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Key Takeaways from Music Inc. 2019

Leading experts in music agree that technology is both the future and saving grace of the music industry

Jessica Xalxo Jun 26, 2019

"You and me are different so together we'll make something new. Insecurity ka savaal hi paida nahi hota (Insecurity is out of the question,") says Raftaar. Pictured above: Raftaar in conversation with Rajeev Masand.

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The Music Inc. conference, which was held over the past weekend (June 21st and 22nd) at the JW Marriott Hotel, Mumbai, saw the music community gather to address the intersections of music. With panels spanning the topics of technology, creative entrepreneurship, advertising and licensing, regional and independent music, music festivals, tourism, weddings, pop culture and more, the event organized by music business community Loudest.in and media information platform Exchange4Media sought to deconstruct the Indian music landscape, address key issues and build a bridge between creators, the industry and emerging networks.

The two-day conference brought to the fore numerous interesting panels which were interspersed with amazing artist showcases and workshops that formed a needed respite from the jam-packed schedule. The event united playback and independent artists, national and global industry big-wigs and representatives and while it was immersive, well-intentioned and painstakingly curated, the speakers could’ve done a little more to acknowledge the contribution of independent artists, amplify their position and address avenues of leverage and representation in the industry.

Yet when the conference delivered, it really left attendees with some food for thought. Here are the highlights:

Technology, business and music are inextricably linked

The conference kicked off a little late but the delay allowed for the hall to be filled with attendees before Anurag Batra (Chairman and Editor in Chief, Exchange4media and BW Businessworld) delivered the opening welcome note, highlighting an on-going 360 degree reinvention of music. The Dharavi Dream Project’s (TDDP) hip-hop afterschool showcased a dynamic set which included performances by their beat boxers, rappers and break dancers. Theirs was perhaps the most show stopping performance of the day, representing three of the four elements of hip-hop (we have TDDP’s Bboy Vikram to thank for this short lesson) — breaking, rapping and beat boxing.

Being a forerunner of the internet revolution in India, Neeraj Roy’s (Hungama Digital Media Founder and CEO) keynote speech addressed the need for the Indian market to introduce new revenue models in order to meet the estimate of 600 million smartphone users joining the market by 2024. With music streaming becoming one of the fastest growing digital categories in the country, Roy connected this surge to the boom in access to Internet data.

The first panel for the day titled ‘Music Enhancing Retail Brand Experiences’ saw panelists Harvinder Singh Bhatia (Co-founder and CEO, Radiowalla Network), Petal Chandhok (Partner at Trust Legal, Advocates and Consultants), Yuri Dokter (Founder and CEO, DJ Monitor), Sharad Puri (General Manager, JW Marriott Juhu) and moderator Sameet Sharma (VP and Business Head, Viacom 18) discuss the impact of music in the retail environment with Bhatia calling it an absolute “must have.” Dokter stressed the aspect of transparency enabled by technology, especially when collecting data that can then be tailored or curated for both a better customer experience and a profit for those creating the music by way of reciprocal rights.

According to Tej Brar, “Failure is inherent to being an entrepreneur.” Pictured above: (from left to right) Samir Bangara, Prajakta Koli, Aaquib Wani, Nirmika Singh and Tej Brar.

The next panel consisted of Tej Brar (Founder and MD, Third Culture Entertainment), Prajakta Koli aka MostlySane (YouTuber and Content Creator), Aaquib Wani (Experiential Designer and Art Director, AW Designs) and Nirmika Singh (Executive Editor, Rolling Stone India) who explored the entrepreneurial avenues available to creators for leverage. The panel was moderated by Samir Bangara (Co-founder and MD, Qyuki Digital Media) who very aptly destroyed the romantic notion of business, saying, “Five years is the minimum time to give yourself to become an entrepreneur.” The panelists confronted the unpredictability of creative and social media platforms, divining that serendipity isn’t completely hopeless. Koli shared, “There was a time when I didn’t enjoy making content as much, but I still uploaded content. Then one video blew up.” Singh emphasized the need for creators to “chase the dreams that play to your [their] strengths,” especially as most creators function as solo acts.

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Post lunch, we headed to the musical showcase for the day which featured an acoustic set by playback singer Hriday Gattani who played his unreleased track “Parasite” and an exclusive song composed in conjunction with American music producer and sonic designer Arthur Pingrey. The set was followed by a workshop where Pingrey mentored artists to attune their music for a global audience.

Musicians won’t survive the industry unless they adapt a business mindset. Pictured above: (from left to right) Manav Dhanda, Mandar Thakur, Shreyas Srinivasan and Rajiv Indimath.

