Editor's note: Beginning 23 February 2018, we're starting a fortnightly column by noted music writer Amit Gurbaxani that dwells (sometimes whimsically) on all things musical. Presenting — Musicology.
The recent Facebook data breach and an article by the organiser of an experimental music festival in Norway about the genre’s dependence on the social network got me thinking about how much the Indian independent music industry relies on social media platforms. To me, the suggestion that there are new, alternative tools such as listings sites that can replace the likes of Facebook seems a bit idealistic and impractical. And I say this as the co-founder of a platform that lists cultural events.
Among the groups that would probably not #deleteFacebook even if they wanted do are Indian independent music acts, for whom social media platforms have been a boon. At almost every gig, the act on stage will mention their social media handles, along with their Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages if they have them, even if they forget or omit to mention the names of all the band members. This is because social media enables musicians to directly connect with fans, something that was not possible until a little over a decade ago.
For artists, the very fact that Facebook gives them access to data about their fans is one of its main advantages. It allows them to know not only their age and gender but also their country and city, valuable information when planning a nationwide or international tour. Regardless of this, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become essential when promoting a gig, tour, new release or video. Music magazines, as I’ve written before, are fast becoming a thing of a past, and while there are a handful of websites covering the scene, neither their readership nor coverage is exhaustive.
Getting a local newspaper to write about an independent artist or band and their gigs can be a tough task given that there are barely any pages devoted to culture and music has to compete with other performance forms such as theatre and dance for limited space. On the other hand, social media platforms help acts reach a global audience.
From a promoter or venue owner’s perspective, the number of social media followers an act has is also one of the scant gauges of popularity in an industry where there’s a lack of verified information about pretty much everything, from sales and streams to concert attendance figures. Of course, some amount of followers can be bought but despite this, the little that can be gleaned from social media is among the handful of data about independent music acts in the public domain. Facebook seems to be the most widely used platform, as can be seen from the list below, which excludes artists who have both independent and Bollywood playback singing careers (such as Mohit Chauhan and Kailash Kher) as well as more commercially oriented Hindi and Punjabi pop acts.
Here, in descending order, are some of the most followed Indian independent musicians on Facebook and for comparison, how they stack up against each other on Twitter and Instagram.
|Euphoria||599k||Dualist Inquiry||197k||The Raghu Dixit Project||206k*|
|Indian Ocean||585k||The Raghu Dixit Project||44k||Divine||126k|
|Thaikkudam Bridge||584k||Parikrama||35k||Thaikkudam Bridge||35k|
|Agnee||483k||Indian Ocean||31k||Dualist Inquiry||16k|
|The Raghu Dixit Project||316k||Divine||8k||Indian Ocean||9k|
|* As Raghu Dixit|
|Follower counts have been rounded off to the nearest thousand|
It’s apparent that apart from Nucleya, none of the other nine acts has as large a following on Instagram and Twitter as they do on Facebook. For instance, Indian Ocean has over 30,000 followers on Twitter, a decent sum, but less than 10,000 on Instagram. Could it be that the majority of the long-running band’s fan base skews older and is yet to take to Instagram, which is favoured by the youth? This is mere conjecture of course. However, Divine, the youngest act in the list, has one of the strongest Instagram followings but a relatively smaller Twitter presence. Again, this could possibly be because the former is more popular with the youth than the latter. Nucleya’s dominance across all platforms could also be an indication that he’s fast crossing over into the mainstream with multiple appearances on Hindi film soundtracks and a stint as a judge on online reality TV music competition series The Remix.
Unsurprisingly, independent acts are more dependent on social media than Hindi film musicians. The most followed Bollywood composer or singer on Facebook is not AR Rahman (22 million) but Shreya Ghoshal (28 million). And while Amit Trivedi might be among the hottest music directors right now, his follower count (3,22,ooo) is half that of veterans Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (7,32,000). Social media may not then be that accurate a measure of current popularity for Bollywood music but from the above lists it seems to be fairly on point when it comes to the independent scene. Those 10 acts are among the few that will pack out a venue wherever they perform.
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
Updated Date: Apr 09, 2018 13:57:45 IST