With the most subscribed channel on YouTube and some of the online platform’s biggest acts, India’s music industry looks to be growing at an unparalleled rate. Ben Gilbert investigates this emergent market to find out why Spotify is so keen to place a stake in the ground…
Across demographics, through societies and beyond borders, the digitisation of the music business is a storied and complex tale about 21st century culture. Once divisive, this global connectivity has created a vibrant if enduringly testing landscape, where traditional infrastructures have been reimagined and rebuilt. But how many people actually predicted the emergence of a new superpower to test the dominant existing Western hegemony?
Such a reality is compellingly illustrated by the digital platforms and tools that measure their power and importance in this new era. In the early part of 2019, the leading musicians on YouTube have consistently been Indian. Earlier this week, Music Ally reported that, according to global views, the list is headed by Neha Kakkar, with a weekly audience of 225m, followed by Alka Yagnik and Kumar Sanu, who has a similar reach to Ariana Grande.
Which Indian music label is poised to “reshape global culture”?
This news followed a recent report by MIDiA Research, focusing on the success of the Indian music label and movie studio, T-Series, which is threatening to “reshape global culture”. Now the most subscribed YouTube channel on the planet, with approximately 75m subscribers, the abiding thread here presents both a challenge and an opportunity for labels, artists and rightsholders. Naturally, this is one that Spotfiy has been eager to exploit.
Despite an ugly and very public legal battle played out in court with Warner Music Group last week, the streaming giant finally launched in India and has, in a matter of days, secured more than one million active users across its free and premium services. These are undiscovered frontiers rich with potential for the consumer, artist and wider industry, as Mandar Thakur, COO of Times Music, headquartered in Mumbai, confirmed in an interview with Synchtank.
Indian music experts analyse explosion of the domestic market
How does he explain recent events? “Growth in the Indian music market has simply been down to a massive surge in data consumption and streaming audio and more so video. India is a ‘video-first’ story. It’s also a ‘mobile-only’ market. These data hungry consumers have been fed unlimited amounts of extremely low-cost data, fronted by the country’s leading telecom player Reliance Jio and other companies. That simple fact has led to an increased consumption in content,” said Mandar.
Priyanka Khimani, co-founder and lead partner of Anand and Anand & Khimani, also in Mumbai, identified the main beneficiary. “In all of this, in my view, the artist emerges as a key player and trumps everything else. The entire ecosystem, today more so than ever, celebrates the artist as the centre of all its focus. Marketing strategies, social media presence, streaming numbers, scale of collaboration, PR spends, distribution efforts, the list goes on…all of it is structured around the artist,” she noted.
But there will be other significant boosts felt by the broader international music community, suggested Thakur. “I think the Western markets are already seeing some impact, all in a positive way. For businesses, India will hold a prime place due to the sheer amount of consumers it has, perhaps being the last green field market left with a huge English-speaking population.”
Collaboration and “music that transcends the Indian audiences” are key
This observation gathers further momentum via a Music Business Worldwide report, which suggests there are currently approximately 150m audio digital subscribers in India. However, it also estimates that only 1% are paying customers, with 85% utilising free subscriptions. Notably, these figures amplify Spotify’s achievement already in recruiting what is, essentially, just 0.07% of the country’s total population of 1.34bn.
Such profound possibilities will perhaps best be realised through collaboration and the creation of “music that transcends the Indian audiences,” explained Priyanka, a feeling reiterated by Thakur. “With consumers listening to hits from all over the world, there is no concept/genre of ‘world music’ as such anymore. In fact, over the past few years some amazing global talents (like Akon, Diplo etc.) have been part of Bollywood music projects and artists like AR Rahman are doing some brilliant work in Hollywood.
“It’s important to note here that India has a more than 100-year-old musical heritage and that coupled with young talent exposed to global tastes creates an exciting platform for musical collaborations,” he continued.
Can the sync industry exploit India’s burgeoning influence?
Priyanka, who has been advising Warner during their dispute with Spotify, recognises there are multiple roadblocks to conquer before India’s position as a global superpower in the music industry is assured. “There still remains a great deal of ambiguity in the application and interpretation of various provisions of the Indian copyright law. A lot of this directly impacts the ease of doing business in the Indian music industry. Blanket licensing deals for platforms are a classic example of this,” she commented.
This feeling was repeated by Thakur, who pinpointed the challenges in delivering scale and profits, alongside the “next to insane” acquisition cost escalations of Bollywood music and the balancing of economics between the music industry and its stakeholders. However, both are already seeing promising signs for the sync side of the business.
“Income from sync usage has certainly gone up from what it was before,” said Thakur. “The Indian sync market is still in an infant stage albeit growing fast. Usage of international music is increasing year on year in line with the boom in online usage of utilities and necessities catering to an upwardly mobile demographic.
“On the downside, however, the concept of a music supervisor is still to take shape, so most deals happen directly between the brand and the rights owner or between the ad film maker/agency and the rights owner. Approximately 80-90% of deals are walk-ins. Typically for sync, hits take precedence over appropriate/relevant music,” explained Thakur, who concluded: “I see that changing fast.” Part evolution, part revolution, the global music industry has experienced a lot of change over the past 20 years. It’s not over yet.