YouTube Has Reshaped The Music Industry, But Not Everyone Has A Seat At The Table

In an era when music is discovered on Youtube and shared widely on social media, a different hierarchy is emerging and it all boils down to one thing – Has your music video gone viral?

The era of cassettes and CDs is long over. Today, the music industry relies mostly on the internet to find its audience, and YouTube is still the most preferred platform, at least in India.  T-Series dominates YouTube charts, and it’s among the most viewed channels on the internet. And every now and then, T-Series gets popular actors and singers to remix popular soundtracks from the past, and within no time, those videos go viral, and countless tweets and posts appear on social media about how quickly a video has crossed 10 million/100 million/200 million views. It’s a race. 

But behind this veneer of mind-numbing views, there is a story of how this dependency on Youtube is reshaping the entire music industry and how artists are forced to create music videos which will help them reach a wider audience. So, the question now really is – Do we ‘see’ music or do we ‘listen’ to music? If the quality of music is judged by how viral (or number of views) it has gone, are we doing enough to create a space for independent musicians and artists to grow and find an audience? It was one such post on Facebook which inspired this blog. 

The way new music is being consumed is not the same anymore, now we watch and then listen and that is why it has become a major challenge for the indie musicians especially…credits to Youtube

~ Phani Kalyan

Elaborating further, Phani Kalyan, music director, said, “Everyone knows that film music dominates everything else on Youtube, and there’s very less space for independent music to thrive. YouTube itself has so much other content that it’s really hard to grab people’s attention these days. And quite often, we are left with no other choice but to make a music video, which has to be catchy enough to go viral. This, again, is a time-consuming process, and each video costs anywhere between Rs 1-5 lakhs. When you try to sell it to a popular music label, they expect you to give away the rights of the song as well. In that case, your music will reach a wider audience, but you won’t get any revenue from there. If you put it up on your YouTube channel, the reach might be limited.”

In 2016, Phani Kalyan had composed a song Neeve, and it was released in Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada, and it was a huge sensation back then. “Making music videos is a different ball-game altogether, and their popularity has spawned a different segment, which is now populated by those who create cover-versions of those songs and also lyrical videos. Sometimes, it makes you wonder if your work is being judged based on how good the music is or how good the music video is,” he wonders.

Nurturing Talent

Andrea Jeremiah, well-known actor, singer, and writer, has been working on her album for quite sometime now, and she agrees that shooting a music video has indeed become a necessity to promote and release any indie music content. “This stems from the fact that in India, any indie musician is already made to compete with the film music industry, and that is an unfair competition to begin with! To add to that, we live in an era of instant gratification and surplus content. So, it becomes a huge challenge for an artist to find a way to make his/her song stand out in the ocean of content that already exists. In the West, music labels nurture talent, they create a persona, be it a Lady Gaga or a Billie Eilish, they curate the music & visual experience, they build massive PR campaigns, brand associations…it’s a huge process. But here, an artist has only his/her song & a music video to establish a connection with the listener/viewer, and most artists do it with very little or no support. So, it’s much more challenging.” 

Going Viral On YouTube

One of the biggest challenges on YouTube is finding the right audience amidst the clutter and Andrea says that sometimes, it’s really tough to find good content, if the video hasn’t gone viral.. “On one hand, you have a slew of YouTube stars, who are hugely popular for their covers. But very few of them are able to make a successful transition from covers to original music. And YouTube has the best and worst of everything. A song could go viral because ‘it’s so bad that it’s good’. The number of views a video gets has become the benchmark for the success or failure of a song, and because of this obsession with creating viral content, sadly a lot of good content gets lost. I love YouTube for being a common platform where everyone from an A-lister to an absolute nobody can launch their content. The question is, how do you get your song across to the right audience, if they don’t even know that you exist?,” Andrea avers. 

Hyderabad-based band ChowRaasta is a rage on the internet, and some of their videos have grabbed a lot of eyeballs in the past few months. However, Srinivas, Rhythm guitarist in the band, says that they didn’t really focus as much on music videos. “We have been active for the past couple of years, and initially, we shot a couple of cover songs; however, we knew that videos weren’t our strong point. At one point of time, we were happy with 5000 views for our videos because if we perform in a club, there are 400-500 people there. We just focused on creating our original music, and there’s a lot of emphasis on lyrics which talk about relevant social issues. One such song, Oorelipotha Mama, about a guy who wants to go back to his village, went viral on TikTok, and that got us a lot of traction on Youtube as well. As a band, we believe that if you have good content, you’ll get your due credit eventually,” Srinivas says. “As musicians, I feel it’s best to collaborate with people who understand the video format and what works best for your kind of music.”

