Independent musicians in India, up until the pandemic, depended heavily on word of mouth to promote their music, and live shows played a big role. However, ever since lockdown was imposed due to Covid-19, live shows dried up, pushing musicians — especially those who werent signed up with big music labels — to adapt, and so they did.
Plenty of indie musicians, restricted at home, started creating music within the confines of their four walls, and the result was fantastic. 2020 was probably the biggest year in terms of independent music releases.
“India’s rapidly evolving music audience is now open to discovering music outside of the Bollywood landscape. We are witnessing a sea change moment for music consumption in India. We have a new mobile-first generation of smartphone users, consuming more original music than ever before,” says Indian-American rapper Raja Kumari.
If the first six months of 2020 saw over 300 albums/EPs/singles and over 700 music videos released independently, over 1300 singles, music videos, and 200 albums/EPs, were released independently in the last six months last year!
“There’s a lot more freedom to weave in a personalised narrative and I feel audiences are now more skewed towards that correlation. Other than commercial pop, I see regional music and hip hop showing great potential on the charts. Over the next few years, this category will be bigger than the film music category,” adds Raja.
While non-film commercial/pop music continues to rule the charts, independent musicians are slowly getting recognised, and the popularity of names such Prateek Kuhad, Ankur Tewari, Raja Kumari, and Nucleya among many others, is often blurring lines between what’s considered commercial and independent music respectively.
“I’ve noticed some of the more established artistes seeking out talented independent musicians and promoting or collaborating with them as well,” says Rahul Singh, who goes by the moniker More Than Ray, who adds that the support of streaming platforms towards independent music has been instrumental in emergence of the genre.
“I think that’s partly a function of people having more free time to take deeper dives into the genres they love, and the ones they’re willing to explore in the midst of quarantine life. Streaming services have also been doing a fantastic job of promoting some of the independent creatives they think are capturing the zeitgeist,” he adds.
Electronica musician Sartek agrees and echoes a similar sentiment. “A lot of the credit for this goes to the rise of streaming platforms that caters to all age groups. As a producer I was earlier making music for a specific set of audience, mostly youngsters, but now my direction is more towards all age groups. I feel music should now cater both to a teenager in a school and an 80-year-old grandma rocking on her chair!” he says.
Just like the musicians, listeners too were confined to their homes last year, and this meant that they had more time to explore different forms of music, which only meant more numbers of independent musicians who consciously stay away from creating music within commercial parameters.
Perhaps, one of the biggest reasons behind the emergence of indie music is, as Delhi based electronic duo of Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj — also known as Midival Punditz — points out, was due to the inability of big music labels to produce high-budget music videos during lockdown.
“Since shoots and videos were nearly impossible, the audience was left with listening to new kinds of independent music mainly for the musical content and perhaps even with some home-made or creatively done animated videos. This was perhaps one of the reasons that new audiences turned towards independent music since so much of it was coming out from home studios,” Gaurav and Tapan say, adding that while commercial music will be back, independent musicians “will see a lot more demand in their content”.
The optimism is evident despite the fact that, as Delhi based singer-songwriter Rohan Solomon points out, “masses will still listen to major label artistes over indie artistes as a whole,” indie music is destined to grow.
“I’ve noticed that indie artistes are really making great use of social media and other online platforms to promote their music. The audience that is receiving their music is definitely increasing,” adds Rohan, whose last few singles have made it onto charts across the globe.
Parikrama’s Subir Malik couldn’t agree more. “It’s great for all of us, and I am glad that people are realising the potential of indie music. Of course, the flipside to this is that there have hardly been any Bollywood kind of releases last year because of Covid. But being optimistic, the reach of indie music, I am sure, will grow year after year,” he says.Some notable indie artists:
The Jaipur-based indie artiste, known for his featherlike compositions, mostly about human relationships, has established quite a cult following, which also includes former American President Barack Obama, who named his song “cold/mess” as one of his favourite songs in 2019.RAJA KUMARI
Despite the fact that this American-Indian rapper has worked with big labels from time to time, the fact that she is a fiercely independent artiste, who works on her terms, is something that is not unknown.
One of the biggest names in the Indian electronic circuit, Udyan Sagar, or Nucleya, is also one of the biggest success stories emerging out of the indie music scene. From performing at music festivals across the globe to collaborating with popular electronic artistes such as Major Lazaer, Nucleya’s sounds are quickly becoming synonymous with popular music.
The 17-year-old has quickly become one of the most promising artistes in the indie scene. Her music has already been appreciated by popular musicians such as Ehsaan Noorani.
Tewari is one of the most popular independent singer-songwriters, for his strongly opinionated music. His rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, which he translated in Hindi, continues making rounds on social media, and he is slowly becoming a popular artiste.