Digital saved the indie star

Sunday, 24 March 2013 - 11:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Indie music may not match the popularity of Bollywood. But thanks to digital music stores musicians are able to tap their fan base and make some serious money, reports R Krishna.

Indie music may not match the popularity of Bollywood. But thanks to digital music stores musicians are able to tap their fan base and make some serious money, reports R Krishna.

Last January, when Vijay Basrur wanted to buy songs of an Indian indie band he loved, he found the music he wanted wasn’t available for sale anywhere. Convinced that there would be more fans like him who couldn’t find the music they were looking for, Basrur launched Ok Listen (, a digital store that sells music by Indian indie bands.

It was a bold move given that indie artists in India have been on the fringes of public consciousness. The spike in popularity and profitability of indipop in the nineties, for instance, died quickly. But what’s different this time around is the medium. With digital technology, stores like Ok Listen, as well as indie artists, can reach out to fans and offer them a convenient way to buy music at a fraction of the cost attached to buying CDs.

Bringing fans together
Platforms like Artist Aloud, Flipkart Flyte, Nokia Music, Ok Listen and iTunes, allow indie musicians to direct their fans to a place where their music can be bought, says Gaurav Malekar, one half of the audio-visual act BLOT! This allows bands to consolidate their fan base, and reap monetary benefits.

Though these monetary benefits are negligible, it helps the bands indirectly. The digital sales act as a marketing tool for their music, which helps during live concerts.

“The album itself has always been a marketing tool. It is a place where you can put new musical ideas down. It lets your fans know where you are musically. Revenue comes from live performances. The album makes the live performance more valuable. We can charge more for a live show if the album has sold well,” says Jishnu Dasgupta, bassist, Swarathma.

Another indirect benefit is that unlike physical formats like CDs, digital sales can be tracked better. Bands get to know which of their songs are getting popular, and where. “This helps us prepare ourselves better when we negotiate with labels or anyone else,” says Abhishek Mathur, guitarist, Advaita. “We have 30,000 fans on our Facebook page. We have used this figure to strike deals to get better sponsorships.”

Chartbusters on stores
While digital distribution of indie music helps such bands, what does it do for the stores? After all, don’t they make much more money from Bollywood music? “We weren’t bullish on sale of indie music on our store,” says Sameer Nigam, vice president, (digital) Flipkart. “But we found that bands like Swarathma, Advaita, Thermal And A Quarter, and Aagam hit the top of our charts every other month.” This makes it worthwhile.

Artist Aloud, a platform launched by Hungama three years ago to promote and sell indie music, saw enough demand to announce an expansion last month. Apart from their website, the service is now available via a desktop app, as well as via WAP portals for mobile phones and DTH operators. “Consumers today are on a variety of platforms, and we want to make sure they get what they want and when they want,” says Soumini Paul, associate vice president, Artist Aloud.

Paul says that Artist Aloud’s three-year journey has been full of challenges. “We are trying to create an industry here. So we have to constantly innovate to keep consumers interested. For instance, we experimented with streaming concerts live, which got a great response.”

Basrur says the main task for anyone running a digital music store is to spot quality musicians and help consumers discover them. “We want to work with content, not just put it up on sale. We are working with curators to build their own list of recommended music and then put that up on sale. For instance, Vipin Nair, a music blogger, curated a compilation of fusion music. Another such compilation of rock music is in the works.”

Which of these business models survive is something we will only know over the next few years. For now, music fans can take heart from the fact that the indie scene finally has business models to play with.

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