First Coldplay. Now Justin Bieber. Has the Indian music industry come of age?
Ahead of Justin Bieber’s debut Mumbai performance, we look at how the Indian live music industry went from attracting has-been musicians to ruling superstars.HT48HRS_Special Updated: May 04, 2017 20:19 IST
In January this year, there were rumours that Canadian pop star Justin Bieber (23) was set to hold a show in India. ‘Beliebers’ (as the singers fans are known) waited with bated breath for an official announcement, while those who couldn’t care less judged them on Twitter. But, nobody seemed incredulous of the possibility of Bieber coming for a gig — after all, hadn’t soft rock band Coldplay, rapper Jay Z, and pop singer Demi Lovato been here only a couple of months ago?
Five years ago, however, it’s safe to assume that the reactions would have been entirely different. India, or Mumbai, was nowhere on the radar of major international pop artists. All we saw were a number of once-popular names from various genres perform in the malls of Mumbai. Case in point, Vengaboys (no ’90s party was complete without Brazil being played) in May 2015, and singer Shaggy (It Wasn’t Me was another party staple) in October 2016. And, for a while, it seemed like that was all the pop talent India could attract.
So, what changed?
Over the past few years, thanks to popular dance music festivals such as Sunburn and Vh1 Supersonic, and multi-genre festivals such as NH7 Weekender, India has emerged as a live music destination. Be it Hardwell or Eric Prydz, most top DJs have performed here at least once, with artists like Tiesto and Armin Van Buuren coming back for repeat shows. The success of these festivals proved two things: there’s a definite audience willing to show up for music concerts, and that India has the infrastructure to pull off large-scale events. This paved the way for the pop singers now considering India as a potential tour stop.
Wowowowowowow incredible India pic.twitter.com/uepwwTmgl4— MARTIN GARRIX (@MartinGarrix) December 30, 2015
“International promoters and managers now know that we have a huge market here that’s untapped,” says Nikhil Udupa (32), co-founder of 4x4 Entertainment, an entertainment consultancy firm. “Globally, EDM (Electronic Dance Music) is the new pop. The audience for both genres is not very different. Every big pop star today has collaborated with an EDM artist.”
India’s consumption of international music too, has significantly increased because of the penetration of the internet. While millennials grew up with limited, and often, illegal, access to their favourite global musician, we now know what’s in vogue instantly. It also helps that we’re keen to follow ruling international trends in any industry — be it food or fashion. “Sixty per cent of this country is under the age of 30. The consuming and earning potential is exploding, and it will last for the next 20-25 years. This is where most brands and celebrities are recognising an opportunity to increase their fan base and economic potential in India,” says Saugato Bhowmik, business head, integrated network solutions and consumer products, Viacom18 (which organises Vh1 Supersonic).
Next stop: India
At the annual mega dance music festival Tomorrowland (Belgium), you will always find a fair number of zealous Indians, with some even waving the Indian flag in the front rows. Log on to any social media platform, and you’ll notice a flood of requests directed at well-known musicians to hold a show in India. Boyce Avenue, for instance, an international band that produces covers of popular American songs, cited their massive online following from India as the main reason they opted for a multi-city India tour in 2016.
But apart from fans, what do international artists look for when they decide on stops for a concert tour? “Whether India fits geographically within their world tour itinerary is an important factor. Artists usually like to bag multiple shows within Asia instead of coming for just a couple of shows in India,” says Bhowmik.
More and more international acts are using India as a springboard to enter Asia, and usually perform in three or four metro cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru while in the country. “The band’s personal desire to come to India also comes into play. I have known musicians who are keen to perform here even though they know they may not get the same kind of money [as they do internationally],” says Udupa.
The road ahead
Traditionally, India has struggled with an image problem, and with good reason. Bureaucracy, exorbitant taxes and security hassles continue to plague the live entertainment industry. In January, DJ David Guetta’s Mumbai concert was rescheduled because the organisers could not complete the formalities in time. Festival giants Supersonic and Vh1 Supersonic too were not safe from the bureaucracy. They were forced to move out of their usual spot in Goa last year, because of issues with the local government. “There are only a handful of world-class venues in the country. That creates pressure on event organisers to build temporary infrastructure, which again drives up costs or the audience experience simply suffers,” Bhowmik points out.
Despite the drawbacks, the industry has continued to grow at a steady pace. Going ahead, Udupa sees many more medium-scale bands going for a multi-city club circuit in the country. “Hopefully, they will go back and spread the word,” he says.