Get a glimpse | The music industry
Speak to people in the music industry, and chances are you will be presented with not one, but two sets of figures for the size of the industry. The smaller one, referred to as “the legitimate music industry”, is estimated to be around Rs 900 crore, according to a KPMG study. Another estimate is Rs 700 crore for 2011-12, according to Savio D’Souza, secretary general of the industry body, Indian Music Industry. But as music increasingly goes digital, a huge section of the musical pie is accounted for by illegal digital downloads as well as CD piracy. Then there are “caller tunes”, a product almost unique to India, with telecom companies making sales to the tune of over Rs 2,000 crore every year.
You no longer need to be a musician to enter the industry. You could be a digital expert, a programmer, a lawyer or a marketer. Knowing music, and loving it, helps. But it is a business like any other. For all those dreamers who made it to the music profession because of their love for a song, there are as many who did because the technology beckoned or because of sheer serendipity.
We spoke to three people who have charted a career in this business without being singers, composers or musicians—Bhushan Kumar, the chairman of T-Series, is a second-generation music entrepreneur; Neeraj Roy, managing director and CEO, set up the digital media start-up Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd; and T. Suresh is the managing director at the multinational EMI Music India. Edited excerpts:
Bhushan Kumar, 34
Chairman and managing director, T-Series, Mumbai
The first thing that strikes you about Bhushan Kumar is how young he is. He has a quiet, confident air about him. His office, with colourful film posters, white sofas and Apple Macs (a large desktop screen and a laptop), is a perfect foil for the understated Kumar who, with hair neatly combed back, is dressed for the day in black shirt and beige trousers. The head honcho of the largest, most successful music company in India today, Kumar inherited a music empire that made its money on budget recordings and a huge base of devotional music. He has diversified successfully, making not just music for films but also producing films.
How he got here: His father Gulshan Kumar’s sudden death in 1997 propelled the 19-year-old to become head of the T-Series music business. “After my father, people were not confident about us, but I managed to prove myself,” says Kumar.
Skills needed: “You have to have a good ear for music—that’s very important. I have developed this over the years; every album is an album I personally believe the public will like.”
Daily duty: Kumar is up by 8am, starting his workday at home, with calls to his Delhi office, which handles the company’s legal division. “I devote the first 2 hours of the day to backend matters like legal cases, to accounts and to taxation. I take a keen interest in legal matters, there are cases people have filed on us, and there are piracy cases we have filed. Today we are strong because we have a very good in-house legal team that takes prompt action on all copyright infringement,” explains Kumar.
He’s in office by 11.30am. The main part of the business in Mumbai is related to music acquisition and Kumar and his team meet music directors and film producers to listen to new songs. The company is also diversifying into film production.
“Our film Ready was a big success and after that we are producing many films. I recently signed a film with Milan Luthria,” says Kumar. For a music company that has a solid base in acquiring and distributing film music, and good tie-ups with directors and music directors, getting into film production was a logical step, explains Kumar, who spends the last part of the day listening to music. “By 7.30pm, I get into music sittings, where I listen to songs by upcoming music directors, sometimes by established music directors for particular films.”
Biggest achievement: “While my father had built a huge business through devotional music, I have expanded into different genres. I made many, many albums with singers like Sonu Nigam and Udit Narayan. I also kept buying rights to film (music).”
Biggest challenge: Diversifying into producing films.“Music is something I have got figured out. The next challenge is producing films. Till today I don’t understand whether a script will work or not, in the way I understand music.”
Current trends in the business: “Everything is moving towards digital. By digital I mean Internet, radio, television and ringtones. Music now will be increasingly consumed through the Internet. The streaming business, with its huge potential for ad revenue, is growing. Today 75% of our turnover, which totalled approximately Rs 400 crore in 2011-12, comes from digital.”
Recruitment mantras: “We look for people who are aggressive, who know music and who can be with us for the long term.”
