go to a peer-to-peer site and find seeders; it’s a really lengthy process. In the next five years, piracy will die as people will not waste their time on P2P sites. I believe in a piracy free future. The biggest piracy killer is going to be pricing and technology. Downloading a track from a pirate site takes 10 minutes of longer and you don’t know what you are getting, whereas we have technology that gives you quality legitimate music with a click like Spotify and iTunes.

The Nokia music store is the biggest piracy buster in the country. Five million tracks a week, 25 crore songs a year, that’s big. In a pirate free environment, I want to provide the easiest route to consume music in terms of technology.

I hope to spearhead a campaign that states ‘Download songs and go to jail.’

For me the future is non-film music. There will be a day – later this year or early next -  when we will enter Bollywood but the way we will do it, will be very different from the models that are existing. My job is very simple to create a robust business without Bollywood now. We have the best businesses processes for a music label in India - every artiste can see his or her royalty dues transparently for himself or herself.  Our payment mechanism is also automatic - we have completely outsourced it. We are a very clean label to work with and that is why every non-film artiste works with us.

Sonu Nigam’s album will be out in the next two- three weeks. Abhijeet Sawant’s and Farhan Sayeed’s (ex-vocalist of Jal) music will be out not soon thereafter. We have a new breaking artist Aditya Jassi, we found him in a competition and will be making him a full-fledged star. He is fantastic. Then we have Ustad Rashid Khan. Last year, we published 31 artistes and this year we will have 40 non-film artistes. With the kind of advertising spend we do, it is almost like doing ten movies in a year.

India is one of the highest performing emerging markets; Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa and China are the other emerging markets.

Technology is driving music- iPhones, HP connect music, Nokia music stores, Flyte have already come and Spotify will come soon. It is a very compelling story. This will change life. The Nokia music store has 35 per cent market share, around 350 million people access it. Imagine where music is going to go.

Millions can now have legally free music and this means there will be huge growth. Anyone who says that music is suffering means the person does not know how to do his job right; he is doing something classically wrong.

Our business philosophy is also what helps us. We just don’t believe in making money for ourselves alone but believe in making it for our partners as well. I learned a lesson very long ago, if you make money along with others then you will make money for yourself, if you try to do a smart deal to make more profits then that creates problems. Unlike my other counterparts, Universal Music India is growing 100 per cent year-on-year and we are making profits.

All of us at the company are committed to continue on this track this and find newer technologies and platforms to make music available to music lovers.