Business of Music in India

…exploring the future…

Experience India first.

Ad guru Piyush Pandey passionately says “Think Indian”, while developing a communication strategy for a local, mass product. Therefore, examples like Fevicol (people stuck onto a bus), Cadbury’s (the bus-stop chat), and the new Gujarat Tourism commercials create an instant connection with the audiences. So do songs with the Indian folk-based themes. “Observe and study habits well; and you will learn”, says he, which resulted in the creation of Indian Railways’ railgaadi TVC.

In the Diwali break, I was undertaking a train journey for over 24 hours to a village (with a population of 10,000 appx.) in Madhya Pradesh. And Mr. Pandey had indeed hit bulls eye. Never have I connected to my co-passengers in flights in years! Everyone seemed to lose his or her inhibitions after a while in the train bogey.

My marketing mind started observing things upon reaching our destination – especially in the entertainment area. Expectations were immediately dashed when we realized that electricity is supplied only from 9am to 12 noon, and then again from 6pm to 9.15pm. On Saturdays, it seems that electricity is on a holiday – but does visit households from 9am to 10am.

Most houses do have an inverter, but which only keeps a couple of fans and a tube-light running. And yes, also helps you to keep your mobile phone charged! But shockingly there are 2Mbps BSNL internet connections (that work faster than my house in Mumbai), DTH sets and the omnipresent All India Radio signals.

A farmer couple toiling day and night, 365 days a year.

So how do people in the village keep themselves entertained? To be honest, music was never a priority on their list. Bollywood songs were playing on the handsets; but mostly it’s the All India Radio channels, and TV shows when electricity chachi hangs around. The daily labourers earn Rs. 100 to 150 per day (a respectable income!), but most of them are blowing away their hard earned income in another form of “entertainment” – desi liquor.

What about the music consumption habits? Those with internet connections, download songs occasionally from torrent sites like And this is done only when they come across something interesting they see on TV, or hear while travelling to nearby towns. Their occupations leave little time, energy and money to bother about which song is topping the charts these days.

We all would agree that life in a village is truly different from city life. But how many of us have experienced it? Village life does not mean not being busy. They’re much busier than us – slogging in the fields in the hot sun. In our big cities, we spend a lot of our time on the roads. And this is why we consume much more music. It occupies and diverts our mind by helping us stay less frustrated in the endless traffic, or even while talking our daily brisk walks.

People in villages connect to others in person. We do it too; but on Facebook. They breathe better, eat better and are less stressed (except when there is a drought or floods). But we experienced that too. Remember July 26?

Our needs are demanding on us. We need iPhones, Blackberries and such fancy stuff. They may want it too. But rural infrastructure, like roads and more hours of electricity, has to be in place first. And this “other” India doesn’t really care when a Commonwealth scam crops up or when a filmstar makes inane statements about terror attacks. They just want to keep moving on.

India is estimated to have 450 million cell-phone users. About 70% of India is still rural. And that’s where the big opportunity for the entertainment sector lies. 6% cell phone users have Internet access through a computer, compared to 65% who have access to mobile phones. Anyone with a brainwave can make it big here.

There is a lot being discussed at music conferences on how to go independent, and what to do with your music in the Internet & cell phone era. Those in the business of music, and musicians themselves, will get to learn a lot if they step into any village in the country; and stay put for atleast a week. Every visit will bring you back richer in experience, as we have such diverse cultures in different parts of our own country.

I am falling short of words to share my own. It feels humbling when you return to a life full of luxuries. The only way to know India is to “experience” its villages and small towns. While you and I in our busy urban lives don’t get to see this side of our country, its existence and conviction is undeniable.

A farmer travels 15kms to sell his produce every fortnight, and then buys daily needs with the income raised… Will he buy music?? Keep guessing.


The Third Wave.

We’ve read enough about physical CDs not selling anymore and that “digital” is the future, etc. etc. But what is the way forward?

At a seminar in Mumbai about online music marketing, one artist suggested; “I’d like to give away one of my songs for free in order to get people to listen to it”, which clearly upset Guenter Loibl (CEO, Rebeat Digital, Austria). He replied, “Do you not pay your hair-dresser for a hair cut? Do you not buy your pair of jeans from a store? Why encourage such a culture of free for your own creative efforts?”