Building Digital Presence

For musicians, who are trying to make a name for themselves, music videos on YouTube are essential to create a digital presence. Vidya Sivalenka, band manager for Merakee, says, “It’s important to have a digital presence and that’s why a music video becomes important. And creating good music videos are crucial for cover bands. But then, there’s a catch. You can’t make money through Youtube if you are a cover band because someone else has those copyrights. However, it really helps to find a big audience online because, somehow, people love listening to familiar songs.” 

Naturally, there’s plenty of emphasis on how well the video has been shot, the kind of lighting used, and how presentable (or good-looking) the artists are in the video. “It’s all about the metrics these days. The more the number of views for your videos, the more popular you are among the viewers and music lovers too,” Vidya says, adding, “Another interesting development has been how much the live music scene has changed in Hyderabad in the past couple of years. Earlier, there were very few bands which were singing Telugu songs, but today, that’s become a cool thing to do and clubs are jam-packed when bands sing Telugu songs. And the number of bands too has surged so much. There are at least 35-40 bands in the market right now in Hyderabad. Obviously, this shift in the music scene reflects on YouTube as well, if you are talking about cover bands and original musicians.”

Fragmentation Of Music Streaming Market

The digital ecosystem for music has changed dramatically in the past few years. Although YouTube is still the go-to platform for most people to listen to songs and watch music videos, several other music streaming platforms like Gaana, Spotify, Apple Music, Wynk, Amazon Prime Music among many others are trying to grab a pie of the market share. YouTube itself has launched YouTube Music where the emphasis is more on the audio. 

Incidentally, several music labels and content creators have gone on record to say that their revenues from YouTube have been slowly declining in the recent past, and it’s having an impact on what music labels choose to invest in. Madhura Sreedhar, founder of Madhura Audio label, says, “The first advice I give to people who reach out to me is to not invest too much money in making music videos, if they are looking to make money from Youtube. But if artists want to make a video look like a demo for their work, then a well-made music video with good audio will definitely work in their favour.” Depending on who the music director, singer, and lyricist is, just the audio-only version of a song could cost anything between Rs 50,000- Rs 2 lakhs, and that is a conservative estimate. 

“The most interesting development,” Madhura Sreedhar says, “has been the fragmentation of the music streaming market. If you look at the consumer behaviour, most of the people from rich and upper middle class backgrounds have moved to OTTs like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar. It’s mostly people from lower income groups who are consuming a lot of content on YouTube. That’s also another reason why folk and regional music is doing pretty well on Youtube. We spend a good amount of money for our recent music video Mangli’s Raba Raba, which is a melange of Telangana folk and rap music, and we are betting big on Telangana folk music as a genre. That’s why we started Madhura Audio Originals because we want to reach out to more people.” 

No matter how you look at this trend, there’s no denying that, while YouTube has democratised access to music, it’s become harder than ever before to find the audience, especially if you one makes independent music. It almost sounds like, to reach out to a wider audience, you have to be famous first. And then, you get a seat at the table to come up with the right strategy and budget to go viral.

There’s still some hope, especially with Covid-19 changing the dynamics in every industry. Andrea Jeremiah offers an interesting perspective saying that an indie artist’s vision could become his/her USP. “I truly believe that the independent music scene in India is on the cusp of a huge breakthrough. I’ve been saying this for a while now, and now I think, the post-Covid era is going to accelerate that event. The irony is that new age film-makers aren’t picturising songs the way they used to, and with OTT content taking off in a big way, more & more people are going to look to indie artists to provide ready content for their shows/films. On a different note, we (The Jeremiah Project) have finally recorded our maiden album, it’s an indie English album, and we are super excited about it,” Andrea says. 

About Hemanth Kumar C R

Hemanth Kumar C R , is a Hyderabad-based journalist and he writes about Telugu cinema, TV shows, and his work has appeared in publications like Firstpost.com, TheNewsMinute.com, SilverScreenIndia, New Indian Express, Film Companion. He's the founder and editor of 845show.com. You can reach out to him on Twitter @crhemanth or email him at hemanth[dot]cr[at]gmail[dot]com

View all posts by Hemanth Kumar C R →

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