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Regional Independent Music – The Future is Here

Authored by Soumini Sridhara Paul, Senior Vice President, Hungama Artist Aloud

Until the 80s, the concept of genre-based music was alien and when it came to languages from a popularity point of view, Folk was the only bucket that the average Indian listener understood. Bollywood, Ghazals, Devotional and Folk were the only mainstream music formats. For International music, the listener was only tuned to Pop and Rock. India has always been an amalgamation of its different spoken languages and cultures, however, the youth at that time were more influenced by the west. Shows like Top of the Pops broadcast on the only channel available, Doordarshan, showcased International Music while radio stations such as Kuwait Radio were accessible in India providing the opportunity to experience western sounds, unknown to the average listener. 

The advent of satellite TV brought in a big change. When MTV first came into India, they were not ready to feature local talent wanting to present themselves as cool and hip, only showcasing international content. However, Star Network had the vision of a huge opportunity. The Indian Music channel, Channel [v] was launched as a joint venture with a local entity. Thus, TV became a huge marketing medium for record labels who saw this as the quintessential time to source Indian talent, putting their muscle behind these talents. The concept of Indian talent doing non-film music was termed as Indi Pop by record labels and the media. However, at that time (late 90s) Indi Pop was largely in the Hindi language considering that the main marketing medium, television, was pan India. 

From a commercial perspective, the labels were only churning out Hindi Indi Pop content. Even English music did not have much of a visibility, except for a few such as Rock Machine a.k.a Indus Creed. The only exception was the Indi Pop sensation of the time, Daler Mehndi. He combined Punjabi with Pop paving the way for other Punjabi singers to create commercial success for themselves. Besides Hindi, one was beginning to see Punjabi also trickle in, albeit, only in Pop. 

While the music scene had gained momentum due to channels like Channel [v] and MTV (yes, they had to go local too), B4U, etc. one saw an interesting transition happen in the television space where television media networks started expanding their channel offerings in regional languages. That in one sense brought attention to markets that were possibly more regionally aligned and were looking for acknowledgement.

The non-film scene saw a drastic dip from 2000 – 2010 with Bollywood taking over most of the airtime on the one marketing medium for labels, television, leading to a number of record labels that had built their business model and presence only on Indi Pop Music to shut shop. Indi Pop pretty much died but what was extremely unexpected and brewing in the background was the live and local scene. Event companies were mushrooming and engaging artists at a local level and bands like Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Thermal and a Quarter, Raghu Dixit, Swarthama, Bhoomi, Lakkicharra, etc. became popular while they sang in English, Bengali, Kannada, etc.

One of the biggest catalysts of this regional surge was also YouTube that offered users a complete democratic approach to showcasing themselves. With mainstream record labels no longer existing or willing to invest in sourcing and honing talent, it was pretty much left to the artist to figure out what they should do with their talent and creativity. Along with this, social media, OTT platforms, television and print all started speaking to the region they were in and allowing the consumer to be the controller of his consumption.

On the back of content going regional and talent gaining control over their creativity, 2010-2020 became a new era in the music space. Live events, digital downloads and video streaming platforms brought about a sense of democracy that artists had never seen before. Over the past decade, the regional music space has exploded with regional labels, mainstream labels going regional, content aggregators and music streaming platforms.

India, synonymously known as Bharat, comprises of a youth who is desi at heart along with global in spirit, craving the exposure to content that is contemporary yet regional. Hence, talent has also had the opportunity to build a fan base within its community and city in a manner unique to artists fulfilling this need.

It’s been 11 years since Hungama Artist Aloud’s inception and there is a stark difference in the way and kind of content that is created and consumed. Today’s India is more conscious of the various genres of music with talent creating content in various languages across the broad scheme of genres – Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, Electronic, etc.  With 2020 gravely impacting Bollywood by a blockage in the flow of content churned, an opening of a parallel stream for Independent Talent and Content will result in the new decade providing the average listener with fresh and original sounds that are regional in flavor.

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