The sound of music is increasingly regional on apps

Regional music's popularity surge has coincided with the drop in data tariffs, rise in penetration of smartphones

Lata Jha
Updated24 Nov 2018
Punjabi tracks like Diljit Dosanjh’s ‘Putt Jatt Da’ are a big hit.
Punjabi tracks like Diljit Dosanjh’s ‘Putt Jatt Da’ are a big hit.

New Delhi: Indians are now dancing to a different tune on online streaming platforms. Bollywood soundtracks, for long the most dominant genre on these apps, are no longer the first or only choice for users.

The popularity of music in Indian languages other than Hindi has surged in the past two years. Hindi film music, which accounted for about 70% of the overall consumption on streaming services such as Saavn and Gaana two years ago, has now dropped to about 50%, while non-Hindi songs have witnessed a spurt in consumption, going up from 5% to nearly 25%, industry executives say.

The surge in popularity of regional music in the last two years has coincided with the sharp drop in data tariffs, rise in smartphone penetration and proliferation of content in languages such as Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu.

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Mobile data tariffs have plunged since Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd entered the market in 2016, sparking a bitter war for market share in the world’s second-largest market by mobile phone users.

“With internet penetration in the country growing every day, audiences are able to stream music in their own languages and from their own regions. Artists are also able to release their music with the support of online and independent platforms, which are encouraging this,” said Meetal Shah, global head of brand, communications and marketing at Saavn.

Saavn’s in-house streaming label, Artist Originals, is an example of how independent artists are supported to release, distribute and promote their music in the country.

“There are many places in India that got electrified in the last few years and whose first source of entertainment was the mobile phone, not the television,” said Jay Mehta, head, digital, Sony Music India. “People in these places have grown up only knowing regional content, with no exposure to Bollywood.” Unlike the internet, traditional media such as radio and television still lean heavily on Bollywood content, he added.

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Quite clearly, the biggest gainer of the regional content wave has been Punjabi which, Mehta says, has pretty much become akin to a national language as far as music goes.

“From a percentage perspective, all regional languages including Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Gujarati have seen growth of more than 100% on our platform last year,” said Prashan Agarwal, chief executive officer at Gaana, the streaming service owned by Times Internet Ltd. “But from an absolute number standpoint, apart from Hindi, Punjabi and English stand out, accounting for more than 10% each of the overall consumption today.”

Punjabi, Agarwal added, has seen huge traction thanks to artists like Diljit Dosanjh and Jassie Gill, with most chartbusters falling in the peppy, romantic and party track zone.

In fact, Dosanjh’s Putt Jatt Da is the current Internet sensation. The second favourite is the sad romantic number, with singer Millind Gaba’s single Main Teri Ho Gayi standing out last year. Then there are the Punjabi songs that acquire Bollywood rehashes and turn even bigger like Dosanjh and singer composer Badshah’s Proper Patola that was recently featured in Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra’s Namaste England.

“As people start consuming Punjabi music through Bollywood, they are also open to consuming other Punjabi music on the platform which is where a lot of our recommendation algorithms based on tonality and user behaviour come into play,” Agarwal said. “On Gaana, we’ve taken a lot of chances to expose Punjabi music to our Hindi listeners. There are a lot of users in the Hindi belt who choose Hindi as their consumption language but are open to listening to Punjabi as well.”

Punjabi, Telugu and Tamil are the three major languages that produce a lot of content, have sizeable industry players and command a large market share, said Siddhartha Roy, chief operating officer of Hungama Digital Media that owns the Hungama Music app over 48% of whose users consume non-Hindi content. Besides these, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Gujarati and Malayalam are popular too.

Vikram Mehra, MD, Saregama India Ltd, said after Hindi, the music label launched its digital audio player Carvaan in Marathi, Tamil and Bengali and is looking at Punjabi and Malayalam launches too.

“Like with Hindi, regional music too is led by movie soundtracks. This is a direct reflection of the effect our movies, whether they are in Hindi or any other language, have on popular culture. Additionally, easy access to global content has given the audience a chance to sample and consume a multi-lingual library, even if they do not comprehend the language,” Roy said.

Movies too are likely to drive the next wave in music evolution in India with the 25% that local language music contributes to overall consumption soon going up to 30%. As of now, Marathi and Gujarati cinema are taking strong strides, with Marathi blockbusters like Sairat spawning Hindi remakes like Dhadak, and Gujarati films crossing box office benchmarks set for them.

“Music-wise, Gujarati is the next Punjabi in the country,” Mehta said citing the example of recent chartbuster Kamariya from the film Mitron, which is a reworked Bollywood version of Bhammariya, a traditional garba number. “It will be similar to what happened to Daler Mehndi’s Tunak Tunak Tun in the 1990s. Gujarati beats are now accepted as national beats.”

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