The 4th edition of All About Music, one of India’s biggest music conferences, went virtual for the first time owing to the coronavirus outbreak across the world. Every year, delegates and panelists from different countries come together to speak about the music business in India. The crowd at AAM usually includes A&R executives, record labels, distributors, aggregators, analysts, content creators, musicians and bands.
AAM is a property of Truly Musical owned by TM Talent Management founder Mr. Tarsame Mittal. The conference kicked off with an opening speech by Tarsame, followed by two key notes, and an important session by Spotify India’s Head of Artist & Label Partnerships, Padmanabhan N.S on Spotify for Artists. In his Workshop, he broke the widespread myth about being able to get listed in Spotify editorial playlists by paying agencies or third party companies. “You CANNOT BUY your way into a Spotify Editorial playlist. It’s a scam, so do not fall for it.”, said Paddy. Simultaneously, there was also a panel discussion conducted by popular news reporter, Faye D’souza, on the music business after Covid, discussing the current evolution patterns in entertainment, live industry, and more.
Indian culture and music come with endless diversity. It shows through the music we make, and its use to accompany our messaging. A session I was particularly intrigued by was Brands Baja Baraat, a session on music used in advertising – for brand films and commercials. The panelists discussed how music has been used to highlight emotions without being direct, showing our culture in subtle ways, as well as using unexpected soundtracks. Panelist and ad shark Agnello Dias mentioned the first major Nike cricket advertisement in India using Konkani song Bebdo, an old song that was originally sung by Goa’s nightingale Lorna, revamped for this film. Dias had to explain Goan culture to the Nike international team when they questioned the language used in the film. Another iron in India’s fire of diversity! The panel also went on to discuss how, at large, the expectation of marketers versus what fits, is often not translated well enough. A common brief that most composers get for ad films is always complicated or unclear. Famous music composer and director Shantanu Moitra expressed how the simpler the brief is, the better it is to the creative composer. I also discovered the concept of a Mogoscape, which was alien to me until this session. I didn’t know there was a term for what is described as a piece of music created for a brand, which can be modified while retaining the value of the scape, and the use of a Mogo, or a music logo. (examples of brands ending ads with Mogos – Intel, Mastercard, PayTM, etc.)
Afternoon sessions on day 1 resumed with a session about Music and marketing, and what artists can do best to market themselves, how influencers work, etc. The All About Growing Indie panel moderated by music writer and journalist Amit Gurbaxani was one of the more in-depth discussions on what chance indie musicians have in the ecosystem we’re seeing at AAM. With independent artists like hip hop producer Sez On The Beat, Parekh&Singh’s Jivraj reminding us to read through contracts, especially from labels carefully. A major takeaway from this session was to learn what you can to be self-sustained, and be knowledgeable when it comes to your music and rights. Karan Grover, the new Director of Music Partnerships at Dolby Sound Labs also talked about how Dolby is looking to involve themselves more with upcoming artists. The insightful panel by Women in Music called To The Top: Leading Executives and their Strategy spoke about the balance in the music business. Neeta Ragoowansi, a regular delegate at AAM and Secretary and Global Co-Chair at Women in Music stressed again on the importance of eradicating any gender bias in the system, and how it is important to give equal opportunities because greater gender equality leads to faster economic growth. More women, means more employed citizens, bigger boost to GDP, economic diversity, and much more.
A very insightful session with renowned music composer and director Shankar Mahadevan, in conversation with folk singer Malini Awasthi followed. This knowledgeable session showed us the immense diversity in folk music just within a single state in India (Uttar Pradesh). The session went on to explaining how folk music has always been more of tradition than claiming copyright over words or tunes. Malini explained the varying roots of folk music in UP, song themes, and how the Hindustani classical music landscape has contributed to setting the mood and tone to portray these poems, ghazals or shayaris. This session went well overboard the stipulated time, but it was worth knowing the amount of information they covered. Mahadevan also took it upon himself to connect with Awasthi and find ways to create a record, study and preserve the origins of these songs, the oldest tales sung and passed down over generations.
The Indian Performing Rights Society or IPRS conducted a workshop explaining how IPRS is useful for artists, where collections are made from and the benefits of registering with them. What was new for me was, IPRS collects royalties for TikTok as well, something distributors weren’t involved in doing before, along with several other mediums like radio, live concerts, etc.
