Last year, the imposition of lockdown put a pause on the release of film music, pushing people towards the independent/non-film music, which in the pre-Covid times was, arguably, the secondary source of listening to music for most Indians.
A year later the scene has changed. Music channels, the streaming space as well as social media is overflowing with non-Bollywood music. Artistes would tell you they need to continue making music. The music labels affirm there is always an audience for art and entertainment, never mind lockdown. Both ways, artistes confined to their homes got busy creating music on laptops. The outcome was a sizeable repertoire of original sound.
“I think an artiste never stops making art if it is truly what they live for. I think constantly creating new music is like second nature for me and even if nobody hears it, I will not stop creating it,’ says Delhi based rapper Krsna, who is ready with “Still Here”, his first full-length album in over seven years. A majority of the songs on the album were written during lockdown last year.
Year 2020 was a “tough year” for T Series, says the company’s chairman and managing director Bhushan Kumar adding that “with almost no films releasing during the pandemic”, the focus naturally, shifted to non-film music.
“My team and I sat with composers and lyricists to create different kinds of songs that ultimately received tremendous success on audio, digital, radio and TV platforms, which (now) pushes us every day as a music label to come up with more singles,” Kumar says.
Now, despite the fact that film music is back, non-film music continues to top the charts in India. It is safe to assume that the pop music scene in India has once again gone beyond film music as it briefly did in the early to mid-nineties.
Sample this: The first 10 songs in the ‘Most Trending Songs (Hindi)’ category on gaana.com are non-film songs, and feature music from some of the biggest names including Yo Yo Honey Singh, Jubin Nautiyal, and Neha Kakkar among others.
Similarly, Spotify’s Top Hits Hindi category features eight non-film songs. The only two film songs that feature in the top 10 in the list are “Burj Khalifa” from “Laxmii” and “Saawan mein lag gayi aag” from “Ginny Weds Sunny”, the latter incidentally the remake of Mika Singh’s popular non-film track of the nineties by the same name.
Vinit Thakkar, COO, Universal Music (India & South Asia), feels the brief pause on release of film music gave artistes “the long overdue platform and opportunity” to showcase themselves.
“The quality of talent and music in this category is extremely promising and progressive,” says Thakkar, which he feels was “lapped up” by consumers as well because “finally after the onslaught of Bollywood re-creations in the last couple of years, there is fresh original music that successfully filled the void”.
Jubin Nautiyal talks of identifying with music at a personal level as a singer, as a reason why non-film songs appeal to him.
“(Non-film) music gives a musician the chance to narrate their personal journey through music. That’s why, whenever it’s my song, or whenever I relate to a song on a really personal level, I get excited about it and I want to narrate that song through me, because I understand the meaning behind that song,” says Nautiyal explaining his growing fondness for non-film music.
Artisitc freedom is something everyone vouches for. “The biggest advantage of non-film music is the freedom to create songs that the listeners wish to listen to and not be restricted to a film’s particular situation. We have explored romantic, heartbreak, dance, Sufi, emotional, fun — all kinds of songs during this last one year,” says Bhushan Kumar, who feels that non-film music “always existed”, but over the last few years, its popularity has increased only because “composers, lyricist, programmers, mastering, singers, and everyone associated in getting a track ready are keen to explore, create, innovate.”
Not surprisingly, musicians too, have realised that they need not depend on Bollywood to sustain themselves.
Singer Rashmeet Kaur, whose latest film song, “Nadiyon paar” (remake of Shamur’s global pop hit “Let the music play”) from the upcoming “Roohi” is doing well on charts, feels sustaining a career in music in Bollywood has now become a very “subjective” thing.
“All these digital apps have changed the scene. I feel influencers and digital growth matter (a lot) now. A lot of people are getting work and getting rich by just strong social media presence and profile, which is incredible,” she says.
“Now life has become so digital. Social media has taken over. Even people from Bollywood are releasing their singles and albums independently. So definitely, sustaining in Bollywood has become subjective. Whether it’s indie music or Bollywood music, if you’re constantly working on yourself then nothing can stop you,” adds Rashmeet.
The confidence is quite evident, when a singer like Shilpa Rao, who is primarily famous for her songs in Bollywood, does not treat film music differently than pop/non-film music anymore.
“While singing, I don’t label music as independent or playback for films, and I give every song the same time and effort. I do whatever I can in my capacity to make the song good. I leave it for people to see for themselves. That is why I feel that every song has its own journey, be it film song or independent music,” she says.
The growth of non-film music is also down to big music companies not being afraid to trust artistes and their expressions, which is probably why Vinit Thakkar says: “In the next 12 to 18months, the share of non-film music will be as much or bigger than film music.”
“Non-film music in India is now a major category in the music consumption pie,” says Rajat Kakar, managing director of Sony Music India. “As a company, artistes have always been at the core of what we do and we believe that great music always works it’s magic alongside creative marketing inputs. As the largest global major in the country, we are proud to always lead from the front with regards to evolving music preferences, and open the window to a global audience,” he adds.