It is time to see various online marketing approaches in their totality, and not blindly follow someone who has been successful by giving away things for free. Guenter talked about “The Third Wave” as one benchmark of knowing where your online album is heading. After studying many ‘successful’ examples of various artistes from across the world, he has arrived at this conclusion.

The “FIRST” wave is your own friends and fans, who will buy whatever you put out. [For India, I would replace “buy” with “consume” = bought legally or downloaded via a torrent site or bluetooth sharing].

The “SECOND” wave consists of people who are friends of your fans, and who know about your music through their playlists or recommendations on the social network pages. And if these people like your song, that will get consumed too. And you’ve hit the second wave.

Then comes the “THIRD” wave. These are people who have never heard of you, but through the second wave, chanced upon your music and then did some research on you, to get to know you better. And thereby may end up becoming fans as well.

Third Wave

So, when is this “third wave” achieved? From his research, Guenter says its when your video / song-track on YouTube gets a 10,00,000 (one million) hits! Phew. And such a video need not be an expensive one too! There have been examples where videos shot with a mobile phone camera or just showing the album cover have achieved these numbers! And if you don’t reach it in a few months of constant online marketing efforts, don’t worry. Go back to the studio and re-do your music. Come up with something new, and start afresh.

Let us take a recent example of a singer from Canada – Natalie Di Luccio. Our very own Indian composer, Amar Mohile, produced her song (“The Angels Said”) released it worldwide on digital stores in mid-Sep 2010. Natalie had a fan page on Facebook of about 300 people – the “first” wave, which she built on her own. These were people known to her personally or had met her somewhere during her tours. As an experiment, she put up a video of a Hindi film song, sung & recorded on her computer’s webcam!! The fan-base moved up to 1500 people in 2 days, then to about 8,000 in 4 days. This YouTube video (which is as simple as it gets) got 3,00,000 hits in just 3 days!!! Infact, by the time I ended this article it moved up to 6,00,000+ in another two days! This is still the “second” wave. But I am sure the “third” wave will hit it soon. As a result, the consumption of her single will surely grow.

It is extremely important for musicians to be connected and well networked online – friends and fans. Just check this out: If Facebook were to be a country, it would be the third largest populated one in the world, after China and India! Being socially responsible in your online updates also helps you get more or even lose fans!

You may be thinking, “A million hits to my music video / song track which is one in millions, if not billions.” However, it is not important to hit the third wave all the time; and is not applicable in every genre of music. So relax. With your album being available online across the world via various channels like ArtistAloud, CDBaby, Rebeat, TuneCore and more, your music becomes ‘discoverable’.

For instance, “German folk” music is followed by a very select audience in Austria and Germany. When this one band released their music online, the German immigrants in USA loved listening to their “regional” music (not available in physical versions there), and the album crossed 35,000 downloads in just 2 months!

Indian music is growing in terms of popularity all over the world. NRIs are looking to buy new tracks on digital stores. International DJs are picking up stuff they like on the net, re-doing it and putting it out on their own in the digital space. More music is being produced and consumed than ever before. Learn the ropes now by jumping into newer waters. Just go and get your third wave.

Never give up.

“A Full Circle” in Music Recording Technology

In the late 70s (when i was still sucking my thumb), and then in the early 80s (when it stopped), I’ve been audience to “live” recordings at my father’s recording studio in Andheri, Mumbai.

Musicians walked in much before their booking hour, used to chit-chat with one another, cracked jokes, took innumerable tea breaks and then left by 6pm. During such recording sessions, a single mistake by any musician meant that all of them had to play their parts again. But it was still fun to them. No one complained!

The evolution of computers in music:
When computers entered the data-entry related functions in offices, many jobs were lost; especially the ‘secretaries’, who could use the typewriter even in their dreams. Musicians seemed confident that the computer would never touch their skill-sets, but they were indeed upset with the entry of synthesizers and drum machines. In the late 80s, multi-track recording equipment was seen as a boon for both the studio owners and musicians!

