Bridging the Gap: Apple Music’s Next India Chapter
The music streaming giant aims to bring artists and listeners closer with the launch of several new features on the upcoming iOS 12
It’s possible that Apple’s biggest strength is the trust its earned from its customers. Even as I’m sitting on a plane to New Delhi on my way to their headquarters with very little information on what I’m going to be briefed on, it’s easy to keep calm and trust in a brand that has been a significant part of my life since my early teens. It’s a sentiment echoed by most of the musicians also at the briefing later that day–”It seemed natural,” says singer-songwriter Kavya Trehan [also frontwoman of alt rockers Mosko] about launching her solo music exclusively via a brand that had been a steady presence in her life as an artist and listener.
Launched just three years ago in 2015, Apple Music may be relatively new to the streaming game (when compared to similar brands in the market), but it’s already changed the relationship between music and mobile devices. With over 45 million songs and 50 million subscribers around the world, the platform has made accessibility a breeze, its presence in India lending an additional jump over Spotify and Pandora: neither of which have managed a launch in the country yet.
Building a connect
Last year, Apple Music aimed to cement its relationship with different audiences across India. In addition to the attention Bollywood was already getting, there was a shift in gears to promote Indian indie artists. The platform pushed out some of the best talent in the country on national marketing campaigns; billboards with Bollywood rapper Badshah, New Delhi singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad, Mumbai rapper Divine, film composer and singer Anirudh Ravichander, Mumbai-based electro-swing duo Madboy/Mink and Trehan’s faces were plastered across the country while the introduction of the Apple Music Student Membership (priced at INR 60) around the same time ensured the music was reaching the right listeners. The more recent launch of music videos on the platform satisfied customers who prefer a visual experience, while the introduction of Apple Music on Android (thus eliminating the ‘iPhone only’ factor that alienated a vast majority of users) made it available to almost every smartphone in India.
Connecting each artist to the right audience for them was a game-changing move when it comes to understanding India as a market. Madboy/Mink’s Saba Azad had told us at the time, “[Apple Music’s] portfolio is very different from, say, other apps because in India, it’s a lot of Bollywood and they [Apple] are trying to reach out to the younger people who want to listen to independent music that’s homegrown.”
That’s not to say Bollywood and regional film industries have been left behind; global branded playlists like ‘A-List’ and ‘Today’s Hits’ were customized with with Indian content in mind– ‘A-List Bollywood,’ ‘A-List Tamil’ and ‘A-List Punjabi’ were created to cater to the local market while the ‘Today’s Hits’ playlists are a combination of international and Indian music. The brand also launched 14 radio stations that are combination of local languages like Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi and Bengali and stations for different eras or genres of music like Nineties Bollywood, Telugu Romance and Hindustani Classical. It also has more international variety than many of its homegrown counterparts, drawing in more urban crowds seeking global mainstream staples.
Apple Music’s internationally established platforms like ‘Hear it Here. First.’ have exclusive Indian releases on a monthly basis like with “Taarefaan” from the 2018 Bollywood film Veere Di Wedding while their ‘New Artist Spotlight’ launches at least one new indie artist every month. Examples include Punjabi rapper Prabh Deep, Chennai-based electronica artist MADM, Solan alt-rock instrumentalist Sutej Singh, singer-songwriter Tejas and, most recently, Trehan.
In October last year, Apple Music announced an association with celebrated Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman’s music school KM Music Conservatory to set up a Mac OS Lab at their Chennai and (upcoming) Mumbai campuses. The brand also took the initiative to support budding music talent in the country, contributing to fund 10 full-time musical scholarships for students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Artists front and centre
With the upcoming iOS12, Apple Music’s focus will be on making it a better experience for artists and giving them greater control over their image on the platform. With ‘Artists Pages,’ which highlight each individual artist with a little information about them and their work, and the ‘Apple Music for Artists’ program launched earlier this year, musicians will have the ability to control both their image and their career.
Seasoned singer-songwriter Ankur Tewari says, “Since I’ve been in the industry for so long, I appreciate the human curation that Apple Music brings. There’s a personal touch when an editor writes a note [about the album or track.] They’ve heard the music. There’s a personal element to working with Apple and everyone is just a call away.” The singer-songwriter is one of the five artists present at the Apple Music briefing in New Delhi, along with Hindi rock band The Local Train’s frontman Raman Negi, guitarist-songwriter Dhruv Visvanath, Singh and Trehan. Tewari’s words have everyone else in the room nodding in agreement. He goes on to explain that an artist’s partnership with Apple Music is one of transparency, equal ground and complete creative control, but also one that encourages taking a risk. “You discover new things,” he says. “It gets you to step out of your comfort zone.”
Trehan, who released her solo debut single “Underscore” exclusively via Apple Music last month, chimes in: “I’m hands-on with everything. I know what I’m doing and I need their support—which I had.” According to Trehan, there was no creative burden, no one interfering with her vision for her own artistry and it was the right platform to present herself as she truly is. Indeed as we get a preview of the track and its accompanying music video, Trehan’s bright personality is splashed everywhere. In addition there are Artist Analytics which give each musician an idea of how their music is performing and who their listeners are.
For Negi, it’s the idea of a level playing field that holds the most appeal. “Apple Music charts and playlists give the same space to big Indian established artists as they do for upcoming artists,” he says. “And it’s not only about Bollywood. They give focus to upcoming artists across different genres. We never took streaming services seriously, but when our second album came out, we saw the real time charts— we got the same space as other artists.” Tewari agrees, recalling his (pleasant) surprise at being featured right next to Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber on Apple Music’s charts.
When it comes to his experience as a listener, Negi points out Apple Music puts the focus on the music itself through simple but creative and interactive features. There are tools that draw you in and prove helpful in discovering new artists that suit your particular taste. “Such as ‘Song Lyrics,’ ‘Browse’ [a homepage of sorts which features several new playlists and artists] –which makes discovery of new songs so easy,” he says. “What’s more, it’s a clean user interface and ad free, so no distraction.”
The streaming platform will also introduce ‘Top 100’– a chart that lists the top 100 songs from all over the world and automatically updates each day. It can be added to a user’s Apple Music Library like a playlist and delivers new content daily. The ‘For You’ section (which pushed Apple Music closer into social media network territory with its introduction on iOS 11) will also see enhancements. As of now ‘For You’ lets users create profiles and follow their friends to share music, playlists and make recommendations. With the iOS 12 update, the brand will introduce ‘Friend’s Mix’ a playlist that will custom-recommend tracks from the ones a user’s friends are listening to.
With rumors of Spotify hitting the Indian market sometime next year and homegrown services like Saavn building their own libraries and collections of exclusive releases, Apple seems to be betting on its relationship with its artists and listeners–a bet that might just pay off. “We feel respected,” Visvanath says at one point, after a long moment of contemplation. “I wanted my music to be available in a place where it’s easily accessible to listeners, and on a platform that believes in us. Here, our music speaks the loudest.”