One of the most intense panels was the Credit De Do Yaar session. It was based on the movement started by 15 contemporary lyricists from the Hindi film industry, who came together to sing their humble demand of receiving due credit for their work. While the music writing process works differently in India, they spoke about how, often, composers, singers, arrangers, and lyricists are all different people. Due to the broad categorization created on most major streaming platforms in the West of ‘songwriters’, there is no clear segregation between lyricists, songwriters and composers. Both old timer Swanand Kirkire and Varun Grover (of Sacred Games fame) brought up the same point on the difference between songwriters and lyricists. They stressed that feeding in metadata needs to change for India, because it is different here! Even though this information is available with us, we have nowhere to put it. Lyricist Kausar Munir asked why lyricists are not approached for appropriate information, if any is lacking. Speaking of importance given to lyricists in the songwriting process, Amitabh Bhattacharya said the dilution could be due to the clubbing of so many different identities for different songs on the same piece of work or album. Day 1 ended with a Pitch Your Song to Music Labels panel, with Universal Music Group India, Sa Re Ga Ma, Speed Records and Sony Music Entertainment members in the panel. 10 shortlisted tracks from AAM’s 100+ entries were played to panelists, who decided if they wanted to hear more from the artists or meet with them.
Since I was interested in checking out the Connect Corners – a place where you can meet people from the global industry – I missed a bit on the sessions on Day 2. The Connect Corners were full of industry experts ranging from labels to distributors, production houses, and A&R executives, such as Sony Entertainment, Zee Music Company, Jugaad Motion Pictures, Azadi Records, JioSaavn, Believe Digital, to name a few.
However, I did take a look at a few sessions. I happened to catch the All About Music Publishing and Supervision panel, where musician and music supervisor Ankur Tewari said, “In the past two years, independent music has found a place where labels are losing and musicians are succeeding.” From the looks of it, independent releases are the only way for MOST musicians in India, as very few make it to labels or get offered any kind of support.
AAM founder Tarsame Mittal then spoke to Punjabi hip hop star Yo Yo Honey Singh. Among major musical influences, it was interesting to note Honey drawing inspiration from a variety of composers and producers like A.R. Rahman, all the way to Dr. Dre and Timbaland. They spoke about Honey’s journey from rags to riches, the good things he has learned on the way, and how his new label is scouting for artists. Tarsame also mentioned the launch of three more music labels by famous music directors – Amit Trivedi (AT Azaad), Vishal and Rekha Bharadwaj, and himself – TM Music. There’s definitely some heavy duty scouting happening! Let’s see where we go with that. More on that in my concluding paragraph. Heena Kriplani, Country Manager of distribution platform TuneCore also simultaneously did a Workshop on available services for artists on TuneCore.
Moving on to the 12th panel – Pitch Perfect: What Investors Look For – this session was hosted by Roshan Abbas, co-founder of Kommune. Mr. Ashish Pherwani, Media and Entertainment Partner at EY India, expressed how digital is moving into the community space, and music can be one of the biggest propagators in this shift. It is important for promoters and creators to make sure the essence of community is not lost in this hustle, and music can be one of the major players in keeping this community alive. This was followed by business ideas that were pitched to AAM through entries, and 10 business ideas were placed before the panel. The day ended with Moe Shalizi speaking to Submerge India co-founder Nikhil Chinapa about his success and rise.
Day 3 was full of surprises, being the concluding day of the event. It kicked off with Hungama Digital Media’s COO Siddhartha Roy speaking to Atul Churamani, MD of Turnkey Music & Publishing Pvt. Ltd. on Regional Music as the New Mainstream, with growing numbers across the country. The next panel moderated by President and Founder of A&R Worldwide/MuseExpo, Sat Bisla, dived into the possibility of India making it big like K-pop and if we have the potential to do that. The panel included Global VP of A&R at Warner Music Group Aton Ben-Horin, MD and CEO of Univeral Music Group and EMI in India and South Asia, Devraj Sanyal, A&R and Managing Executive at Roc Nation, Shabz Naqvi, and Indian singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad.
An important panel among the ones on Day 3 included the All About Licensing For Online Concerts, a much-discussed topic in recent times since the IPRS announced the mandate to take permissions for their artists’ online live concerts. Rahul Ajatshatru, a lawyer specializing in media and entertainment laws, stated there are a total of THREE permissions an organization or musician need to take for their performances – PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited), Sync Rights or Synchronisation License if this music is recorded or distributed, especially pre-recorded communication. Prashant Dogra, CEO of PDL, also mentioned how PDL is an entity that procures sound recording rights given by labels, and is an underlying work of the IPRS.
Simultaneously, JioSaavn’s Associate Director of Product, Priya Singh, conducted a workshop on JioSaavn’s Artist services. The platform, like Artist logins for Apple Music and Spotify, gives statistics on the artists’ music, and more.
By afternoon, the panel on Rise of Non-Film Artistes had begun. Moderated by COO of UMG, Vinit Thakkar, the panel had Indian music singers Asees Kaur, Aastha Gill, Tony Kakkar and Vishal Mishra. The panel aimed to discuss these singers’ success. Various factors like being signed to major record labels played a huge role in their success, their videos going viral online, and more. They also spoke about how some songs don’t do too well, with Vishal Mishra explaining how 7 million views is less for him, reinforcing that every piece of music has its time. A good song never goes to waste, because there is always a time for it. On the contrary, everything doesn’t seem hunky dory even in the high ranks. I couldn’t get over singer Tony Kakkar saying artists are bound by contracts and therefore unable to collaborate with artists on other labels, one of the main factors keeping artists from achieving higher views. Tony Kakkar boasts of video views in billions anyway, so I’m not too sure what he’s talking about when it comes to views.