Now, a musician could play (or a singer could ‘dub’) on top of someone else’s track, and they all finished their work faster – as chances of mistakes in group-playing no longer existed! They also took up more bookings in a day at various studios across the city. The studio owner too got more hours to ‘bill’, as each musician would come in separately for playing his/her part on the same track. Unfortunately, what took a big hit was teamwork, and the fun elements of making music “together” = real-time collaboration. What then??

Starting in the mid-90s in a small way, and then by year 2000, computers not only invaded the musicians’ territories, but also affected the studio owners big time. Today in 2010, we have almost every “computer-savvy” musician working out of his or her home studio setup, and using larger recording studios only for live recordings and vocal dubbing sessions. Does this affect the quality of music production? Not at all! Since technology has given power to everyone to create world-class productions in the comfort of their homes. Whether the soul in today’s music exists when someone does almost everything by himself is a point to ponder over.

Also, good musicians who still aren’t computer experts are not totally jobless either. Live shows, TV programmes, high budget films, music classes, etc have come their rescue.

What’s the future in music recording?
Here’s an example: With the ongoing ‘green’ initiatives, high speed Internet access worldwide, here is an example of OHM STUDIO ( It’s a standalone real-time collaborative music making application (DAW/sequencer) in addition to a web based collaboration platform, and a music driven online community. And this is a first in the world. Other software companies will naturally follow. With Ohm Studio, it is possible to set up a productive workspace to make music together and with ease. No more big files transfers, no more endless set up incompatibilities. And as with a conventional studio session (just like till the good old 90s), communicate with each other thanks to the in-app chat system that makes it simple to share any thought, instruction or comment. Just like you would do in a yahoo chat or a facebook chat today!

Have you ever wanted to just make music online with your friends in real-time?

Well, now it’s possible.

Online music recording sessions!

Real time collaborations - virtually.

Musicians will be able to search for other music talents from around the world. Through the ‘Ohm Studio Cohmunity’, one can discover collaborative projects that are appealing and find new people with whom to make music, searching by style, mood, skill, city, country and more. One can discover that the drummer or the singer (s)he has always been looking for is only a few clicks away! In such a scenario, Indian music producers can collaborate with each other even in different cities.

For example, a music director in Kolkata can record a talented flautist like Naveen Kumar, while Naveen is playing ‘live’ in his Mumbai home studio. Saves a lot of money on transport, hotel stay, etc and you still get that dream track done! With such a concept of online recording collaborations, musicians in India have to showcase their work and skills, in order to be discovered and/or be invited into groups or sessions. Could it be that you have just the right profile those Brazilian guys need for their funky nu-soul project? Now just being computer savvy is not enough. Musicians need to be visible and active on the Net through their own websites, social community networks and also use these to their advantage. Keep net-working guys.

Music apps have become exceedingly powerful with near unlimited creative potential, but still one feature has been relegated to the world of dreams and fantasy: real time collaboration. It seems we’re going back a full circle to an era where a musician was able to work with others while sharing the same tools at the same time, as if they were all together in a studio.

Good old times are back again… so what if its only virtually! ☺

“Music like water…”

Contrary to what we’ve been hearing for the past few years, the music business is still in good shape. The problem is with the record industry and CD sales. Major labels are suffering across the world. But if we look beyond CD sales, the music market is quite vibrant and alive. More music is enjoyed today than ever before, thanks to new technologies like the Internet and mobile phones, musical TV shows, concerts, etc. “Access” to all kinds of music had never been easier.

The emerging “mobile” economy enables access to your music collection anytime and anywhere. A recent addition in this direction is that lets you store, stream your media files anywhere you go with a free service upto 1Gb of data.

New ways of discovering music today

India has around 60 million Internet users, it is the 4th largest online market in the world and has more than 5 million broadband connections.

With such increasing penetration, people are slowly turning “off” to the radio – that seems to be obsessed with Bollywood – and “on” to the Internet and the cell phone.  Just as heavy Net users watch 40% less television, radio is losing out to digital media – or perhaps morphing into it. Social networking sites like Facebook (with a base of 500 million users) are becoming important options where friends discuss what music to listen to, analyze it and post their views too. Fans and consumers have far more convenient options for discovering new music than ever before.

Digital music services such as iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, Musicmatch, etc. report that community features are major drivers of discovery for new music. Features such as swapping playlists with others, or ‘people who bought this also bought that’ recommendations help fans discover new music online.

