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How to Get ‘Spotted’: Salim Merchant, Jonita Gandhi, DIVINE and Papon Join JioSaavn’s New Talent Hunt to Find Emerging Music Stars

The 360-degree program is open to artists of every kind: singers, composers, producers, instrumentalists and more

Jessica Xalxo Apr 26, 2022

The JioSaavn Spotted jury comprises singer-composer Papon, vocalist Jonita Gandhi, hip-hop artist DIVINE and composer Salim Merchant. Photo: Prashin Jagger and Sukrit Nagaraj for Rolling Stone India

The phone screen glows bright as I tap on the seafoam-green button of the JioSaavn app. I’m greeted by a plethora of options as the streamer presents me with the best picks from what’s trending, what’s poppin’ in my city as well as the editor’s choice. Exploring the flood of music at my fingertips, I can’t help but wonder what it takes to have your art discovered in a country with a population that’s 1.4-billion strong. Is it tech-savvy? (According to a recent EY-FICCI report, 90 percent of Indian music revenue was generated through digital means in 2021.) Is it a distinct sonic imprint? (You can identify a Ritviz song within the first 15 seconds of the track!) Is it being well connected within the industry? (How much of a roadblock do nepotism and privilege really pose to new artists?)

Estimating and looking to bridge the gap between budding artists, success and sustainability, leading native streamer JioSaavn recently joined hands with major label Warner Music India to launch Spotted, a talent hunt that aims to transform upcoming artists’ unreleased songs into the country’s go-to tunes. In simpler terms, Spotted wants to make discoveries that will soon feel ubiquitous to the Indian music landscape. The 360-degree program will highlight unheard, raw talent by finding, grooming, growing and showcasing them to the masses, in turn transforming them into household names, much like JioSaavn Spotted’s cohort of excellent musicians serving as the jury: celebrated composer Salim Merchant, acclaimed vocalist Jonita Gandhi, hip-hop frontrunner DIVINE and folk powerhouse Papon

Launching on April 25th and concluding on December 10th, 2022, Spotted invites entries from all over India. There will be four zonal rounds that tap into the east, west, north and south of the country, as well as three language rounds (English, Hindi and Punjabi). JioSaavn and Warner Music India have posted a handy guide for participants to keep up with the dates and announcements on their website. JioSaavn Spotted accepts entries from all and is agnostic to language, genre, gender, age, region, number of members, etc. Every month, the streamer will showcase the top entries to millions of its users and the judges will choose a winner. The victor will be awarded the opportunity to launch an official release and music video with Warner Music India as well as garner fame and acclaim. 

An opportunity for diverse artists, genre no bar

“With Spotted, I’m excited about spotting some rare talent that is really versatile; singers, writers, composers who can do multi-genre stuff,” says Merchant, a veteran who had his breakthrough in 1992 when he composed for K.S. Chitra and Voodoo Rapper’s album Ragga Raaga. He adds, “I know so many people who can sing in Hindustani and at the same time do R&B. There is a new wave of singers, composers and artists who have such a great mix of their own roots and traditions, and the western world as well, and I’m excited to listen to some cool stuff!”

Salim Merchant
Salim Merchant. Photo: Prashin Jagger for Rolling Stone India

Speaking of the tools that artists should tap into as they submit to JioSaavn Spotted, Gandhi underlines some core learnings from her almost decade-long career. “Throughout my journey, I’ve learned that hard work, perseverance and tunnel vision are some of the traits you need to prepare for the opportunities that can come your way. Your moment can come at the most unexpected time or place, and being able to seize those opportunities with preparedness is one thing I think I really benefited from.” The “Mental Manadhil,” “Chellama,” “Arabic Kuthu” and “The Breakup Song” vocalist – whose Spotted moment arrived in 2012 when Indian music legend A.R. Rahman shared her YouTube cover of the Christmas carol “Silent Night” – adds, “Managing expectations is crucial. Don’t expect too much and you will be in a mindspace to learn and to maintain control over your state of mind. We often don’t realize that things are meant to work out the way they work out.”

