The stifled state of independent music in India got a new lease of life last year. Many musicians — from film as well as non-film backgrounds — came up with singles. From Yo Yo Honey Singh’s Dheere Dheere Se and Akriti Kakar’s Amma to Sonu Nigam’s Aa Bhi Jaa tu Kahin Se — several singles were lauded by music aficionados. Perhaps this development has led to another significant revival this year. Of late, many musicians have started coming up with independent albums.
Popular names in the indie circuit like Monica Dogra (her album is called Spit), and Karsh Kale (he released a record called UP) took out records. Sitar player Anoushka Shankar (she released her ninth album, Land Of Gold), Kailash Kher’s band Kailasa (their album is Ishq Anokha), and Indian classical flautist Pt Ronu Majumdar (who came up with a fusion music album, Flute Symphony: A Tribute To Mozart) also launched albums recently.
Many other artistes are set to release their records in the coming months. So, while popular ghazal singers Bhupinder Singh and Mitali Singh will unveil their ghazal album, Dil Ki Zubaan, by the end of next month, Shibani Kashyap is working on her record, which will feature singer Rabbi Shergill. Many consider the comeback of albums to be a cyclic phenomenon, but some musicians insist that there are various factors that have encouraged them to release albums.
The major reasons behind musicians’ reluctance to cut new albums, and the record labels’ hesitance to back artistes, were that the production and marketing costs used to be high. However, now artistes feel that while making an album is a risk, it’s one worth taking. That’s because, today, they can also release records online. Moreover, they feel confident because they have a strong fan base. “We decided to come up with our record because of our listeners. Every time we performed at a concert, people would ask when we plan to release a ghazal album. So, our listeners are our inspiration,” says Mitali Singh. Similarly, for Pt Majumdar, it is important that his music reaches his fans. “I record my albums to express myself. My creations should not stop reaching my fans because of money,” he says, adding, “A few years ago, people had almost stopped buying CDs, and musicians weren’t clear about how the digital downloading system, which was new at the time, worked. The chemistry between record companies and musicians was also going through a bad phase. The insecurity of not getting royalty existed in our minds. But things have changed for good over the last three-four years.”
The digital way
While people have stopped buying hard copies of albums, it is the emergence of online platforms that has led to the resurgence of music records. “Digital mediums like Gaana, Saavn, YouTube and iTunes make it easy for artistes to showcase, release and promote music. And, with the help of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you can promote and create a buzz around your work. Today, people buy music from these digital platforms. However, the number of free downloads is still higher,” says Kashyap. But Kher is not discouraged that the sales are low. “Even if the sales aren’t good, seeing our fan base expand because of the digital world is a huge encouragement,” he says.
Kher adds that even if record labels don’t back an artiste, it doesn’t matter, because “the evolution of digital platforms has ensured that albums can be sold online without complications.” Also, musicians feel that marketing albums has become very convenient because of these digital mediums.
The return of indipop
Many artistes have decided to record albums because they want to revive the country’s indie music scene. “Releasing albums is my endeavour to revive independent music in India, and to express myself through music. My upcoming album pays tribute to indipop music,” says Kashyap, adding that even music labels have now started backing albums again. “We are backing a lot of artistes this year. Also, it’s good to know that other music companies have also started supporting non-film artistes again,” says Devraj Sanyal, managing director and CEO, Universal Music Group and EMI Music, South Asia.