A Product or Service?

In 1887, Emil Berliner invented the gramophone. So without actually being present at a performance, people started listened to music. From being a performance and a service, music now became a fixed ‘product’.

In a live performance, music can never be reproduced in the exact manner every time. There are several factors that come into play – like the artists, their moods, audience reactions, auditorium acoustics, etc. Today, we still have certain forms of music in India that are best enjoyed in a live performance – like classical, folk, qawwalis, etc.

After a century of music being sold as a “product” to us – in the form of vinyls, cassettes, CDs – we seem to be returning to those early days, where music is more about the ‘experience’ than just a static plastic disc.

Like water, music has started to flow into any and all digital networks, whether paid for or not, and whether authorized or not.

Napster was the first in the series of peer-to-peer (P2P) systems, through which people shared their files from each other’s drives. The major record companies in the USA felt so threatened by this idea, that they joined forces and waged war on individuals, companies and technologies that they perceived were enabling piracy of their property.

In 2003, Steve Jobs and his team convinced these very music labels to license their songs to Apple for distribution via their iTunes music store. In March 2010, iTunes crossed the sale of 10 billion songs in March 2010 @ $0.99 per song. It has become the largest music store on the planet.

The future of music business:
Today, technology is empowering the artists to communicate directly with their fans. The digital distribution of music is gradually minimizing the ‘pay-for-product’ mentality that has now dominated the industry for over a century. Because if music won’t remain a ‘product’, then how can these labels control its access, pricing or even dictate their terms with the artists?

People like to listen to music everywhere they go. Hence we see gadgets like iPods, music phones becoming more and more popular. Many of the digital stores like iTunes (which recently crossed the 10 billion download mark), are enhancing the experience of song buyers with various new methods. The soon-to-release musicDNA technology (from the makers of mp3) will take the online music purchasing experience to yet another level. Artists will soon be able to sell their wares, lyrics, posters, concert tickets, etc. through the music player!

Singles have never been even remotely profitable for the recording artist, and this new pay-per-track online models sported by iTunes, Rhapsody, Beatport, eMusic, Amazon, etc. will ultimately fare no better. In India, we have services from Hungama, Nokia, Airtel and other music labels joining the fray of online digital stores.

When access to the Net in India will become much cheaper & faster, and mobile phones will offer songs from your handsets; when ISPs, telecom companies will start charging a marginal flat fee and allow subscribers to download unlimited music, the music business is bound to surge higher. Just like water in a tidal wave.


With inputs from MR. DAVID KUSEK, Vice President, Berklee School of Music and the co-founder of MIDI technology.

Musicians – Help me discover you

My current favourite song is “The Long road” by Eddie Vedder and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Eddie Vedder is the lead vocalist for hard rock band Pearl Jam and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was the famous Sufi ghazal artist. The song itself is a melodious tune that combines the hard edged voice of Vedder with a background of tablas, sitar and Nusrat’s majestic voice. Why do I like it? I don’t know – I just love this kind of fusion music and consequently I am always on the lookout for artistes / groups that cater to my particular taste in music.

My other favourite is “Gurupaduka stotram”, an age old mantra sung with modern background music. I discovered it on Spotify after listening to another favourite of mine “Sri Rudram” by Tantrica. It helped me discover Stephen Devassy, an artist I had never heard before, but now I have most of his music in my Itunes.

How did I discover them? Well, it’s nothing short of magical. Music has been codified to such an extent that I can specify the artist or song that I like on and it would, in effect, create a personalized radio station for me. I can listen to and vote on the music recommended through this stream. The recommendation engine factors in my votes to suggest more such music. The next logical step for me is to search for the same in Itunes and buy it for my Ipod. The cost of buying a single is a meagre 79p which is half the cost of a cup of coffee. It’s cheap, easy and convenient.

Contrast that with the cost of music discovery just a decade or two earlier. Back then my discoveries were limited to what the local cassette shops had in stock and from the older siblings of my friends. Consequently, I (and I am sure many others) treaded along the well worn path of listening to the Madonnas, the Michael Jacksons and Whams.