I believe the timings of a few panels were moved around, so day 3 may not be in exact order, but I’m going to list down what transpired anyway. In the panel on Opportunities Beyond Live and Studio, the whole idea was to try and understand how much can be used beyond live music performances and studio recording work. Mike Lu, CEO of content creation app Triller, spoke about how music is used in the app. Users take the effort to make creative content, and how Triller, like TikTok is different from just status update apps like Instagram. Tom Salta, better known as ATlA5 PlUG (Atlas Plug), spoke about how music is a huge part of our consumption and experience. He has worked on soundtracks and scores for top games like Prince of Persia, Wolfenstein, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Series, Halo, PUBG, to name a few.
The next session was one to take a lot away from – Back To The Roots – with Ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas, playback singer Roopkumar Rathod, and folk singer Kalpana Patowary. Udhas ji spoke about how ghazal has always been a number 1 option barring Bollywood, and how young ones still aspire to be musicians these days. Kalpana Patowary spoke beautifully about how folk music varies when you live in different regions because of the change in terrain. While UP folk may praise the rains through folk songs, the same season is seen as a bad time in Bihar and Assam, as these states undergo incessant flooding. This session also questioned the effort Bollywood puts to keep Indian culture alive by sharing the diversity through music. Kaplana mentioned how Lok Sangeet or Folk music incorporated in Bollywood songs is always concentrated in UP and Hindustani classical forms, whereas other parts of the country like Assam get lesser importance on a national level. She also added that one of the main reasons why all forms of folk music aren’t popular across India is because of our culture being so diverse. Further, there are variations in bhasha (language) and boli (dialect). It’s one of the reason why folk isn’t mainstream, but that barrier has become even lesser of an issue in the past few years.
In Breaking Your Song Across Media, Gaurav Sharma, Chief Programming Officer at Fever FM made a few pointers that should be looked at. When speaking about achieving success, he said, “Many people try to be like someone. Yes, you should look up to them, no doubt, but there needs to be something unique about YOU.” What every artist should aim towards is – intuition, experience and research – three very important factors in an artists’ success, along with that X-Factor about you.
Gaurav also mentioned how people have the tendency to separate themselves from the music because they get involved in the process of making all the supporting content to the actual music, which isn’t necessarily a good thing at times. Contradicting this in another session was Ralph Simon in conversation with Scott Cohen, Chief Innovation Officer at Warner Music Group. He said, “Being a creator today is more than just a song.” There’s a whole process that goes into it that is equally important for a release’s success – which could be music videos and other promotional material.
My final session, which overshot again by at least two hours, was Arijit Singh in conversation with music legend A. R. Rahman. He spoke about his journey, and how he broke convention at a time where it was frowned upon. He spoke about fusing genres, even Indian classical ragas, to come up with something completely unheard of at the time.
I was still thinking about the Breaking Your Song Across Media session moderated by Nirmika Singh, music journalist and Executive Editor at Rolling Stone India. Nirmika asked the panel if any indie artist, up and coming, caught their eye. Besides the standard ‘there are many’ response, I do not remember clearly if anyone there knew an artist beyond the non-film music stars, the usual Bollywood singers, or Prateek Kuhad. On the hunt for the perfect blend of familiarity and X-factor to create success stories, labels have failed to notice uniqueness in thousands of musicians and artists who are releasing content every day, more so since the lockdown.
There’s definitely been a change of climate in the independent music industry. Artists and bands have been empowered to wave the independent flag, and as labels keep reinstating, they are on a constant search for artists, or finding that one Superstar to make out of the talent emerging from across the country. I personally find it appalling they haven’t found the next big thing(s) even fortnightly, with the ridiculous amount of talent brewing even in the smallest parts of India. Few non-film artists who enjoy parallel commercial success are now seen as the ‘independent, non-film music’ artists who have views in millions, and some billions online. They are supported by labels too, so technically they shouldn’t be calling themselves independent, so lets agree to disagree. Artists who come from a non-film, no covers background are scarce, or pretty much non-existent to this scene. The only name you will commonly hear among label folk is Prateek Kuhad. Hats off to him for breaking through and making a name for himself, but it also shows the lack of effort put by people actually looking for music to promote.
We move on, every day, nonetheless. Jugaad Motion Pictures’ Director Dar Gai, in a Workshop on music videos and visual storytelling, raised an important question that many musicians and artists face, or fear. She asked, “Why are we trying to be in an industry that makes us struggle?” Now that’s a question!
Big thanks to the team at All About Music for creating such a unique and powerful experience with some of the most famous musicians and professionals in the music business.
Featured Image via AAM