The best of Music Inc 2019: Discussions on the dominance of film music, streaming services in India

Amit Gurbaxani

Jun 30, 2019 09:42:38 IST

As far as music conferences go, the recently concluded second edition of Music Inc had a higher than average count of WTF moments. The most eye-popping among them was the sight of actor Jackky Bhagnani flossing to the song 'Kamariya', from his film Mitron. Bhagnani was there to talk about his new numerologically named record label JJust Music in the first of the event’s series of fireside chats, the others of which featured far more apposite interviewees such as rappers Divine and Raftaar and VJ turned DJ and festival organiser Nikhil Chinapa. Despite the snafus – occasionally clueless hosts and sloppy stage management – Music Inc was worth the while where it mattered the most: the presentations and the panel discussions.

This year’s overarching theme was ‘Music at the Intersections’ and the talks examined the Indian music industry’s relationships with the fields of advertising, branding, retail, technology, tourism and sports. The execution of the event could have been better but the curation of the speakers was commendable. (Disclaimer: I was invited to moderate a panel about brands and independent music, which I won’t be writing about but which you can view on YouTube, along with the rest of the conference, when it’s uploaded in a few days). As always, I kept my ear out for data, some of the most interesting of which I have collated below.

Film music continues to dominate the market

Although there was a focus on non-film music – there were panels on hip-hop, pop, regional music and “lost genres” (which seemed to be a somewhat unfair euphemism for Indian classical and folk) – two keynote speakers, incidentally both heads of audio-streaming services, pointed out how soundtracks continue to dominate the market. Neeraj Roy, the managing director and CEO of Hungama, said that 80 percent of the music consumed in India is from films. Linguistically, Hindi accounts for 52 percent of the music streamed on Hungama, regional languages 35 percent, and English or international tracks just 13 percent for.

 The best of Music Inc 2019: Discussions on the dominance of film music, streaming services in India

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Amarjit Singh Batra, the managing director of Spotify India, opened his talk with this statistic: over 1,500 films are produced in India every year, which account for 80 percent of the music industry’s revenue. The majority of this is generated by Bollywood OSTs, with tracks from Tamil and Telugu movies making up the next most significant shares. Yet most audio-streaming services have regularly announced how, over the last couple of years, how listenership patterns indicate that consumers are increasingly playing more non-film Indian songs and international tunes.

Mandar Thakur, the COO of Times Music, thinks it’s a matter of time before the decades-long reign of Bollywood ends. Thakur believes the reason the “Indian music industry has been lagging behind only at Rs 850 crore” is because it “had pretty much started off as traders”. “All you are doing is buying a film soundtrack that you have no control over,” he said during a panel on ‘How To Grow Your Business’. “And you are paying atrocious [amounts of] crores for it.” The “rise” of non-film music, on the other hand, is “fueling the business back”. “I suspect in the next five to seven years, our music industry is going to look similar to the western music industry” in that it will be “an artist-driven economy”, he said.

People aren’t listening to enough music on audio-streaming services

Consumers spend between 5-6 hours per month on streaming services in India, which is about a third of the time spent by music fans in the Philippines, who clock in 17 hours a month on such platforms, said Roy. Batra mirrored him when he told us that in India, the average time spent streaming music is one hour a month, which pales in comparison to the United States where it’s one hour per day.

However, Roy added, we spend more time consuming music than anywhere in the world. According to a survey conducted by industry body the Indian Music Industry and Deloitte, Indians tally 21.5 hours per week listening to music as opposed to the global average of 17.8 hours. Which means a lot of this consumption is happening on TV and radio. Interestingly, Roy gave a new figure for the number of users “actively streaming music” in India, pegging it at 250 million, though his number includes YouTube. As regular readers of this column would know, no less than three audio-streaming services, Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk, claim to have over 100 MAUs.

On a panel on ‘Technology, Data and Design’, Jay Mehta, the director of digital business at Sony Music India, highlighted the importance of AI-driven algorithms in augmenting listenership on streaming platforms and giving “the consumer more of what he likes to consume”. Without naming names, Mehta said: “there is a marked difference between a consumer’s engagement on a platform which has low-AI and a platform which has very high-AI. [Within] the top five-six music streaming apps in the country, the lowest average streams per user per month is 65 whereas [on] the most AI-influenced app it’s as high as 325.” No prizes for guessing that the second service is Spotify.

Regional music will play a substantial role in the growth of the music business

While the resurgence of Indian pop and the emergence of Indian hip-hop have been well documented, the role of regional music, beyond the booming Punjabi scene, in the growth of the industry was highlighted. As per Roy, the 35 percent share of regional music will increase to 50 percent in the next three to four years because the “next 250 million consumers are likely to come from ‘middle India’” instead of “the top 20 cities”. He cited a news report about how the recent decline in online consumption can be attributed to “the significance of language is becoming a barrier”. “If there isn’t enough content in that space, adoption [in these areas] is getting hindered,” said Roy.

Music can play a large part in closing that gap and also provide artists with new opportunities, as illustrated by playback singer Akriti Kakar on the panel on ‘Regional Content’. Kakar said that her life was turned around after she performed a concert at a Durga Puja attended by composer Jeet Gannguli’s wife who told her husband to hire her. This led to her crooning songs for Bengali films, which became so successful that she went on to work with a variety of music directors and even judge a reality TV singing competition on Zee Bangla. “The love that I have got from that sector is unreal,” said Kakar, a Punjabi who was born and brought up In Delhi.

Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox

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Updated Date: Jul 01, 2019 10:25:12 IST