After hours: “I love driving cars—I have a Ferrari, an Audi convertible, and a Rolls-Royce. Some evenings I drive to town via the Bandra-Worli Sea Link for dinners. There are parties every second or third day and though I don’t go for many, sometimes you have to go.”
Money matters: As promoter/owner Bhushan doesn’t speak of his own compensation, preferring instead to focus on the company’s good financial performance. “With an annual turnover of Rs 400 crore this year, profit margin at 20% of the turnover is healthy.”
T. Suresh, 44
Managing director, EMI Music India,Mumbai
As the head honcho of EMI India, which has recorded Indian artistes like Pandit Jasraj and Shaan, and represents international names like Madonna and Coldplay, opportunities to hang out with the stars are not hard to come by. But T. Suresh is not awed by any of this. “I have zero interest in glamour. If you get too close to artistes, the day-to-day conflicts take a severe toll on you,” he says, explaining why he works more with music directors than with the artistes.
How he got here:After a postgraduate diploma in management from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, Suresh joined Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd as a management trainee in 1991. “I was a marketing person, but found myself in the computer-aided design and computer- aided manufacturing division of the company. I spent less than a year there. It was a goalless and directionless job.” Suresh left Godrej and Boyce for marketing stints in Eureka Forbes (1992) and Real Value Appliances (1994). His first job in the entertainment field came in January 1996, where he joined Plus Channel, Mumbai, a TV software production house that no longer exists. After a brief stint with EMI in 1999-2000, Suresh joined the Times group, becoming the vice-president and business head of Times Music in 2004. In 2006, he rejoined EMI, this time as managing director.
Skills needed: Being hands-on and listening to a lot of music. “I listen to new sounds to see what works, like the new Kailash Kher album, in order to try and understand what happens when a big name in one genre records an album in another—does it work or not?”
Daily duty:Suresh’s day starts aptly, with music, as he listens to demo music pieces during his 40-minute commute to work from Bandra to Sewri. Locating the right content is a big challenge, and much of Suresh’s time is spent on this, and in meeting artistes and music directors. Then there is the development work on existing artistes which involves planning publicity, launch functions, concerts, and promotion through digital media. EMI has marketing tie-ups to sell Hindi film music, they obtain distribution licences and produce adaptations of classic film works. But the company has stayed away from obtaining rights to new film music. “You are part of an auction, and the auction has reached ridiculous levels,” explains Suresh.
“I used to have a structured weekly meeting with structured updates, but now I prefer to walk up to someone’s desk and have a conversation instead,” says Suresh, who interacts with his young team frequently. Then there is time spent in crunching and understanding data. “I read reports and also look at whatever sales data I can get my hands on to see what the trends are and which products are doing better,” he explains.
Biggest achievement:Constant growth over the years with growing profits. “We are proud of running a non-Bollywood music company that has found a path to constant and profitable growth,” says Suresh.
Biggest challenge: Moving ahead without Hindi film industry music. Every distribution channel is a lot more difficult to crack when you are non-Bollywood. You have to constantly find new ways of marketing your products. But in a constantly evolving music market, Suresh sees a lot of potential. “While Bollywood is still the largest part of the market, recent sales trend in some channels, like the Nokia music store, show an increasing consumption of Western titles,” he says.
Current trends in the business: “The music industry is driven by technology. The next stage of evolution in the music industry will be sophisticated customized packages—streaming services that suggest recommendations for you. Today the cellphone is providing access to music—tomorrow it could be something else.”
Recruitment mantras:We don’t necessarily look for business degrees; of 25 people in Mumbai, only a couple have business degrees. We would like a deep passion for music, and common sense.”
After hours: Suresh prefers watching movies on DVDs and short vacations near Mumbai.
Money matters: Anything from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 2 crore per annum.
