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Forget Bollywood. India's independent music scene is headed in entirely new directions.
“Over the last four years a huge number of venues have opened,” said Ravi. “Now when I sit down to list gigs in Bombay every week I list 20 to 25 gigs in just one week.”
Sales are climbing, too. According to a website devoted to the Indian music industry, non-Bollywood pop music now accounts for as much as 8 percent of the market — a dramatic change from yesterday's complete dominance of film and devotional music. And more radical changes are in the offing. According to consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, India's radio industry grew nearly 40 percent from 2004 to 2008. But, just as in the rest of the world, music industry revenues dipped almost 15 percent last year. PwC says that means digital music will be the key driver of growth for India's music industry in the future — with digital's share of the pie growing to 60 percent in 2013 from 16 percent last year. That could be the web-savvy indie bands' chance to shine.
“The Internet has been the biggest boon,” said Nair. “Before that it was more or less impossible to reach out to people across the country, and now it's become fairly easy.”
Already, indie bands like Pentagram, the Raghu Dixit Project and Indian Ocean are breaking through into the mainstream music market. And as Bollywood seeks to reinvent its evergreen genre flicks, the fringes of the film business are beginning to look to the indies for source music instead of purpose-built studio tracks. Director Anurag Kashyap, for instance, tapped Indian Ocean for the soundtrack to his 2004 film "Black Friday," about the investigations following the 1993 serial Bombay bomb blasts. Though Anurag Basu selected Bollywood veterans Pritam Chakraborty and Sayeed Quadri for the soundtrack to his 2007 "Life in a Metro," for the first time instead of lip-syncers Pritam himself appeared in music video-style interludes within the film as the front man to a real-life rock band. And then last year Bollywood insider Farhan Akhtar created a real, though fictional, band for the surprise hit "Rock On!"
“People are getting bored of Bollywood, to be frank,” said Ravi. “Over the next four or five years, or maybe the next 10 years, we're going to get into a mindset where we're open to far more entertainment options.” And indie music will be a driving force through that transition, Ravi believes.
For OML, one day that could mean big bucks. The company has already begun to get nibbles from international players in the music business. But for now Nair is looking to take it slow and build a domestic music scene organically. That's why in November OML organized a conference for independent musicians in Mumbai called Unconvention — not for the artists they promote, but for the whole industry.
“They know that for them to grow as a company, the scene needs to grow, so it's not just about the bands that are there on their roster,” said Nair. “And I think people recognize that. Vijay [Nair] got a standing ovation at the end of Unconvention, and it wasn't one of those standing ovations that you're almost forced to give. It was a very genuine feeling.”