College days were only marginally better as I could now get inputs from a wider group – but again I fell into the trap of Guns n Roses, Metallica and Queen rather than any exotic stuff. The cost of acquisition for their music still remained considerably high. I used to spend hours in Rhythm house browsing through titles just to familiarise myself with names.

It was an awkward place to be in those days as there was no easy way to discover music unless you borrowed or bought. The latter was not really an option as a single tape in those days cost Rs. 45 upwards, which would cause a significant dent in my pocket money.  This lack of choice only benefitted the few stars who had made a name for themselves at possibly the expense of others.  I, for one, am thankful for all the revolutionary changes that have happened to the industry since then.

I know there are lots of artistes who shy away from digitizing their song arguing that it would be pirated if available in digital format. I think there are a couple of serious flaws in their argument. It’s very easy for anyone possessing a legitimate CD of the artiste to create the digital version of it using software like Itunes. So the fact that the artiste desists from digitizing the song will not stop the pirated version going up on P2P networks. Also, the fact that the song might be available free on the P2P networks doesn’t mean that everyone will download it. There are millions of songs out there available for free ( albeit illegitimately) – so unless your song is special, music lovers will not be spending their precious time over it.

Yes there is a lot of piracy and yes there will be what one might term “lost” revenues. Is it any different than what people did earlier i.e. make custom tapes after borrowing from someone or burning a CD? I cannot understand why one version is considered piracy and other one not? It’s only the format that has changed nothing more.

I suggest that the industry needs to adapt to this changing landscape and instead of fighting it, leverage it for their own benefit. Here are some of the upsides for the musicians.

1. Proliferation of song is a good thing even if it results in some perceived lost revenues. Open source software or Flickr photos with creative commons license proves the point in the respective industries. As a musician,you are creating a brand for yourself and for your work.

2. You are no longer constrained to produce as dictated by the music companies’ execs – you can focus on producing what you are doing best. The likes of MTV and Radio Mirchi no longer dictate what music lovers can and cannot listen to. It is absolutely a liberating idea. So bring on all your quirkiness and your innovative ideas and pour your heart into it

3. This is no longer the age of information economy – it is the age of experience economy. So focus your attention more on live performances, selling memorabilia, and concert recordings. Those are your cash cows now – the music track is just the enabler.

4. Engage with your fans. They have long suffered the ills of music companies’ greed. Think about all the marketing ploys like releasing an extra track into your album 6 months after the initial release. Guess who suffers because of this? It’s the early adopters – the fans who love your music and are crazy enough to hold on to two copies just for the extra track. Now is your chance to engage and foster a community spirit around your music.

5. Engage with a global audience. With Itunes, Spotify and Rebeat, your song is available to anyone in the world. You’d be surprised to see how popular your music is in obscure parts of the world.

6. Honest feedback. You will know what is liked and what is disliked. There is no hiding behind any shoddy work any more.

The question you need to ask yourself is – Can you afford not to discover your fans?

Are you losing out on your fan-base?

By not bothering about online music sales, are you losing out….?

As you will read in the previous discussions on this blog, there have been quite a lot of ideas, points and views exchanged on musicians using pirated softwares; and music lovers downloading mp3 songs from pirate sites.

Just see how the global markets are warming up to online music sales:

But has it occurred to anyone than an artiste / band is also responsible if his / their song is being pirated??!

How, you may ask?

I was speaking to a USA-based fan of a well-known Indian composer/singer. He said that he has been looking online for a bhajan (song) of this person for a while now. The album in question is still not available on any popular online store. Being habituated with buying from online music shops, he ended up getting the song from a pirate site.

And this fan blames (partly) the artiste for it!!!

His rationale…:

1. a music label should make all their albums available on stores on the Net for sale. So what if results don’t show up instantly, we fans are likely to purchase.

2. every artist/band should cater to fans all over the world. So they must ensure that their songs are put up on stores for sale. they should even release singles exclusively for his fans!

3. most international musicians ensure that their website remains updated; and we fans are glued to their sites / RSS feeds. Unfortunately, many musicians from India have not understood the real potential of the net yet. And many of them don’t have websites either!

