Azadi Records embraces greater digital presence by amping up online release of their music in lockdown

To adapt to changing times during a pandemic, Indian independent label Azadi Records has taken to releasing their music online, anticipating several months before the world reopens to live gigs.

Anurag Tagat June 09, 2020 09:22:38 IST
Azadi Records embraces greater digital presence by amping up online release of their music in lockdown

In what was a first for independent label Azadi Records as well as Resso – one of the latest entrants in the Indian music streaming market, owned by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance – artist Prabh Deep’s new track ‘Chitta’ was available exclusively on the app on 29 May.

It’s one among the many moves that Azadi Records – headquartered in Mumbai and New Delhi; founded in 2017 by Mo Joshi and Uday Kapur – has been making in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. With nationwide lockdowns and curbs on gathering, it’ll be several months, or perhaps even until 2021 when the world will again see live gigs, which is a major lifeline for artistes as well as for labels like Azadi.

Where artistes everywhere are giving live-streaming a chance, Joshi says none of the label’s artistes are keen on it. Instead, they’re leaning on their usually 'longer-term' associations with brands and song sync placements (‘Toofan Main’, with Prabh Deep and producer Sez on the Beat was recorded for Amazon Prime series Paatal Lok, while Delhi duo Seedhe Maut’s 2018 hit ‘Shaktimaan’ recently found its way into a scene from UK series Brassic).

Azadi Records embraces greater digital presence by amping up online release of their music in lockdown

A still from Seedhe Maut's 'Ball'. YouTube screenshot.

Joshi, however, adds: “One of the things we felt that we were definitely on the rise, and that was because of the music. We weren’t doing anything extraordinary marketing wise or branding wise.”

Essentially, Joshi says that the deals and marketing plans all came in to play only because the music was getting them a wide audience. When it comes to quality hip-hop that can represent the Indian scene, Azadi’s roster has released quite a variety – the party-starting, mosh-friendly hip-hop act Seedhe Maut; socially conscious multilingual group Swadesi; the slick genre-fluid, yet hard-hitting compositions of Prabh Deep; rock/R'n'B/rap artiste Tienas, and Kashmiri rapper-producer Ahmer Javed.

Azadi Records embraces greater digital presence by amping up online release of their music in lockdown

Swadesi's 'Mahamari' released by Azadi Records online in May this year

Despite the unwavering quality and the steady run of tours and shows, Azadi hasn't had it easy, considering they’re an independent label. When producer Sez on the Beat called them out for owing him money, the label responded saying they were in a difficult place due to pending payments from their various deals. Joshi says even now, as they get ready to put out more music, “It's always a struggle to balance the books, because there's the investment required to get releases out, (which), at the moment for us, is obviously greater than the return.”

In the time of a pandemic, the label is shifting its focus, more than ever before, on releasing more music from its artistes over the next three to four months, following which one might see an ease of restrictions in public gathering. The live events industry too would likely eye health and safety measures as a serious undertaking when that happens. Some sponsorships have dried up too. “Yes, live revenues dried up, but that's dried up for everyone. We’re still having a heavy catalogue to plan the releases. We’re changing plans but we're not pausing our releases," Joshi says.

There’s a song that Seedhe Maut has worked on for a beer brand, while also making progress on their collaborative album with electronic producer Ritviz. Prabh’s ‘Chitta’ is part of his upcoming second full-length album, following the breakout 2017 hip-hop album 'Class-Sikh'. There will be another single in July. Ahmer and Seedhe Maut will have singles out in June, while Tienas – among the more prolific artistes – will release a 10-track album, besides another five-track EP (“which is slightly more poppier,” Joshi says), an R'n'B Hindi project, and many others, as part of the “60 songs that he’s recorded over the last year.”

Joshi says one hurdle has been trying to figure out effective music videos to promote the songs, but there are “workarounds that we’re doing and looking at.” Seedhe Maut’s latest single ‘Ball’ for example, featured an animated video by illustrator Debjyoti Saha.

Ahmer, who is back home in Srinagar, but is also spending time recording his music in Delhi, says work on more material has been on hold, but he has been able to release music, “even if we’re dealing with this crisis.” The troubles are compounded for the 25-year-old rapper considering mobile network and internet access can be snapped at any point. “I have two tracks that are ready. I don’t feel I’ve faced any difficulty, but being from a place like this, you never know what they can do. That’s the reason I go to Delhi and work from there, so that there’s no delay from my end. I feel like we’re all suffering right now and trying to cope the best we can with this crisis.”

Meanwhile, Joshi plans to keep their non-music related associations going. “There have been really encouraging signs in that sense. On the flip-side, it's also a really interesting time to make sure you make some good partnerships as well,” he says.

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