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How record labels survived the pandemic: Score Short Reads

The pandemic has brought about a major change in the music industry. Attending live concerts at venues have become a thing of the past as the entire mode of music consumption has shifted online. Virtual concerts have become the norm.

But the lockdown also allowed artistes to catch up on their practice and create new stuff. Sitting each day with the instrument as company is bound to be a recipe for something creative, hence a lot of new stuff has been coming up. Musicians have also come up innovative ways to record their stuff as hiring studios was not possible for some time.

Even though venue promoters took a beating, record labels saw different things coming their way with new releases. Also, as the internet is now the tool for spreading the music far and wide, the nature of the job has also changed.

 A flood of new releases

“The independent music industry learnt to be even more resourceful this year. Whether it is in terms of creating content or marketing it, all artists had to unlearn a few things and adjust as per the situation. Consumption on our platform was up by almost 12% between April and September,” says Soumini Sridhara Paul, Vice President of Hungama Artist Aloud.

To promote their signed artists, this label created a property called #StayAtHome #StayEntertained, which enable musicians to perform original songs live from their homes across their social media pages. “We featured a new artist every day and over the last 7 months, we have had several seasons and iterations of this property. We also created a mega digital concert called Independent Together that featured over 75 artists from around the world performing live from their homes. Further, on World Music Day, we worked with BookMyShow to deliver 4 simultaneous music concerts that people could enjoy from their homes itself,” she says.

For Azadi Records, the pandemic turned out to be a really busy time as they were flooded with new releases. “We released 18 individual releases which comprised of 65 songs since lockdown from March till date. We released more during the pandemic than we have leading up to it,” says Mo Joshi, co-founder of the label that bets on upcoming hip-hop artists.

Summing up some of the releases, he says, “Our biggest releases would be the Sound of Resistance Vol. 1 which is the first  compilation of Azadi Records that comprised of 37 songs. Seedhe Maut released a track ‘Do Guna’, Prabh Deep released a track called ‘Chitta’ while Swadesi had a track called ‘Mahamaari’. We had a collaboration track between Seedhe Maut and Karan Kanchan called ‘Dum Pishaach’ and Mawali released ‘Shambar Bars’.”

Damage control

While they plan on releasing 50 new tracks in 50 weeks, a contingent plan has been put in place to try to recuperate from the financial setbacks caused by the pandemic. Commenting on it, Mo says, “There is no recovery from the pandemic as it is here to stay. We have to look at how to adopt strategies in order to move forward in this situation. We have adjusted our strategies in terms of how we release music and also how much we release. This is how we are trying to compensate for the lost revenues.”

But for BGBNB, the pandemic really hit below the belt as there was a massive drop in revenues as they were dependent on live shows. “Live gigs brought in revenue from our established artists which was put to use to discover our new artists. It also slowed down releases as we couldn’t record new songs and shoot music videos. We lost around four months of releases but this also allowed us to re-assess our strategy and gave the teams a lot of time to get ready for post-Covid times,” says its founder Gaurav Wadhwa.

Though the label couldn’t work at maximum capacity, it did however, land a few big blows by releasing Bollywood star Tiger Shroff’s singing debut – a song called ‘Unbelievable’. Incidentally, this was the label’s first music video release since the lockdown started. It also launched Naezy’s second EP titled 2014 besides shooting two in Kashmir and Chandigarh.

Taking the challenge head-on

Since a major part of its business functioning depended on the live music circuit, getting the word across about new releases also got tough. “The biggest challenge we faced was that many key mediums of promoting songs were seeing a decline in audiences like traditional PR, radio and television shows. Also, major discovery platforms like  colleges, festivals, live gig venues were completely shut,” says Gaurav.

Though BGBNG is waiting for normal business functioning to resume post-Covid, it is hoping for innovations in the music industry. Says Gaurav, “The only way to recover is by innovating. Music scene in India largely runs on revenues from live gigs and there needs to be serious innovation here for consumers or brands to start paying. People won’t stop consuming music but the commerce of it needs to be re-looked at post pandemic.”

Hungama Artist Aloud, however, seems to put on its thinking cap and are already putting plans in place to get out of the economic trough it fell into because of the pandemic. “The process is going to be slow and gradual and the artists who put their effort towards honing their talent will survive. While offline events are slowly coming back especially in terms of corporate gigs and weddings, a lot of them have also become virtual events which requires the artist to also improve their ante as a performer,” says Soumini. 

“We have seen quite a few artists working towards new content and keeping themselves active in the streaming space. I believe artists will need to look at building dual careers for themselves so that they can be prepared for the future and rebuild their bank balance as most of them had to dive into their savings for the past few months.”

In a nutshell, the pandemic has brought the industry down to its knees and both record labels and artists have to put their best efforts forward to survive and recover from this.

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