Bengaluru: Online music streaming platforms such as Gaana.com (Gamma Gaana Ltd) and Saavn (Saavn Media Pvt. Ltd) are turning to original music production, distribution and artist management through tie-ups with independent and non-film artists.

Saavn launched its first original track in February this year in collaboration with rapper Naezy under its ‘Artist Originals’ initiative. It now has four tracks from five artists which have generated more than 14 million streams, Saavn co-founder and executive chairman Paramdeep Singh said.

Gaana has a similar initiative called ‘Gaana Originals’ which was launched in September. It generated more than 20 million streams within five weeks, with six original tracks. Gaana selected 11 artists for Gaana Originals, which includes both established and new artists, and plans to release more tracks this year, Prashan Agarwal, business head and chief operating officer of Gaana said in an interview.

It’s important for streaming platforms to diversify revenues because online advertising isn’t picking up as quickly as they had hoped and few online shoppers are taking out subscriptions.

By spending money in original music production and distribution, streaming platforms are trying to fulfil the role that typically belongs to music labels. However, Saavn and Gaana said that they are only helping cut costs for the artists by producing and marketing tracks, and not looking to compete with mainstream music labels.

Both Saavn and Gaana build their music inventory by buying music rights from leading labels in India like T-Series, Yash Raj Films, and from foreign labels. Big labels in India mainly cater to the thriving Bollywood and regional movie industry with very little presence in non-film music. With original music production, streaming platforms provide a differentiated medium for promoting independent artists.

“Bollywood releases 300 movies in a year, which produce almost 1,500-2,000 songs. But that is way too low when compared to the international and western market, where you see more than 100,000 songs in a year. There is a huge gap (in India), and that gap exists because distribution platforms for independent artists are missing in the country," Agarwal said.

On Gaana, Bollywood’s top five tracks generated 27 million views in a five week period between September to October 2017. Gaana Originals came close with 20 million streams with six tracks during the same timeline, indicating that indie artists can generate the same degree of response as Bollywood music, according to Agarwal.

Gaana does not have an in-house music production unit but actively invests in distributing original tracks on radio and TV stations, and on other online platforms. “We basically help the artist with support from a couple of our labels, to be able to provide the cost of production and support for production. We are kind of enablers in that, and we don’t actively invest or look to compete with labels," Agarwal added.

Saavn, on the other hand, has in-house audio production and post-production facilities for artists. It also works with third-party aggregators to distribute these works globally with DSPs (Digital Service Providers) in order to maximise distribution of new music produced under Artist Originals initiative, the company’s co-founder Singh said in an email.

The biggest expense for an independent artist goes into production and reaching larger audiences. Most of them do this by “singing for big film soundtracks, touring at big festivals, or simply releasing their music independently and then self-promoting through social media, gigs, building relationships with DJs, RJs, and show promoter," Singh said. Streaming platforms help cut down most of the work and cost involved in distribution by taking up promotion activities on behalf of the artist.

“Streaming platforms can help curb (distribution) costs because they have aggregated large music streaming audiences. Furthermore, streaming companies have the ability to leverage their data to segment these audiences so that relevant music can reach relevant audiences. This becomes a major advantage for artists as their entire effort of trying to build their fan base can be fast-tracked," Singh added.

However, independent artists have several other sources to make money, and not just from music production and distribution. They might need to look beyond online streaming and digital downloads to reach larger audiences. According to Vehrnon Ibrahim, who teaches music business and entrepreneurship at True School of Music, artists also make money from merchandise sales, sponsorships and endorsements, ticket sales, and some from vinyl records. “I have not met many artists from India who are making big money just by recording and selling their music," Ibrahim added.

Ajay Nair, director of Only Much Louder (Only Much Louder Event Management Pvt. Ltd), which hosts NH7 weekender festival, said streaming platforms could help cut down distribution and production costs with their initiatives, but in case of independent artists, things are different. “If you look at a musician’s life cycle today, especially an indie artist in terms of monetization, most of the money comes from live shows," Nair said.

“All the successful artists that we have seen in the Indie scene give away their music for free, because it helps them get live shows. We don’t see a role that a label plays in this; earlier labels used to produce music videos, get distribution on TV and Radio. But I don’t think people are going to TV to watch a music video. It’s all available online for free on YouTube, etc.," he added.

Although Saavn and Gaana have come out with original music production, they are yet to have a presence in niche genres like punk, metal and other forms of rock. In India, artists in these genres largely depend on merchandise sales and live concerts for growing revenue, according to Kunal Choksi, owner and promoter of Transcending Obscurity Records, which focuses on metal bands in India and abroad.

“Small or indie artists do not make any money from streaming. It does not work for indie bands at all. When you look at Google Play music, an album costs just Rs40 to 50. Considering the number of users on the streaming platform, I don’t think that it’s enough to cover the costs or generate enough revenue for indie artists who invest upwards of up to Rs40,000 for an album recording," Choksi added.

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