The days of Bollywood movies might not be over, but the boom of OTT and streaming platforms have exposed the audience to content beyond the Hindi film staple. A fiery and fresh, young breed of independent singers, songwriters, and composers, often all rolled into one, are churning out earworms that are unpretentious and unaffected, and seep right into the soul. How and what’s new with India’s independent music scene?
“There are three key trends in India’s independent music scene, especially in the context of music streaming platforms. First, artistes are experimenting with several genres of music within indie, ranging from folk and rock to pop and instrumental.
This is largely because artistes have access to an audience that wants this variety of music not just in India but globally, owing to the popularity of streaming platforms. Secondly, indie artistes are using streaming platforms as their social media channels to connect with fans. Third, artistes are more aware of the tools and best practices that can help grow their music,” explains Padmanabhan NS, Head of Artiste and Label Partnerships, Spotify India.
We round up a motely bunch of young and talented solo artistes to talk music, money, and the method behind creating a career as an independent musician.
Songs on Spotify/YouTube Top 10: Baarishein, Alag Aasmaan, Gul, Mishri, Meri Baaton Mein Tu, Riha, Maula, Ocean
Genre: Indie Pop
You have not done the 2022 monsoons right if you have not made reels or posted stories on Baarishein. It was the debut song of 27-year-old Anuv Jain, which he had put out six years back. Its popularity has only grown since.
The Ludhiana lad has been singing away his blues since he can remember. “I started putting out original songs recorded on my phone on YouTube when I was 16. Amongst these songs was my first song, Baarishein. I then recorded it in a studio when I was in my third year of college,” recalls the singer- songwriter, who has just dropped his latest single, Mazaak.
He’s doing his dream job, but what about making money?
“Streaming revenue is a considerably small percentage of an artist’s total earnings. One needs to turn themselves into a brand too. Making your music popular should definitely be the first priority because live shows contribute the most to an artist’s revenue. But building your social media following and improving the way your audience engages with you is equally important. That’s how you will get brands on board. Social media has put corporations with heavy budgets and normal college kids on an almost equal playing field. It’s made it easier for artists to market themselves. However, if you are just starting out, then earning through music might not be sufficient. So, it’s better to work part-time, maybe in the music industry or in a completely different field. Save, and then invest that in making songs. That’s how I did it,” he smiles.
Songs on Spotify/YouTube Top 10: Liggi, Udd Gaye, Sage
Genre: Hindustani Classical Pop
26-year-old Ritviz Srivastava is not new on the scene, us Internet grownups noticed him quite a while back. Hailing from Darbhanga, Bihar, Ritviz made his debut in 2014 with Mukti. “It was a big compilation of indie artists that time, and they featured my song,” he reminisces. He started with party gigs while living in Pune. “I played at a kid’s birthday party when I was in the ninth or tenth grade,” quips Srivastava, who is trained in classical music, and has fused it with his passion for EDM and hip hop to create a sound that is distinctly his.
What steered Srivastava, who can be considered among the best in the business today, away from Bollywood music was the lack of creative freedom. “Film music, as the name itself suggests, is music that is an accessory to the film. Most of the times, you have some actor who becomes the face for your song or music. It was not something I wanted to do. I wanted creative freedom and control over my music,” says the singer-songwriter and record producer.
According to him, people are looking forward to and are more accepting of original material now. “The rise of the streaming platforms and the evolution of social media — earlier it was just YouTube, now artistes are discovered even on reels — are really pushing the movement forward,” the Udd Gaye singer is hopeful.
Talking about the financial aspect of music making, he points out that for indie artistes, it’s crucial to have the rights to their music. “Having the right for your music puts you on a position of power. It will help you grow exponentially once your music starts to blow up on YouTube or reels. If you hold the right to your songs, you can then get the streaming money, and eventually, even sponsors,” he points out.
Songs on Spotify/YouTube Top 10: Khwaab, Katputli Ke Dhaage, Kabhi Kabh
Genre: Indie Pop/Soul
Anumita Nadesan, 21, is one of the recent breakout internet sensations in the independent music space. Born in Trivandrum and now based out of Hyderabad, she started learning classical music when she was just 10 years old. After majoring in footwear designing, she made her debut as a singer in February this year with her single, Khwaab, which trended across all major viral playlists and charts across platforms. “I also got to play my debut show earlier this year,” says the YouTube and Instagram star.
