A drop of water in a Bollywood bathtub: Independent Music in India

This article is also available in FRENCH ! Scroll down to access the French version.


Editor's Note: After hearing about Indigenous resilience through music in Finland in last week's article, this week we have a different approach to what we featured on the Logbook before. Our guest writer, French journalist and international event producer Anaïs Rambaud, explores the current state and slow rise of independent music in India from an international point of view, which she herself investigated through cross-countries musical projects she produced in recent years.


Are you a music industry professional with something unique to say to the world about the place (and music market) you call home? Would you like to write for The Logbook ? We're currently looking to pick writers for May-June 2021 so pitch your article to us here !


About the author :

Anaïs Rambaud

Anaïs Rambaud studied cultural mediation and journalism; she later became involved in cultural cooperation with the Centre-Val de Loire Region where she grew up. She then decided to set up her own artist development structure in 2016, helping artist export their music abroad. Named Yanai Lab, the company first focused on collaborative projects with India, before extending its reach to Africa and Asia. Now based in Orleans, about 1 hr south of Paris, France, Anaïs divides her life between artist development, the production of international musical projects and journalism, which she never stopped doing.


Author's Note: what we mean by independent music in the context of this article:

Emerging and young, the independent music sector in India is booming. The so-called independent music genres are mostly emerging, not widely popular, carried by autonomous and not very structured initiatives, and often aimed at a niche audience. Concerts of rock, pop, electronic music and even jazz have multiplied in recent years, until the advent of the pandemic. It is a niche market whose potential is exponential.


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Arjun Ravi, music lover, journalist and entrepreneur, founded the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, or NH7, in twenty-ten. It has become the country's own Coachella, an eagerly awaited event in terms of independent music. From October to December, several editions are offered in Indian megacities.

If NH7 attracts tens of thousands of people at each edition, the audience for independent music represents only three percent of the musical listening of the territory ...

Bacardi NH7 (from NH7 Instagram)

Music is at the heart of culture in India. Music is ritual, sacred and, above all, cinematic. It is associated with cinema, the most accessible art to all castes. A Bollywood air can be heard everywhere, whether in the alleys of shopping malls with avant-garde architecture or in the depths of the shantytowns. It is no surprise that 80% of the 1.3 billion inhabitants listen exclusively to Bollywood music, according to the article "Freedom song" from Business today, published in 2013. Sacred music comes in second place with ten percent of Indian music lovers, followed by traditional music with seven.


Accessibility to music is also linked to the democratisation of the Internet, since its appearance in the two thousands. Music is mainly listened to on cell phones and India is currently the third largest network provider in the world. According to journalist Bobin James at Rolling Stone India, thanks to the Internet, ‘The interest of Indians for music has increased tenfold.’ Music coming from abroad has spread on the web, from state to state, allowing the birth of an independent music scene, directly inspired by Western music from America and Europe. Rock, originally called beat music, had already made a brief appearance in the nineteen-sixties with the arrival of a few hippies in Goa and northern India. It was not until two thousand seven that one of the first live shows of foreign artists changed things. Iron Maiden performed in front of forty-thousand people at a festival in Bangalore. Metal fans then became known and many bands were born at that time, creating with them the beginnings of the Indian independent scene.


Seeing an artist play live is a revolution in India. Until then, music was illustrated rather in films or through sacred rituals. Only traditional and classical music offered codified and frequent live performances. The first bands gradually emancipated themselves from Western hits and produced their own compositions.


Indus Creed

Band names such as Indus Creed, Pentagram and Indian Ocean contributed to the birth of the independent scene through this autonomous process of creation. They followed their own codes, inspirations and movements, disconnected from the Bollywood system or aesthetically standardised classical practices. ‘A band is born every day,’ said the singer of Indus Creed, during this revolutionary and very fertile period.


An irregular economy that does not yet allow artists to professionalise their careers


For the past decade, the independent music sector has been trying to structure itself and find its own economy within an almighty music industry that is already autonomous. As far as recorded music is concerned, album sales only cover production costs. A few downloads, when they are made legally, manage to put ‘butter in the spinach’ for artists and producers. The OK Listen platform (a music streaming service) was the early, much-used reference for young Indians.


Live music, on the other hand, is a lever for monetisation that has been booming in recent years. Fees have also evolved considerably, enhancing the status of artists. These range from five thousand rupees (about sixty-five euros) to fifty-thousand rupees. Occasionally, they can reach one hundred thousand rupees (about thirteen thousand euros).


The programming of concerts is nevertheless limited: the audience is a microcosm of amateurs, the concerts are seasonal (from September to February) and tours are organised at the last moment. Additionally, artists have difficulty obtaining a certified programming agreement from venues or show producers. For independent music, there are not enough venues available. ‘Some venues, which are intended more for classical music concerts, still refuse to host independent music,’ says Sonya Mazumdar, independent music producer within her Earthsync structure.


In India, the first concert hall equivalent dates back to two thousand and seven. Entrepreneurs set up the Blue Frog in Mumbai, one year after the Hard Rock Cafe arrived in the country. At the time, they were the precursors of this model of venue, combining bar, restaurant and stage. The venue, largely devoted to promoting artistic diversity through its programming, will be the first in a series of other Blue Frog venues in other Indian cities, joined by the Pebble in Bangalore, the Bonobo in Mumbai and the Anti-Social in the Hauz Khas district of Delhi. December two thousand and seven also saw the birth of the Sunburn, a festival in Goa, which has become one of the most famous events in the world.


