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Save The Artists: Vishwa Deepak Dikshit

For the collective good of the industry, let us save the artists... there is a responsibility that the high and mighty must shoulder now, else it will be too late

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INDIA. September 2019 saw a study conducted by Indian Music Industry and Deloitte which stated that every 10% growth in Music Industry gives additional revenue of INR 810 Cr per annum and employment of 3600 to 3700 full time human resources in formal partner industries. It was a time when India was referred to as a Sleeping Giant in the global music industry, looking to shake up the existing norms of the global world. Cut to September 2020, when we look at the latest contraction of the economy and apply the same metrics to music industry, a 23% contraction would mean a loss of INR 1700 approx. in revenue and approx. 8300 to 8500 people losing their jobs. This is a straightforward extrapolation, however, the repercussions of the current scenario run deeper that what the above figures would suggest.

Read We Must, Going Ahead In The Future, Cultivate The Ideology Of Progressive Nationalism: Vishwa Deepak Dikshit

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I see musicians as entrepreneurs who establish themselves as a brand and this brand is consumed by the customers depending upon their preferences and brand loyalties. Beyond the above stated consumption behavior, one of the biggest variable that determines the amount of consumption is the socio-economic environment of the consumer. A customer in a happy state of mind will be a bigger consumer of music than a customer in relatively unhappy state of mind. This presents a deeper connect of music consumption with the state of economy as well as the well-being of individuals. Both these factors are beyond the control of music industry and the musicians. With this comes the factor, which is called Derived Demand. Music, as you would realize, is a derived demand and the variables contributing to this derived demand are complex and dependent on a many external factors.

As we approached March and it became quite clear that COIVID-19 is a real threat; it was much understood that every country will be at the receiving end of this health catastrophe. The degree to which it will impact was not known and there was a relative positivity when the lock downs were announced. It was a big change, once in a lifetime, when people in general were made to work from home and could manage their time as per their convenience. The mood in general was quite happy for the music consumers, when the lock down started, and it was also reflective in the consumption spike in the initial few days. But, as the days progressed, the lockdown was extended and the real impact of lockdown started to reflect, there was a marked change in the consumer behavior. The general positive frame of mind gave way to skepticism about the possibilities of upcoming financial struggles. With no options in sight, there was a visible distress amongst all the segments of society. Now, the real life challenges have taken over the life in general and the mind is no longer in a happy state. As a result, music is the last thing on the priority list; job hunt, revenue resources exploration, costs reduction, etc. are the features that have become a topic of deliberation. Family discord is also under tremendous pressure now. All this means reduced revenue for streaming industry, reduced royalties to musicians and reduced salaries to the employed staff in this segment.

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Having said that, this is only a part of the story. Indian music industry is heavily dominated by the music demand in the Indian Film Industry. Staggering 80% of the music that comes out of record labels belongs to films. This pattern is changing with the emergence of record labels like Vyrl, which have been very successful in creating a parallel industry segment of non-film commercial music. This segment still needs to grow further and should aim to reach a 50% market share in the music industry as the time goes. But, coming back to where it is today, film music is the biggest category and with hardly any movie being shot, no theatrical releases happening, the demand of film music has dropped drastically. Now, imagine if Reliance Industries or Tata Group stops working; the resultant impact will be nothing less than a disaster for the country. And you must consider that none of them hold 80% share in the country’s economy. But here we are, the biggest category of music, film music has taken a back seat which means 80% of the business is practically on a standstill. Whatever remains is 20% of what existed before COVID-19 in the recorded music industry, this is what put recorded music industry in deep stress.

“The recorded music industry positively impacts the live events industry, which is valued at INR 6,500 crore. Live events often play songs that have been created by, and made popular through, the promotional and distributional activities of the recorded music industry” said Mandar Thakur, Chief Operating Officer, Times Music. Live Events Industry which accounts for INR 6,500/- Cr is on a virtual standstill. There have been attempts made to digitize the Live Events, but the results are not encouraging enough. People go for live events to experience the music and the energy in the stadiums, parks or clubs. Music is one of the factors that drives them to these places; it is not the only criterion. This year, all the live festivals like Sunburn, Sula Fest, NH7 Weekender, Ziro Festival, GaanaCrossblade and scores of tours of international artists have been cancelled or converted to their digital form. This has put a massive financial strain on the artists who look at these events to perform and earn. We must also note that a lot of artists who come here to perform are the independent artists whose major source of income in the year comes during the live events season. They are not the select few musicians who have made a massive name and fan following for themselves and can charge exorbitant amounts. With this year’s season washed away, their plight has already started, their survival is under a question mark. Even for the events which have taken a digital route this year, the sponsors are shying away from any spending as they are also budget constrained. Sponsors are under strict guidelines of cost cutting given a consistent contraction of demand that was speculated in April. An estimate suggests that 98% of the musicians, overall, are the ones that survive on pub gigs, festival performances, corporate gigs and any other live event that can give them a source of income. They invest this income in their daily expenses as well as recording new music. With this income out of reach now, these artists are in dire straight. I am aware of an informal society of musicians, which has been formed in Pune, where artists are helping out each in providing daily rations to ones who are in extreme conditions. This is hazardous to the society in general and music in particular.

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The problems are real, they are driving artists to extinction and they need to be addressed. Indian music industry needs a reset and this reset has to structurally alter its current form. One of the biggest problems that we face in music industry is that it is not a well regularized set up. The biggest flaw in the music industry, overall, is the absence of a regulator that can define the industry structure, competition compliance, monopoly laws, etc. The industry is still under a state where exploitation is high and rewards are only for far and fewer artists. This has been highlighted by even the likes of Sonu Nigam in the past. But, unfortunately, there is no action in sight which can correct the problem that exists so far. Government should also explore the avenue of creating public funding policies for musicians to not only promote Indian music but also promote cross cultural music within the geographical boundaries of the country. This will also help in creating more commercially profitable music, thereby helping the government in the form of trade and revenue. Another big-ticket item could be setting up funds for establishing music schools. India, even after being such a huge country with so much talent, doesn’t have a school that can boast of the facilities given by Berkeley. For years Indian musicians have been going to Berkeley for qualified music education, there is a need for an institute of same stature in India to promote music education. The kind of revenue and employment this kind of a college can generate is beyond imagination.

Beyond the structural change, which of course are needed to establish a bigger and better music industry, one has to also address the immediate impact of COVID-19 on the artists who are devoid of any income due to closure of all the live events venues. These musicians are not MSMEs or startups registered with the Government of India which can avail government assistance in some form or at least hope for that. For this reason, it is imperative that industry platforms like The Indian Music Industry (IMI), The Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS), etc., to come up with action plans to safeguard the interests and lives of the artists. Artists in general have been the backbone of the industry over years; this is the time that IMI, IPRS and the likes should pull their strings with the who’s who of the industry. We are still to see any concrete assistance program that has been launched by anyone for the sake of helping the ones who are in dire need.

I am not saying that there is a sole responsibility on one organization, but there is a collective responsibility that the high and mighty must shoulder now, else it will be too late. For the collective good of the industry, let us save the artists!

This article by Vishwa Deepak Dikshit, Founder of UnMitigated and MusiCulture, was first published as the cover story in the September 2020 edition of UnMitigated. Dikshit is a Media Entrepreneur and a Logistics professional. He is an alumnus of MDI, Gurugram and has been an active political commentator. He tweets at @vishwadikshit

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