Newly Launched Label Big Bang Music on the Future of the Entertainment Industry
Hip-hop heavyweight Naezy and award-winning playback singer Shalmali Kholgade feature on the label’s roster
When entertainment management company KWAN and music label Sony Music announced a joint venture under the Mumbai label Big Bang Music (BGBNG) recently, it seemed like a rather ambitious endeavor. The year old “new-age” pop music label is arguably the new kid on the block with an explosive mandate that aims to go beyond the traditional role of the music label, employing what co-founder and CEO Gaurav Wadhwa calls a “360 degree blockbuster approach.” BGBNG has an edge in the market with an interesting point of leverage. Drawing on Sony Music’s business and distribution network and KWAN’s A&R expertise and live event stronghold, the label finds itself in a unique position to realize its vision: creating pop culture superstars.
“If you look at anywhere in the world, the richest celebrities in the world and the richest influencers in the world, if you look at Forbes, Fortune, etc., you’ll find the top 10 being dominated by musicians and athletes. India is the only country where musicians don’t feature in the top 10 of anything,” says KWAN’s co-founder and CEO Vijay Subramaniam. He does have a point. Taylor Swift and Lionel Messi feature in the top 10 of Forbes’ list of highest-paid celebrities (2019) where the only entertainer from the Indian cohort is actor Akshay Kumar who ranks at number 33. Musicians such as Sunidhi Chauhan, Neha Kakkar, Arijit Singh, Shreya Ghoshal, Nucleya, Diljit Dosanjh and Badshah have found themselves on Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list but the top 10 remains a place exclusive to actors and cricketers.
Playback singers rule the roost in Bollywood but does the Indian film industry give them their due? “A lot of the playback singers will have big, hit songs but nobody knows their names, faces, personalities, because they’re essentially singing for a Bollywood star who is acting out the song,” says Wadhwa, citing a larger pop culture play around film music, a tide waiting to turn.
BGBNG has two artists signed to its soon to expand roster – Mumbai hip-hop artist Naezy and award-winning playback singer Shalmali Kholgade. Through Naezy, they tap into the newly cemented pop culture megaspace held by Indian hip-hop and with Kholgade, they tap into the masses attuned to the versatile voice behind Bollywood mega hits such as “Pareshaan.” The opportunities and ideas that both artists and their personalities represent are endless.
Wadhwa mulls, “With Naezy, you can have merchandize, a chain of cafes, a bike brand, or you know, like how Kanye West does Yeezy shoes, Naezy could do something like that.” They’re already in talks to create a limited collection of headphones designed specifically for hip-hop producers and artists.
As a music label, BGBNG claims to be an enabler, moving away from the negative connotation attached with most contracts. “We’re calling ourselves a label because there is no terminology for a hybrid model like ours, but what we actually are is a label meets management meets marketing agency,” explains Wadhwa.
The label CEO is in no hurry to lock down BGBNG’s roster, expanding the search country-wide, not limiting it to Mumbai and New Delhi. “Because it is a pop culture play, it has to be a holistic representation,” he says. He wants to create success stories to ignite the larger music ecosystem. “I get demos from kids in Nagpur, Indore, Agra and some of them are creating mind-blowing songs, but they don’t have access and nobody’s taking them seriously,” he reveals. The agenda then is to not ask them to come to Mumbai but to go out and find them. Over the next three months, Wadhwa plans to travel the length and breadth of India. “I’m going to Calcutta to find those melody composers, those new-age producers, I’m traveling to Delhi to find more hip-hop producers, I’m traveling to the mountains because I realized there’s a different soul that comes from an artist from the mountain – why not give that soul a great global production and sound?” he says.
There are a couple of parameters that guide BGBNG’s search: One, the artist has to be a brilliant, multi-faceted performer who is adept in their genre of music (chops across singing, songwriting, composition and production are a major plus thought not an absolute necessity). Two, their artistry has to be personality driven, and three, they must be interested in building their brand beyond music. Kholgade uses platforms such as YouTube and TikTok (for dance) and Instagram (for fashion and design) to showcase facets of her talent that are separate from her music and relatively untapped, further opening avenues for say, dance performances or a line of athleisure clothing.
The label is looking to remedy a particular and much talked about imbalance in popular culture – the skewed ratio of male and female musicians. “It cannot be fixed with Bollywood because that’s an entire industry that needs to change, right? But here, because it’s one company, we can take a call and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to sign five artists in a year, and maybe three or four need to be women,” says Wadhwa. They aren’t worried about the business, they know they’ll make the money; it’s about striking a balance in consumption. Wadhwa only sees this taking place if the content is fairly divided. “It needs to be 50-50. It cannot be like 95 and five,” he says.
Since the label announcement, Naezy has dropped two tracks – “Rukta Nah” and “Vahem” – both raking in the views. The numbers seem to be on the label’s side but whether they’ll succeed or not, only time will tell.