The evening panel titled ‘How To Grow Your Business in the Music Industry’ was a compelling lesson for all present. It consisted of Mandar Thakur (COO, Times Music), Shreyas Srinivasan (CEO, Insider.in) as well as Rajiv Indimath (Entrepreneur in Residence, Mumbai Angels) and was moderated by Manav Dhanda (CEO, Sab Group). With the music industry coming out of the shadow of the film business and standing on its own, Indimath spoke of how an artist’s creative hubris could spell disaster if they fail to address what the market wants. Srinivasan said, “If you’re an artist, learn about business,” elaborating on how the best artists have learned to succeed in the market and evolve their content. Making an exception for outliers, he stressed the need for creators to “think about the currency of the times to succeed.”

Most of the panels pitched the field to address the consumer or listener, the evolving cultural soundscape of the country and the market at large.

The cult of hip-hop, need for curators and building new music landscapes in India

The second day of Music Inc. opened with a soulful showcase by New Delhi singer-songwriter Hanita Bhambri. The opening note by Loudest.in and Deeza Innovations co-founder Aparajita Misra built on the energy in the room, addressing the rise of female professionals in the music business and how intersections allow for everyone to thrive.

Film critic Rajeev Masand’s fireside chat with rapper and producer Raftaar was an insightful exchange where the latter revealed how he made it big by making the best out of what he had, stressing self-sufficiency for artists. Raftaar taught himself how to make, produce and release music, leveraging platforms such as online audio distribution platform Soundcloud and musician collaborative social network ReverbNation. On the threat of Bollywood usurping the sound of hip-hop, Raftaar said, “Bollywood is an industry, not a style or genre of music. Stop looking at it as be-all and end-all.” He went on to talk about how collaborations only bring about a new sound and not the eclipsing of a genre.

We then headed to the ‘Toss X Insider Workshop’ on women’s leadership led by leadership coach, author and marketing consultant Aparna Jain who through varied activities and interactions reinstructed the women present in the room (from different sections of the music industry) in how to assert and reintroduce themselves. The attendees took away valuable lessons and insights on how to value their contributions and achievements at the workplace and cite those using hard statistics and numbers. The workshop also delved into non-verbal communication and mapping of mentors and sponsors to navigate the way ahead for women looking to rise in their careers.

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Post lunch, we beelined to the artist showcase which featured Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Tejas Menon who performed “Make It Happen” off his debut LP with the same title and an unreleased acoustic track “Lead.” The singer-songwriter peppered his set with pertinent commentary, reminding listeners that while they’ve been hearing of the independent music scene blowing up in India year after year, in reality, “we (independent artists) are not bombs,” and that the independent music industry is going to need more watering before it truly realizes its glory.

The second fireside chat for the day took place between Rolling Stone India Executive Editor Nirmika Singh and VJ/DJ and music curator Nikhil Chinapa, delving into the rise of the electronic music landscape in India as both a profitable and cult venture. Having co-founded music festival Sunburn and then moved on to the role of festival curator and partner at VH1 Supersonic, it’s safe to say that Chinapa has been instrumental in popularizing EDM in the country. But he still sees potential to be realized which he linked to an absence of curators. “We need to work on the spectrum of discoverability and on convincing people to come to the event,” he says, commenting on how technology, particularly streaming services, have further helped to bridge this gap and that companies investing in their talent could rapidly progress the current state of the scene. He cheekily added that there should also be a fan present on every panel as a representative of the music community’s listeners.

The final panel for the day was moderated by Homegrown co-founder Varsha Patra and focused on how a sustainable ecosystem could be built for the country’s nascent but dominant hip-hop scene. Panelists BBoy Vikram (Breaking Instructor, The Dharavi School), Ankit Khanna (Founder, DNH Artists and AK Projects), Arjun Sankalia (Sr. Director, International Music and Publishing at Sony Music) and hip-hop artist Brodha V confronted the harsh reality of funding and how social media numbers don’t always convert into money. They expressed a need for strategic investment and mindful nurturing to enable a future for hip-hop in India. BBoy Vikram underlined the fact that hip-hop consists of four elements which deserve to be known, appreciated and respected as he took to the stage and turned it into a dance cypher with Mumbai hip-hop star Divine rapping and Brodha V providing the beat.

The high point of the two-day conference was the exclusive screening of the upcoming documentary Gully Life – The Story of Divine which traces the rise of the hip-hop artist. Singh engaged in a fireside chat with Divine post the screening.

Divine keeps himself grounded by remembering how he feels on stage – it’s the best high and the best part about being an artist. Pictured above: Divine in conversation with Nirmika Singh.

“Gully (the street) is passion, inspiration to me,” said the rapper, encapsulating the phenomenon that has consumed the word now synonymous with his artistry. With growing access to internet data and mobile phones packing a punch at a smaller price point, Divine encouraged those who feel an affinity towards hip-hop to at least try and release music. In order for hip-hop to retain its form, he stressed sincerity towards the genre, saying, “Isko kharaab mat karo. Yeh dil se nikla hai aur zaroori hai ki we keep it like this (Don’t ruin hip-hop. It comes from the heart and it’s necessary that we keep it as is.”) With the conference drawing to a close, it only made sense to ask Divine where he sees Indian hip-hop heading and the rapper called no shots: “We don’t want any beef here. Just want to make good music.”

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