Bangalore: They are both software codejocks by day, but once they are done crunching software, Gaurav Vaz and Shreyas Srinivasan become radio jockeys at Radio Verve, India’s first Internet radio station. Tucked away in a basement in a north Bangalore neighbourhood, the station, which is dedicated to independent music makers and has just gone 24x7, is looking to cash in on the popularity of digital music delivery in India.
Early this month, Radio Verve, which started three years ago in another avatar aimed at promoting independent bands, has been streaming 24-hour music across seven different channels—from rock, metal and ‘easy’ listening to regional genres, such as Konkani, Indian folk, gospel, Carnatic and Hindustani.
To be broadcast on Verve, artistes or bands need to be independent (or indie) Indian bands or musicians creating original music and with no formal affiliation to record labels as yet. “This is intimate radio that features music by artistes who are yet to build a mass following,” says Vaz, Radio Verve’s, co-founder and the content manager.
The site does not allow free downloads of music nor does it sell music online but the interactive packages include interviews with artistes who also get to maintain their own Web pages onsite, and a feedback corner called the ‘shout box’. If a surfer wants to buy music, he is directed to Music Yogi.com, an online music store.
The reinvention of Radio Verve comes at a time when digital music sales are set to climb steeply. India will be the second largest market for digital music in Asia, after Korea, in two years, predicts Soundbuzz Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based digital music services provider. According to a survey conducted by the firm, sales of Indian music will reach Rs4,100 crore by 2009, with 90% of this coming from digital music. The survey also predicts online music sales and sale of music for mobile devices will together earn Rs3,601 crore by 2009, up from Rs450 crore in 2005.
Radio Verve began as an experimental radio station, Infinity Radio, that played an hour of Indian independent or ‘indie’ music, mostly rock and metal, every night to a group of 8-10 listeners, rustled up from Vaz and Srinivasan’s personal chat lists. The idea was to promote music the duo enjoyed.
Bands that went on air included LBG—short for Little Babooshka’s Grind—from Chennai, Avial (named after a vegetable stew that is an integral part of Kerala cuisine) which plays Malayalam rock, Phenom and the Raghu Dixit Project, groups Vaz jams with. Infinity was collegial and hip until irate listeners started complaining about missing or late shows, and broadcasts disrupted by power cuts.
Looking for a way out, Vaz and Srinivasan turned to Atul Chitnis, an open source software entrepreneur, rock music aficionado, and Srinivasan’s colleague at Geodesic Information Systems Ltd, a Mumbai-based IT company. “I am quite tuned into the rock community of India, but here I was listening to music created by people in Delhi, Assam, Nagaland, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), not just the stuff I hear in Bangalore; it was manna from heaven,” says Chitnis.
He quickly realized that while the content was good the execution was terrible. He showed Vaz and Srinivasan how to record and ‘can’ shows, setting them up for a bigger presence online. From 10 listeners, Radio Verve’s audience went up to hundreds overnight as the operation eventually moved to a round-the-clock mode supported, in part, by a Rs80,000 cheque from Geodesic Information Systems.
For Radio Verve, the greater acceptance for indie music also coincides with listeners increasingly accessing internet radio on mobile phones.
Mobile users can now access Radio Verve using ‘Mundu Radio’, an application from Geodesic. The radio station is among a bunch of 30 odd default links to music sites Mundu Radio offers its users.
Musicians are beginning to see the benefits that Radio Verve can offer. At least 20 copies that LBG sold of its latest release Bad Children, came from enquiries posted on Radio Verve, says Aum (he uses only one name), one of the two guitarists in the Chennai band.
The sales coming out from the station may be small, but the reach is getting to be enormous. “Every time we add on fresh content, page hits increase to an average of five lakh a month,” says Vaz, who has a day job at Citrix Software Inc.’s Bangalore office.
Classical music is getting traction on the site too. The June 2007 launch of independent classical music on Radio Verve is powered by content drawn from Ananya, a Bangalore organization that promotes emerging talent on the Carnatic and Hindustani music scene. R.V. Raghavendra Rao, founder of Ananya, says one benefit of supplying music to Radio Verve is to have Ananya’s archival content on the Internet.
Drawing rave reviews on Radio Verve’s classical channel site currently is Manasi Prasad, who turned down an offer from New York investment bank Goldman Sachs & Co. in the 2007 placement season at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. In July, she starts work at the Bangalore offices of Standard Chartered Bank, a job that the Carnatic singer says will keep her in touch with the classical music scene in India.
Radio Verve could be just that leg-up indie musicians never had in India.