| 24 Feb 2024
T Suresh: "EMI has always been profitable"

It is time to say goodbye to one of the major music labels- EMI Music India that will soon be merged with Universal Music. In one of the last interviews with EMI Music India managing director T Suresh, runs through his illustrious journey and also talks about the changing dynamics in the music business.


How has your journey been with EMI?

My tenure with EMI has been for around six and a half years and there are number of things that have changed over the years. These changes are not only restricted to EMI alone but to the overall music industry with the biggest change being from physical to digital.

Highlight the major changes witnessed in the industry over the years?

Earlier physical was the largest revenue stream which has now turned down and the role of digital has grown from a minor to a major revenue stream. Also, the licensing situation has changed in India . Large amount of money is coming from public performances, television, radio and advertisements. Laws have become well understood by people and enforcement has become better so today there are many ways to monetize music.

Consumption of music today has helped businesses to become much bigger. Two of the biggest shows of the year by artistes David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia had pulled around 20,000 odd people and the roads were blocked and it was reported in the newspapers next day. With EDM festivals like Sunburn and international music acts the Indian music industry has become substantially large. In the last two years, we had  around 20-25 shows; and this year too has been considerably good.

Live music has become big in all formats be it bollywood singers or reality shows singers who have flourishing careers today. The top singers what they did seven years back is lot smaller than what they do now.

As far as EMI is concerned in addition to adapting to changes from physical to digital, we have increased our share of local music. We had about 5-10 per cent of Indian music and 90-95 per cent international music and now we are 70 per cent international music and 30 per cent Indian music. Our share of Indian music has been steadily rising in the last six years.

How has EMI grown during your tenure?

EMI was very successful in adapting to the change when the physical to digital transformation happened. It was more challenging for a non-film company than a film company. For a film company it was easy to make money through caller tunes, but we were without Hindi films. Fortunately, we were successful in raking in moolah from digital that was a big challenge. We fought new ways and made money from International and non-film music.

We were also very successful with what was called embedding in mobile phones as we were the major players in that. So we did a very big deal with Sony Ericsson-Robbie Williams and Asha Bhosle. We were very successful with Motorola also. Many of our English songs went into handsets and then with Nokia also we did a lot of preloads and that was the biggest opportunity available for any non-film music. We were much focused in these areas and we took a large share of those markets. Later on we found right partners like Hungama and Nokia stores that comprised of not only Hindi film music alone but international music as well.

In all these formats, the trend of International music started emerging and it went strong. The good thing was that we found opportunities where non-film could go faster than others and we focused on that and for us it gradually became a smooth ride from physical to digital. Earlier we were international company then we introduced South Indian music followed by devotional that gave us significant amount of growth.  There was no problem of stagnation because we explored new categories of music and areas where we were not stronger earlier.

EMI has a strong hold in south India.

The largest cultural music festival of India is held in south in the month of December especially for the classical music buffs. We have thousand concerts held against 20-30 venues across Chennai all throughout the month of December and early January. It is considered as the biggest music festival of its kind in India. South has a culture of consuming music and that worked well for us.

It so happened that there was a large south Indian Carnatic company that wanted a partner. We became their distributors for five years. When we took on the licensing for Carnatic music in south we began understanding the market. So we felt the need to create our own reach or things that are not traditional, but in-lines with what today’s modern people wanted. The acquisition gave us chance to understand the market. We started modernizing Carnatic classical and south Indian devotional. We started distribution after we took over a major south Indian company and that is how we got into south.

Perhaps, I can say that we are very strong in south. After the classical music season, there is a store in Chennai- AVM that goes very strong in classical music sales. This year we were the sellers of the physical projects. Earlier, we were number two but now we became number one. So our hold is little stronger in south and that can be because the competition is much stronger in north and people have been there for a much longer time. In south, many regional players have been active than the national players so in that sense maybe sustained investments were not that high.

Are you satisfied with your contribution towards raking moolah for EMI India?

EMI has always been profitable and we have been a company that doesn’t particularly tolerate losses. Even in bad years we have been making money and this year has been good for EMI. I don’t remember any loses we have made in the last six years.

We are not a company that makes losses, it is not in our DNA. We have been profitable in digital and physical front. Look at our packaging we spend lot of time designing it. Every product that we give out has a pattern there is something or the other we put to make it unique.

Lastly, where do you see the future of EMI with Universal Music?

I am not a part of the EMI's future and so I refuse to talk about it.