‘Make good music over trendy music’

According to the EY-FICCI 2022 report, India’s average music listenership is 21.9 hours per week, which is higher than the global average of 18.4 hours. This means that there is a huge audience primed for artists in a music economy that’s set to grow at a CAGR of 15 percent to reach INR 28.1 billion by 2024. Rather than making music for the masses, hip-hop heavyweight DIVINE thinks budding performers should focus on their sonics. “More than trends, new and rising artists should work on establishing their own sound. Trends keep changing and evolving but a signature style is evergreen once it connects,” says the Mumbai rapper whose life was partly chronicled in Zoya Akhtar’s 2019 Bollywood film Gully Boy. Concurring with DIVINE, Merchant adds, “The reason why we [Merchant is one part of the famous composer-duo Salim-Sulaiman] got discovered for the first time was because we didn’t sound like anybody else; we sounded very unique and different from everyone out there, and that’s something I’ve always followed.”

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Merchant also shares some sound counsel for artists. “Always try making a good song rather than a hit song. The changes in the industry are so rapid that everyone tries to make a quick hit, but remember that whatever goes up comes down and sometimes the speed is as quick – you go up very fast and you come down even faster,” he says. The composer adds, “To be able to sustain and to be able to have that consistency… It’s very important you focus on making something timeless, something good, rather than making a hit song and finding that quick-sensation moment. It’s important to make something which is from your heart.”

DIVINE, who achieved his first major music milestone in 2013 when he released “Yeh Mera Bombay” with RJV and Sez On The Beat, offers key advice to musicians who are starting out, particularly those who are looking to take their craft to the next level by participating in JioSaavn and Warner Music India’s talent hunt. He emphasizes concentrating on the art. “Get the music right, get the visuals right and keep putting things out. Everything else will [fall into place] once you start connecting with fans, but that foundation needs to be strong! My fans have grown with me and I’ve seen some of them attend shows where I barely had 10-20 people early on, to shows where I have 10,000 in front of me! Those day ones i.e. your earliest listeners are your biggest cheat code,” DIVINE says.

Papon. Photo: Sukrit Nagaraj for Rolling Stone India

Spotted invites entries from across India

For Papon, to be a judge for JioSaavn Spotted is to be part of a legacy that fosters the next generation of musicians. About investing in artists, Papon says, “If the label has the power and the bandwidth, it should definitely create a scene rather than follow the [prevailing] trend. I’m sure it makes the label feel proud about the vision and the time that has been put together to create a scene. I think this is really important for the sake of nurturing talent.” 

Shortlisted songs from each round of Spotted will be consolidated on JioSaavn in playlists. The top five tracks with the greatest number of streams will be sent to the judges, who will then decide on the victor based on the originality, production, composition, recording and musicianship of the song.

Papon, who found extensive success with songs like “Khumaar” and “Jiyein Kyun,” is excited to discover musicians who have their own sound and interesting compositions. “We have done things like this, but when it’s as big as Spotted, it gives us way more bandwidth to actually find talent from across the country, empower them in the right way and take them to the people,” he says.

Collaboration over competition, always!

As musicians apply to Spotted, Merchant advises that artists must try their hand at everything, especially if they’re just starting out. “Aadmi karte karte hi seekhta hai [humans learn by doing] and you have to basically just indulge in everything you’re offered – whether it’s a background score, whether it’s a little part you need to sing in a gig, whether you’re doing a backing vocal or a bhajan, ghazal, film, pop song or singing in Tamil. Just say yes to everything!” he shares. 

The composer also stresses that teamwork and balance are the core tenets of a successful music career. “You know everybody is very competitive right now, and I feel that that’s not a good thing and not a good practice in music. Music is about people; the more you join hands, the more you work with people, the more you have friendships and togetherness in the industry, the better you are as a human being, the better you are as a musician, and you groom in a good way,” Merchant says. 

