| 29 Nov 2022
The Future of Indian Independent Music Industry

Indi Pop – Indie – Independent – the three avatars of what we call in India as non-film or non-Bollywood music.

India is the only country where music has so many different definitions. With over 100 years of Bollywood music to its credit, one cannot blame the fans of music in India to not consider any other form of music. However, one cannot also ignore the fact that ghazals and devotional music did manage to create a huge fan following even then even though most of the ghazal songs became popular due to Bollywood films.

True artist recognition emerged for the Indian artists in the 90s where three catalysts were responsible to make it commercial – record labels, television and the artists. One might argue about the quality of the music and the artists during the Indi Pop era but one can never ignore the popularity. With television giving airplay to the videos in high frequency, there was just no way for the youth to miss the artists during those times.

The first half of the 2000s saw the decline of Indi Pop but the seeds of self-expression had been sown and gave birth to what became known as Indie. The first manifestation of Indie was seen via rock bands that were emerging across the country and building their own local and faithful fan following across languages and regions. The bands and their fans became inseparable. These were fans who were willing to spend hard earned money to buy their favourite artist’s/group’s merchandise and tickets to a show. Thus arrived – music festivals.

In 2010, Hungama was one of the first players to look at the space of non-film music in a commercial sense and popularised the word – Independent. Back then, the word stemmed from the philosophy of the artist truly being independent and on his/her/their own. This new definition of non-film music and talent allowed even solo artists to look at their work as art that could be commercialised.

From 2010 - 2020, the independent scene exploded across various areas including content aggregators, record labels, regional talent, music festivals, venues, talent management, etc. Ironically, in spite of so many players being a part of the ecosystem, the true success has only been in a handful of artists who have had huge investments behind them either via the labels or the artists themselves. Along with that, until 2020, Bollywood music continued to get more attention across media. But the pandemic changed the game completely. With Bollywood releases coming practically to a halt, independent artists managed to build their presence across platforms and aggregators through social media and new content. An unprecedented 1000+ singles were released through the year as officially quoted in the media and that is truly an amazing feat. This included new, upcoming and established talent.

However, while artists were able to put out new creations, 2020 has been a huge setback for artists across the board with no live events - a source of income that allowed them to sustain their careers. While a few popular talent were able to get shows by performing virtually, this worked only for corporate events or weddings, which could not hold back on the entertainment quotient. Venues, indoor locations, festivals, etc. have been badly hit too impacting the overall event industry as well.

We have entered into the 4th month of 2021 and instead of getting back to normal, we are back in increased restrictions. Artists had not even recovered from the setback of 2020 and they have to figure out how to keep themselves sustained. However, while we have seen artists across the board struggling to keep themselves afloat, there has been a huge momentum across artforms and categories in the influencer space – a space that is all about a community and a fan following that one can influence with their art or conversation.

In my opinion, while artists are waiting to get back into the live space and earn the lucrative income they were used to, this is the time they need to focus on building their fan base. There are multiple platforms that enable this and the strategy has to be to focus on the same and utilise this time fruitfully. The value is in building a brand out of yourself which you can monetise in the future and the sooner you do it, the earlier that future will come. These are definitely the worst times that the world has ever scene and while we are seeing some parts of the world opening up, India is going back into restrictions. I believe artists have to come together and spread the awareness of what is happening to them due to inappropriate COVID behaviour by people all around and use their art to educate people.

When it comes to the event space too, I think it is time for us to accept the fact that even if this disease simmers down, it is not going to go away for good. And the solution is not to stop doing events but instead to set standards and execute them accordingly and collectively as an industry to be able to build confidence across – authorities, brands, artists and consumers.

Over the years, this ecosystem has proven its capability of being very lucrative across avenues. The only way to get back to that is if every player in the space makes it an individual responsibility to put the most stringent processes and restrictions as applicable so that we can get back to running the business. The pandemic has definitely made the industry sit up and notice independent artists in a way that was never seen before with even a medium like radio considering giving it attention. But the fact of the matter is that unless every player looks at the independent space as a business, it will be very tough to grow and sustain it. There is definitely a lot of work to be done but the time has come now to do it and give it the focus it needs.

(Authored by Soumini Sridhara Paul, Senior Vice President, Hungama Artist Aloud)