Home / Technology / News /  Why Indian music apps are a let-down: 4 charts

Online music apps offer you a simple promise: subscribe to us for around 100 a month, and get all the world’s music at your fingertips. But western music lovers, beware. Only Spotify and Apple Music come anywhere close to being the real deal for listening to western music, shows an analysis of services available in India.

JioSaavn was the only homegrown service that scored over 8 out of 10 on an index we came up with on the coverage of western music. Global services ruled the top four, with Spotify and Apple Music sharing the top slot (9.3/10)—a sign of resource-rich global apps signing deals with more music companies to offer more western albums.

Each app’s rating is the average of its ratings on 10 individual genres, which in turn are based on how successful we were in finding critically acclaimed albums in each genre in the libraries of various music apps.

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The poor show of Indian apps is at odds with the growing interest in international music, which a 2021 report from trade body Indian Music Industry attributed to fewer domestic film releases during the pandemic. For some Indian providers, it is important to offer more than just western music. Siddhartha Roy, chief executive officer of Hungama Digital Media, said the company’s focus was on smaller cities and it was designed as per the taste of Indian listeners. “While western music is very much a part of our audience’s consumption, it's not a dominant sub-genre for the larger core consumer we cater to," Roy said.

Global-homegrown gap

It’s not all doom and gloom though for homegrown services. If you’re insistent on subscribing to a local provider, you can still be happy with JioSaavn, which scores close to a 9 in genres such as pop, rock, metal, and hip-hop.

But if you’re a fan of electronic dance music (EDM) or jazz or western classical, all homegrown services score less than 8 out of 10, so it’s best to go for a global service.

To be sure, it’s not to say that global services are perfect either. For example, YouTube Music doesn’t have rock basics such as the 1976 album ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles. Spotify also has big acts missing such as 1970s music icons Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Both artists pulled their music from the service to protest against the spread of supposed covid misinformation by podcaster Joe Rogan on Spotify.

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Music majors dominate

The reason why some services can offer more western music than others comes down to deals with music companies. There are three groups that run the music scene: Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music. A fourth entity, Merlin, works for independent record labels operating outside the big three. If a service makes deals with these four groups, it can give its users access to most music under the sun.

An interesting exercise would be to see how much of the music in our dataset is contributed by each group. The information for which group holds the copyrights is usually present on an album’s display page. After collecting this information for all albums, we see that Universal contributes the most to the dataset, followed by Sony. If we see the dataset as a sample of critically acclaimed music, each group’s contribution to the dataset could, in a way, also be its contribution to all ‘good’ music.

Missing deals

The copyright information also lets us determine how many of each group’s albums are available on each service. Gaana hosts only 2.4% of Universal’s albums in the dataset, with the likes of The Beatles, Nirvana and Kanye West missing. Despite Merlin’s website describing JioSaavn as a partner, it hosts only 66% of its albums. A closer look shows albums from prominent music company Beggars Group, otherwise a Merlin member, are missing from JioSaavn, including albums from the band Radiohead and older ones from the singer Adele.

Chart 4:

It’s possible that Gaana doesn’t have a deal with Universal, and that the JioSaavn-Merlin deal may have excluded Beggars Group to begin with. Queries sent to Gaana and JioSaavn went unanswered. But the significant gaps between the promise and reality show that India is still at a point where music fans first need to hunt and figure out which service has most of their favourite international albums.

Shijith Kunhitty is an independent journalist.

Methodology note:

The analysis relies on various best-album lists curated by respected books, magazines and websites in each of the 10 chosen genres of western music. There were two kinds of lists: best of all times (the ‘canon’), and best of recent times (contemporary).

For example, for EDM (electronic dance music), the canon was taken from a list of the most influential albums by dance music publication Mixmag, and the best contemporary albums were taken from annual 'Best Albums of 20XX' lists from dance publication Resident Advisor for the last 10 years.

The final list had 317 critically acclaimed albums: 50 canonical and 267 contemporary. These albums were searched for programatically, and sometimes manually, in the libraries of each of the music apps listed in the analysis. After weighting canonical and contemporary albums equally, a rating for each service is given out of 10, based on availability.

Spotify, for example, had 46/50 EDM albums in the canonical list, and 236/267 in contemporary. That translates to 4.6/5 points for the canon and 4.4/5 for contemporary, for a total rating of 9/10 for EDM.

The individual ratings for the 10 genres were then averaged to arrive at an overall rating for each service.

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