Jonita Gandhi
Jonita Gandhi. Photo: Prashin Jagger for Rolling Stone India

Navigating the music industry in the digital age

As social media becomes the cornerstone of a career in music, Gandhi, a former YouTuber, has witnessed the entire industry go digital. She sees this development as an opportunity for artists to be discovered while growing a global audience. “Social media and YouTube have sort of equalized the playing field in some ways between aspiring and accomplished artists, because everyone is able to be on the same platforms. We now find established artists putting out covers on all platforms as well, in a similar fashion to ‘so-called’ aspiring artists,” she explains. 

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JioSaavn and Warner Music India have opened Spotted to all Indian citizens above the age of 18 who would like to submit their original and unreleased music. Participants can submit their entries via the Spotted website. There are no fees involved at any stage of the competition.

As the lines of influence and artistry blur in the digital age, Gandhi leaves musicians with some words of wisdom to chew on. She says, “Remember that numbers aren’t everything. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, but we need to stay focused on it. Continuous growth and a strong head on your shoulders to absorb constructive criticism and ignore Internet trolls are really important to keep yourself in check.”

Upgrade your mindset, enhance your skills

Looking forward to being surprised by the entries for JioSaavn Spotted, DIVINE urges participants to believe in themselves and their art. “That breakout moment can come early on in your career or late. The hardest part is to keep on going with drive and patience when the waves aren’t flowing in your direction,” he says. The artist also feels that the industry today is a fertile ground for newcomers, particularly hip-hop talent. “When I started out, it [the industry] was much smaller and the only support we had was from other hip-hop artists who were trying to do their thing. But now, over time, we’ve had brands, streamers, labels, promoters and the whole music industry supporting both new and old artists,” he says. DIVINE believes that the genre still has a long way to go despite its burgeoning popularity in India. He predicts that it will keep extending its influence in the coming years. “I think we need to elevate the level of production and songwriting to really keep growing this,” he adds.

Reflecting on his own journey to being recognized, Papon revisits the lessons he received from his parents. He says, “There’s absolutely no room for lack of drive in the music industry. I began honing my style of music since I was discovered.” The folk artist also sees an abundance of ripe opportunities as musicians and filmmakers open themselves to India’s wide array of fresh talent. “Now films are not just being made by certain big directors and producers whose musical requirements are specific. There are many filmmakers at play and they have diverse tastes and requirements in music, and their films are commercially viable in theatres and digitally. So, the music is inclusive and diverse talent is welcomed and absorbed into the scene thanks to those who are offering independent music and experimenting with film music,” he says.

DIVINE. Photo: Prashin Jagger for Rolling Stone India

JioSaavn Spotted will see seven winners being signed by Warner Music India, one from each round of the talent hunt. The agreement will be based on discussions between the label and the artist. The victor of each round will additionally also receive a worldwide distribution deal and a fully produced lyric video.

Gandhi hopes Spotted unearths untapped talent from the length and breadth of India. “Not too long ago, I was an artist who got discovered by one of my biggest idols, and for the tables to have turned for me to be part of a team discovering new talent is really exciting for me! I think there’s a lot of hidden talent across the country and I’m really excited to see the gems we discover,” she says, adding, “I’m looking forward to discovering new voices, creative minds and artists who are going to help our culture grow.” The singer also believes that musicians must view their artistic experiences as unique and rewarding. Elaborating, Gandhi says, “Try your best not to compare yourself to anyone else. Your journey is yours alone, and it is a gift. This is advice not only to newcomers but to everyone, including myself!”

India’s diverse talent

As JioSaavn Spotted arrives to nurture a new league of Indian musical talent, the judges are thrilled to be at the forefront of discovery. Speaking of the country’s diverse artistic landscape, DIVINE says, “India has so much talent all around, across genres and languages – it needs to be discovered and developed with proper support to help it explode. So, it’s great that I can play a small part in Spotted to make this happen.”

Art director: Tanvi Shah
Jonita, Salim & DIVINE’s photographer: Prashin Jagger
Papon’s photographer: Sukrit Nagaraj
Assistant: Daya Sansare
Equipment: Universal Lights
Fashion stylist: Surbhi Goswami

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