Entering the Indian independent music market as a foreign artist


International artists have long remained off the beaten track of Indian tours. Local producers have difficulty bringing in foreign artists. The cost of transport is high and the fees, which are not very high compared to those in Europe, are not enough to attract international performers.

Some institutions implementing external cultural policies regularly support groups coming to perform in India. This is the case of Manu Chao, helped by the French Institute to perform in a few Indian cities in twenty-thirteen (at the Jodhpur Riff festival, in Mumbai and Delhi).


Events that manage to invite foreign bands are rock and metal festivals, taking place in big Indian cities.
Indie EarthxChange
Sonya Mazumdar of Earthsync, who is setting up an annual festival in India called IndiEarth XChange in Chennai, which happen usually in november, devoted to the various international markets for independent music, believes the share of international artists in Indian programming is clearly increasing.

‘There's starting to be a huge demand for the big stars (Justin Bieber, Ed Sheehan, etc.). But for less famous international artists, the costs are high. We have to take care of international flights which mobilise a huge budget in our organisations. However, it is worth it because the Indian public remains very fond of international music.’


To help artists structure their careers, a number of music industry professionals are beginning to emerge in the independent music sector. Three hundred and sixty degree managers, touring and festival organisers are becoming more and more numerous, as for example Counter Culture in Bangalore, 4by4 Experiences, Mixtape in Mumbai, BlueTree in Delhi. Trained on the job and learning from each other's practices, they are sometimes struggling to find common ground to work together and in harmony in terms of contracts, fees, and programming schedules. Although it is booming, independent music is perceived as a fierce business, leaving little room for it, be it on stages, in the charts or in the hearts of the public.


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Version Française


Le marché des musiques indépendantes en Inde : une goutte d’eau dans un bain bollywoodien.


S’il est totalement émergent et encore jeune, le secteur des musiques indépendantes en Inde est en pleine expansion. Ces musiques dites “indépendantes” sont surtout “émergentes”, non “populaires”, portées par des initiatives autonomes et peu structurées, et s’adressent à un public de niche. Bien que freinés considérablement par l’épidémie de Covid-19, les concerts de rock, pop, musique électronique et même jazz se sont multipliés ces dernières années. Portrait d’un marché de niche dont le potentiel est exponentiel.


« Pour les Indiens, deux choses comptent par-dessus tout : Bollywood et le cricket ». C’est à partir de cette réflexion que Arjun Ravi, mélomane, journaliste et entrepreneur, fonde, il y a quelques années, le NH7, une sorte de Coachella à l’échelle indienne. C’est maintenant devenu l’événement le plus attendu du pays en matière de musique indépendante. Il s’appelle en réalité Bacardi NH7 Weekender en l’honneur de son unique sponsor éponyme. D’octobre à décembre, plusieurs éditions sont proposées dans les mégalopoles indiennes.

Et si le NH7 draine des dizaines de milliers de personnes à chaque édition, le public des musiques indépendantes ne représenterait seulement 3% des écoutes musicales du territoire…
Bacardi NH7 (NH7 Instagram)

La musique est pourtant au cœur de la culture, en Inde. La musique est rituelle, la musique est sacrée, la musique est surtout cinématographique. C’est sans doute l’art, associé au cinéma, le plus accessible à toutes les castes de la population. On entend résonner partout un air de Bollywood, que ça soit dans les allées des centres commerciaux à l’architecture avant-gardiste ou au fin fond des bidonvilles. Pas étonnant donc, à une échelle de 1,3 milliards d’habitants, que 80 % de la population n’écoute que de la musique de Bollywood, selon l’article "Freedom song" du journal Business today, paru en 2013. La musique sacrée arrive ensuite en deuxième position avec 10 % des mélomanes indiens, talonnée par la musique traditionnelle avec un pourcentage d’auditeurs de 7 % de la population.


L’accessibilité à la musique est aussi liée à la démocratisation d’Internet, depuis son apparition dans les années 2000. Le pays est à ce jour le 3ème fournisseur mondial de réseau. La musique s’écoute d’ailleurs essentiellement sur téléphone portable. Selon Bobin James, journaliste de l’édition Inde de Rolling Stone, grâce à Internet, « l’intérêt des Indiens pour la musique s’est décuplée ». Les morceaux venus de l’étranger se sont répandus sur la toile, d’État en Etat, permettant ainsi de voir naître une scène de « musique indépendante », directement inspirée des musiques occidentales venues d’Amérique et d’Europe. Le rock, appelé au départ « beat music » avait déjà fait une brève apparition dans les années 1960 avec l’arrivée de quelques hippies dans les environs de Goa ou dans le Nord de l’Inde. Il a fallu attendre 2007 pour qu’un live, l’un des premiers d’artistes étrangers sur le territoire indien, change littéralement les choses : Iron Maiden se produit devant 40.000 personnes. Les amateurs de métal se font ensuite connaître, beaucoup de groupes naissent à ce moment-là, créant avec eux les prémices de la scène indépendante indienne…


Voir jouer un artiste en live est une révolution en Inde. La musique s’illustrait jusqu’alors plutôt dans les films ou par le biais de rituels sacrés. Seule la musique traditionnelle et classique offrait des lives codifiés et fréquents.


Indus Creed