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 songs.pk. 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.

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