Neeraj Roy, 43
CEO and managing director, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai
At the Hungama offices in mid-town Mumbai, the grimy exterior of a disused cotton mill gives way to a buzzing workspace. Rows of young people are at their computers amid pillars painted in bright turquoise and green. In an office cabin, off the main hall, founder-entrepreneur Neeraj Roy talks music and how it needs technology to drive sales.
How he got here:After a master’s in business administration from Sydenham Institute of Management Studies and Research and Entrepreneurship Education, Mumbai, Roy joined the Taj group of hotels as a marketing manager (1990-94), and then spent four years as an investment banker at Prime Securities Ltd (1995-99) before founding Hungama in 1999. “I wanted to start my own business and by 1999, I was fascinated with the way the Internet was taking shape. I plunged in. Hungama was first a digital and gaming company. Music came six years later.”
Skills needed: A willingness to learn. Good instinct. “My sense of instinct has prompted me to nurse or curate small businesses like gaming, which have now become big successes,” says Roy.
Daily duty: “I could have as many as 20 meetings in a day, sometimes three at a time,” says Roy, describing how he moves from one desk to another, between different internal teams. Half of Roy’s meetings are internal, the other half with customers and partners. In Mumbai, the workday begins at 9.15am. Roy spends the morning with in-house teams talking about development, products, programming and design from the different verticals in digital media.
“In music, we could be discussing ideas on a conventional music streaming service, scoping them out and looking to add social media into the listening experience and interacting with the programming department on whether it should be one, two or three clicks.” Later in the day, Roy may meet the head of a telecom company to discuss the launch of a new ringtone service. Meetings and conversations with producers like Aamir Khan, singers like Sonu Nigam, and music directors could take place any time during the day.
On most days, Roy is on the rear seat of his white BMW by 7.30pm, spending the 45-minute commute home watching the news on Web TV on his iPad.
Roy travels for at least seven days in a month. “I travel to Delhi to meet customers, overseas to the UK and to the US, to Cupertino where the Apple iTunes store team sits, to different conventions like the 3G mobile meet in Barcelona, or conventions on digital media or music,” he says.
Biggest achievement: “Sustaining being in this business, with an ability to move from one area of digital media to another. It wasn’t easy. No one vertical, whether entertainment, music or gaming, was large enough by itself to give us scale. As a company we have had the ability to switch between verticals, between music, gaming, digital media, and yet stitch these pieces together into one entity,” says Roy, who is also proud of his large team at Hungama, and of being able to sustain their interest.
Biggest challenge:“Piracy is a huge challenge. Next, unlike in the West where you have a robust card-based billing mechanism, in India payment for mobile music services like ringtones is dependent on the telecom ecosystem where 90% of the connections are prepaid, with very small balances,” says Roy, explaining how this limits the scale and pace of growth.
Current trends in the business: “As we get increasingly connected, music will become like electricity—always there. You just need to switch it on—whether through your phone, PC or through white goods like refrigerators or microwaves,” says Roy. There are also signs of more diversity in music, with digital platforms being available to artistes and with new personalized applications that will suggest diverse music based on your preferences.
“When you went into a CD store, the largest store could offer some 20,000 or 30,000 titles. But today on Amazon you can access millions of tracks—if I am enjoying a bhangra beat, there could be a south African beat which has a similarity which I could end up discovering,” says Roy, illustrating how digital technology changes the way consumers can access music.
Recruitment mantras: “We look for people in the business side of music, on the artiste management side or as part of the programming and product teams; we want people who have a passion for music. Since music today is so driven by technology, we are constantly looking at people with a technology background too, people who understand networks and scale. A lot of our work is about presenting new concepts well, so communication skills are really important.”
After hours: Golf at the United Services Club in Mumbai (though not as often as he would like) and spending time with his seven-year-old daughter Kyra. “My biggest inspiration comes from seeing how her generation handles technology; she beats me at any digital game.”
Money matters: Compensation at entry levels could be a few lakhs, going up to Rs 50-80 lakh a year for more senior positions.
Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
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