With the advent of online streaming platforms, India is witnessing a surge in ‘indie’ musicians who push boundaries to challenge the traditional stronghold of major record labels. Here’s how

Indie artists benefit from online streaming platforms` algorithms, organically exposing their music to larger audiences. L-Aditi Saigal, R-Akshath Acharya.Pic/Instagram

When a music-head ventures beyond the confines of Bollywood, an ever-expanding pool of ‘indie’ music comes into focus. While there is ample haze around who an ‘indie’ artist is, some of the homegrown musicians who ring a bell on the craft include: Anuv Jain, The Local Train, Prateek Kuhad, Aditi Dot, Kayan and more.

To expand further: an indie artist is someone who adopts the ‘do-it-yourself’ philosophy over working with major labels like Zee Music Company, Sony Music India, Saregama, Tips and the like. Yet this description is limiting and fails to capture the essence of an ‘indie’ musician.

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Serving as a vessel for the zeitgeist, open to introspection, and an ever-evolving craftsman, an ‘indie’ artist carves her own niche. Blurring the lines between genres, relying solely on gut instinct and drawing inspiration from banal surroundings, an indie artist pushes boundaries, redefines rules, and challenges the traditional stronghold of major record labels.

Departing from conventional music releases

With the surge of online music streaming platforms, indie artists have begun to assert lordship over their craft, embracing a more direct and immediate approach to sharing their work with audiences worldwide. By bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of the music industry, indie musicians now have unparalleled freedom to release their music independently.

One of those platforms – Spotify, ranked as the top music streaming platform in India (as per a report by Redseer Strategy Consultants) has emerged as one of the primary sources for indie musicians to get discovered online, skipping the protocols set by corporate labels and music giants.

These platforms offer a democratised space where artists can upload their music directly, allowing for greater creative control, monetisation of their audio assets and a closer connection with fans. Additionally, the algorithmic nature of online streaming services provides indie artists with opportunities for organic discovery, enabling their music to reach niche audiences who appreciate their unique sound and style.

Dot: on getting discovered online

Between January 2023 and January 2024 (YoY) Dot. has seen her listenership increase by over 250x on Spotify. Pic/Instagram

In a conversation with this writer, the Archies actor and an indie musician, Aditi Saigal (aka Dot) tells us why having her music featured on Spotify playlists has broadened her horizons. “Being on ‘Radar’ playlists has been a huge boost for my music as that’s where most people discover music nowadays. I’m not entirely sure how the mechanics of it all work. I just create the music, upload it, and then Spotify handles the rest.”

Indie artists know that seizing unexpected chances can alter the course of their careers. Dot recalls the day when she was recording at Spotify’s studio in London. “They have this writer’s room in Metropolis Studios where we actually ended up writing ‘Girls Night’. I and the guys at Playbook spent about 6-7 hours there, and it was quite mind-blowing because we took a sneaky look at the recording schedule and some of my favourite artists had slots right after us. It felt like we were a part of something big, you know?

‘Girls Night’ ended up getting playlisted globally by Spotify and even made the cover of the ‘Borderless’ (Spotify) playlist. Thus, with the advent of tools provided by music streaming platforms – indie artists are now able to own their music right from bookings, recordings, promotions (to) distribution. This is a respite given how the informal music industry of ‘indie’ is marred with cutthroat competition, financial insecurity, and piracy – making the artists more vulnerable.

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In an interview with this newspaper in 2022, DJ Emaan from Mumbai confirms this: “High-profile contractors have complete monopoly over the Indian music industry, and this leads to exploitation. I had to depend on private gigs to earn extra money.” It’s why he decided to branch out, and work independently, taking up short-term residency opportunities and high-profile gigs, across the country.

Akshath: on how fans resonate with his music

Akshath’s listenership jumped by over 700 percent since being featured on ‘Radar’ playlist in India. Pic/Instagram

With soulful melodies like ‘Jadoo,’ ‘Noor,’ ‘Sahare,’ Akshath has emerged as a genre-defying indie musician whose work is a fusion of indie and pop, with a touch of traditional Indian influences. Speaking to this writer, he opens up about his inspiration: “I’ve always been drawn to the emotional depth and storytelling aspect of indie music, while the infectious melodies and modern production of pop resonated with me on a personal level.”

While Akshath was offered a few label deals after passing out of college, he dived into online streaming, where he discovered firsthand how fans resonated with his music. “Spotify’s artist tools and analytics provided valuable insights into my audience demographics, listening habits and geographic distribution, allowing me to tailor marketing efforts, gigs and shows and fan engagements more effectively.”

By analysing metrics such as listener demographics, play counts, skip rates and playlist placements, Akshath has gained insights into which songs strike his audience and why. Additionally, the results of any marketing efforts (e.g. Reels) can be directly seen through a spike in streams (or lack thereof). This allows indie musicians to curate promotional efforts in an informed manner.

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Like Dot, Akshath swears by ‘Radar’ which has proved to be the most impactful form of support in his music-making journey. “It was a landmark moment for me when the ‘Radar Campaign’ was taken global, and my name and face were on FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium. It made me believe that my art means something and that I’m here to stay,” he added.

Nurturing indie talent via tailored playlists and tools

Dhruvank Vaidya – Head of music and podcasts, at Spotify India

Literally speaking, “indie” is quite simply the abbreviation of the word “independent” and represents the creator community. Dhruvank Vaidya – Head of music and podcasts, at Spotify India, outlines that Spotify has always been focused on the creator community, and artists are a huge part of that. He uncovers the digital tools designed to support the indie music community of India.

Fresh Finds: In 2021, Spotify launched Fresh Finds, an initiative for developing independent artists, and in 2023 alone, Fresh Finds supported over 700 artists in India. The leading playlist in the category, Indie India, added over 500,000 followers in the last two years, making it one of the fastest-growing playlists in the country on the platform.

Spotify For Artists: This platform allows artists to access in-depth data about their audience, markets, music performance, discoverability and more. It continues to host masterclasses to educate artists on how they can make the most of Spotify to grow their music and fan base. “Today, over 28,000 artists in India use Spotify which is nearly twice the figure from last year,” informs Vaidya.

Radar: Spotify’s global emerging-artists program, RADAR, launched in India close to four years ago, which gives up-and-coming independent artists a stronger local and global audience through the platform. Since its launch, the team has engaged over 40 emerging artists locally, providing them with playlist curation and marketing support.

Keeping up with the evolving trends

“While film music continues to be big in India across languages, we are now seeing an emergence of artist-first popular music,” remarks Vaidya. There is rapid growth in music languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Kannada, and Haryanvi among others. The widespread availability of digital streaming platforms and tools has made it easier for artists to create and distribute their music, without the constraints imposed by major record labels

Several artists now release their songs audio-first and often don’t create music videos. This has eased the pressure on musicians to compete on both aural and visual levels thereby leveraging their talent to reach a wider audience and gain recognition.

Vaidya highlights that there has also been a shift in the perception of independent music in India, with more acceptance and recognition from mainstream media and the industry. This has encouraged an increasing number of indie artists to pursue their passion for music independently and explore creative avenues.

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