According to her, timing is very important in an artiste’s career and independent music is now having a moment. “In today’s film music landscape, we have observed a massive crossover — artistes like Prateek Kuhad & OAFF really managed to make that shift — and it certainly paves the way for the up-and- coming musicians,” says Nadesan.
Moreover, a lot of new record labels have emerged post the pandemic, breaking the monopoly of the big dominant players. “New record labels these days are more artiste friendly, and believe in modern ways of marketing,” she points out.
However, it is not all rosy. “One of the biggest challenges for any indie artist is to source funds. In today’s algorithm-driven world, you need heavy numbers for better discovery on platforms, and it ultimately becomes a challenge whether to go for a people-pleasing approach or create music with strong self-expression in order to reach out to a wider audience,” she explains.
Songs on Spotify/YouTube Top 10: Le Chal, Katputli ke Dhaage
Parikh, 32, has worked in several Bollywood films, including the recent Brahmastra hit Kesariya, and is a member of alt-rock band, The Yellow Diary, helms music production, keyboard, and backing vocals. He has recently released Le Chal, his solo single as a singer and songwriter, and is known for his collaborations with Anumita Nadesan. After graduating as a production engineer, Parikh did a diploma in sound recording and engineering. “I interned at YRF, and worked with Lalit Pandit from Jatin-Lalit for some time. In 2015, I formed The Yellow Diary, and we released our debut song called Marz,” says Parikh.
According to him, music labels are noticing the indie music scene, and are on board to support artistes. And this is helping artistes reach new audiences. “There are a lot of great labels out there such as Warner Music India, Sony Music India, Universal, Big Bang Music, etc. These are helping indie music grow. But I think it is really important for us to focus on our music and make sure it’s like original and fresh, because that’s what’s going to help it stand out from the influx of music that the labels get every day,” he adds.
Songs on Spotify/YouTube Top 10: Aankhon Se Batana, Muskan, Kitaab, Hum Badal Gaye, Oh Humrahi
Genre: Indie Pop, Soft Pop, Lo-fi Pop
22-year-old Dikshant’s songs are currently scorching the charts. According to him, he keeps his songs lyrically simple, and ensures they have a strong story.
“My first paid gig was in 2021. After four years of posting cover songs on Instagram, I decided to release my first original, Oh Humrahi, in 2020. I got so much love for it that I was motivated to do more originals,” he recalls.
“Social media is the biggest tool to help you reach your goals. My song, Aankhon Se Batana, got attention through social media. Whenever you put out something, make sure it tells something about you, your art, and your vibe,” he says.
Talking about the exponential growth that the independent music scene in India is seeing today, he says, “Artistes can release their songs across the globe while sitting inside their homes now, and even the big Bollywood music companies also have understood this, and are trying to cash in on the trend. Hence, you have songs previously released by independent artists now getting featured in movies as well,” he says.
Most Popular Spotify Songs: Mutual, Underdog (with musician Sanjeev Thomas), Attached
Genre: RnB, Rap, Pop, Soul
Better known by her stage name i.e. RANJ, 24-year-old Ranjani Ramadoss sings in English and Tamil, and has 12 years of training in Carnatic music. She then got into opera singing when she was in high school and college. This Chennai girl, who has a BA in western music psychology, released her first single, Nee Mattume, in January 2021. “I’ve always been a band girl [she was part of two ensembles, the jazz fusion band Kelvikkuri and the neo-soul/pop band Paula & the Associates]. However, the lockdown made it impossible to meet my bands, and eventually, my roommates and I started making music together. I put out my first RnB single in January 2021 and played my first gig as RANJ on October 16, 2021,” she says.
But it is not easy to sustain as an up-and-coming indie artiste. “I don’t have any sponsors or labels; I sustain purely on live shows and paid projects. I could only do this because I saved as much as I could from my teaching jobs. The initial stage is a building period, and I am in that phase now. It is essential to have savings and other sources of revenue in this stage,” she reveals. According to her, the independent scene has never been as big as it is now, and the mainstream finally taking notice of independent artistes. “Great efforts are being put into improving, preparing, and recognising Indian independent artistes right now. The new trend of including indie music in web series and films, along with mainstream composers collaborating with the independent artistes, are driving the movement forward in a big way,” she points out.