So here was a brief encounter of a die-hard fan who was in a way ‘forced’ to download a song illegally, when he intended to buy it…

Now let’s talk numbers:

Online music sales account for 15 percent of the global market. Compared to other industries, music is second only to games in its transition to digital revenues. For newspapers, it is 7 percent, for films it is 3 percent, and for books only 2 percent. (All of these are global figures).
Governments are starting to accept that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should take a far bigger role in protecting music on the internet, but urgent action is needed to translate this into reality, a new report from the international music industry says today.

Some more facts on digital music sales:

  • The first-ever global music download sales chart is topped by Avril Lavigne, who sold 7.3 million track downloads of her song Girlfriend across the world in 2007
  • Single track downloads, the most popular digital music format, grew by 53% to 1.7 billion (including those on digital albums)
  • The music industry is more advanced in terms of digital revenues than any other creative or entertainment industry except games. Its digital share is more than twice that of newspapers (7%), films (3%) and books (2%)
  • There are more than 500 legitimate digital music services worldwide, offering over 6 million tracks – over four times the stock of a music megastore
  • Progress in the digital music market is being hampered by lack of interoperability between services and devices, and lack of investment in marketing of new services
  • Research by IFPI debunks a myth about illegal P2P services: in fact, fans get better choice on legal sites. IFPI conducted research with a sample of 70 acts on the legal site iTunes and on the copyright infringing service Limewire. In 95 per cent of searches the artists requested had more songs available on iTunes than on the leading P2P service.

Are musicians in India taking notes?

 * IFPI Digital Music Report 2008

Technical Jig Part 1

Has anyone noticed improvement from just analog bus summing without level changing or master compression?

Music Sales – part 3:


The digital world of buying “singles” (any track/s from an album) online has opened up opportunities for the music industry globally. It’s just that we in India are not yet accustomed to doing so or have experienced the whole thing yet, as most stores like iTunes don’t operate here as of now.

But all mobile phone users are familiar with buying “welcome tunes” on our phones. And these revenues are helping phone companies offer amazing deals on talktime rates to their consumers.

From sources, I came to know that the song “Pappu can’t dance…” by A R Rahman got 7 million official downloads in India (on phones). Which makes the total revenue Rs. 7 crores. And that too for just one song: just 25-40 seconds of it!

This does imply that there are strong hopes of making money for the music industry with today’s technology too. And lots of it. We need not follow the model adopted by Coldplay and give away songs for free.

Tapas and Prashant gave some counter-points in the previous part. But there sure can be a middle path somewhere. Especially in terms of increasing confidence of using credit cards online, plenty of local digital stores, and the pleasure of quick downloads.

If we have ease of access, government control, secure payment methods and ofcourse some moral ethics left in us, we will go and buy a song online to be heard again and again.

Or will we?


Music sales – Part 2:

Is Digital Sales the answer?

Based on some responses from the previous part, I researched prospects of digital music sales in the world.

Sometimes government support does help reduce certain activities for the benefit of a nation. Like piracy raids, more control on ISPs like Tapas suggested.

Making money from music sales in any form today – be it CD sales, ringtones, jingles, singles, or whatever is good. But Alok’s point of royalties being pocketed by music companies in all forms – physical and digital – is indeed a worry. Have they not been doing that in India for the last 30 years?

Most musicians also seem to have given up on all this and just continue to make music instead of getting into legal details. The more informed ones are asking for revenue sharing now. But the new ones get away by saying, “when i become big, i will discuss all that with the music companies.” Right now, its “Jo mil raha hai, le le… aur nikal le.”

Today, value for money has entered in almost everything we buy. It always existed; but has become more apparent in our daily lives – recession or not. Be it going to watch movies and spending Rs. 1,000 by a family on tickets and then another Rs. 1,000 on food (…which wife would want to cook after a movie outing… i’d like to salute one if i find one).

Value for money is seen in music CD purchasing also. We virtually end up listening to 2 or maybe 3 tracks which appeal to us individually. Provided there are others in the family who like the rest of the songs, the CD turns out to be a waste of ‘investment’. Plus FM radio stations play a hit song so many times in a day, that the urge to buy a CD also vanishes.

And whoever said that a CD lasts for 50 years. I think people took more care of their LP records than CDs! Check homes with kids around and you’ll know what I mean.


Part 3: Some facts on digital sales in India!