Indie Music, and the challenges it faces to grow in India

Interesting Apr 25, 2020

In a country of 1.3 billion strong and counting (this quarantine shall probably boost the strength), India unanimously, in some way or other even if just a teeny-tiny-bit, is fond of 2 things in particular: Cricket, and Bollywood. Well, Indians do love their food too, but that’s not unique to India. I mean, who doesn’t love some delicious umami? (Ugh, this isn’t about food, it will end up distracting me.)

Anyway, while Cricket here is a religion, and Bollywood is the messiah, we as Indians, do not accept, or rather allow changes of any form to this ritual curated over a span of more than just a few years. Not to mention that changing the mindset of a stubborn, second largest population in the world is no facile task. Hence, we never really had an established music industry for a long time. And even when it did catch on, we were never exposed to even the idea of making music independently, or going "indie", without an authoritarian.

Most things in India post-independence, have been adopted in some manner from Western culture. And, hence, even our beloved Bollywood, is an adaptation from Hollywood, using a portmanteau of "Bombay" and "Hollywood". With the rise in popularity of Bollywood in the 1970s, rose the popularity of Bollywood music, using at least 3-4 songs in the course of a 2+ hour film. This trend is still trendy. Indians still prefer Bollywood songs over any other form of music in India. Even though we were influenced by western culture in a wide array of things, we didn’t quite catch on to their music culture, since while we were still stuck at the film industry adaptations, indie music was on the rise, and thriving, usually more critically appreciated in the western countries.

Music in the foreign countries was generally produced independently by artists until record labels came into picture. When these record label companies entered the industry, artists would approach these companies. The barter would be that whilst the record artist name would be featured, the music would be owned by the label. In exchange, the music would be marketed, advertised, and any costs required for the production would be borne by the label itself. Also, the record label would take a commission of the money that music would make.

This format entered the music industry in India only in the form of the Bollywood production house that would make the film, would own the song. In this way, while music artists got popularity, they didn’t quite make as much money as the actors did, and the system was somewhat rigged, unlike in western countries, where the musician, more often than not, would make more money than the actors. Hollywood never had as many songs in their movies anyway, the music industry was always independent, and as and when required, they collaborated. Much unlike in India.

This system also played with the Indian mindset. Any aspiring musician in India had his/her eyes set on making music in Bollywood. Nowhere else. The thought of music other than Bollywood was a myth. While sufi, ghazal and other such contemporary forms of music did exist in the country, and were actually independent, others sought solace in Bollywood as their only dream haven.

But this system still sought help from commercial labels. What is indie music exactly? Any music produced independently, a more of a do-it-yourself approach to recording and publishing music, is referred to as indie or indie music. This approach has always been, and still is, a risky feat for artists. Going major, or in simple terms partnering with a big brand record label has always come with severe benefits - these labels usually had all the power and influence. And, of course, all the money to execute such a task, in its finest form (capitalism, yay). But then again, a major reason for going indie is usually, the freedom. For artists, influencing their art, is not much different than a bird craving, even just hoping, to fly off to the land of the unknown, but being in that heartless iron cage. And hence, musicians, in order to break free from the shackles of artistic captivity, tend to go indie.

Our country couldn’t stay away from the drastically changing music scene in the world for long. By the second half of the first decade of the new millennial, indie, or independently produced music began to set foot in this country. Artists began producing music, not for Bollywood, but independently. It was a brave attempt. Over the recent years, independently producing music is gaining much more popularity in the country, even though Bollywood is as strong as ever.

Globally, in the past couple decades, indie music has become more of a genre than a way of production of music. Indie-rock, indie-folk, etc. are now popular genres around the world. And these genres usually have a similar tone of music, hence, much more of a genre than a production form. With the rise in fame of a few indie artists in India, such as Prateek Kuhad, Udyan Sagar, known by his famous stage name: Nucleya, The Local Train, and several phenomenal artists, who have received love from fans over and above, the critical appreciation, indie as a form of music is getting popular, day by day, every day.

“Our biggest challenge is that there’s a huge battle right now for content and labels all want market share. They’re just interested in going and getting artists, and they will lose money to get those artists on the label. Our main problem is that [indies] build up artists and then the labels will just give them unlimited money and lose money to get them on their book. But every time they’ve done it, the artist is unsatisfied with how the label operates. People know not to trust the music industry anymore.” Matt Parsons, the CEO and co-founder of Ditto Music, the world's largest independent artist and record label services company, was quoted saying in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine. It is quite true; the way major big-league record labels have influenced the industry. And there had to be a time someone would break away from these shackles.

Indie music offers a musician their true self, and not a sold-out version of themselves, just smiling and waving at fans. To every artist, independence is key. The best forms of art can never be influenced. We've all watched the Oscar-winning movie “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Queen would never have been able to produce this titular song had they not rebelled against their partner music-label. And what was the result? A masterpiece was perfected. Similarly, even though Bollywood is still influential in the Indian music scene, the ever-growing rise of indie-culture, especially among a younger fan-base, will surely curate a way for these buzzing artists, who only strive for independence in their work, and nothing else, and thus, there is still hope in this indie-India future.

Parth Thakkar

DJLIT Editorial Co-committee member

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