India’s experimental indie music, now shaped by the pandemic

A dip in the number of mainstream releases has led to the emergence of a new generation of indie musicians across India, who used lockdown to compose, record and release fresh music

Updated - August 30, 2021 05:01 pm IST

Published - August 30, 2021 04:31 pm IST

Malvika Nanda, Founder - The Big Beat

Malvika Nanda, Founder - The Big Beat

While the pandemic brought big businesses, including showbiz, to its knees, independent music artists utilised the time to bring their resourcefulness to the fore. Almost every day, music was written, created, composed and released on various streaming platforms.

A dip in the number of mainstream releases from music companies and big labels led to the emergence of the new generation of indie musicians, says Delhi-based Malvika Nanda, founder, The Big Beat, Brand and Media strategist specialising in music. “Several indie musicians are dependent on live gigs for both money and outreach. With gigging off the table during the pandemic, artists got a lot more time to compose, finish, record, strategise and finally release new material,” she says.

Artists like Sartek, Varun Rajput (Antariksh), Sadu (Aryans), Midhaven, Hitesh Rikki Madan, Peepal Tree, Rohan Solomon and Lucky Ali are a few among the many musicians who produced and released music videos in the last few months.

Digital space to the rescue

Indie artist and composer Vivek Verma

Indie artist and composer Vivek Verma

Mumbai-based independent artist and composer Vivek Verma says that the indie music artists got an opportunity to embrace the potential of digital streaming platforms and found it easier to engage with their audiences. “However, Indie musicians should understand that every six months the international standard of the indie music sound changes. If they can keep pace, they will reach their goals,” he adds. Then elaborates, “Bollywood music works on situational music, so composers have certain boundaries. The culture of experimentation within the tracks makes indie music stand apart. They enjoy the freedom of making their tracks different until a pattern in sound emerges.”

For rock and metal bands, the energy while performing for a live audience cannot be replicated on a digital platform, yet, they were quick to adapt. Delhi-based singer and audio-engineer Rohan Solomon says, “Since the lockdown did not allow me to play live on stage, I would go live on Instagram once in a while and just perform with my guitar for people who would join and chat with me. It is a good way to connect with audiences, it gives you a sense of how your last single may have impacted someone.”

Singer Ishaan Nigam emphasises sustaining the fan connect. “Frequent live streaming on social media platforms are important. Apart from that, it is imperative that one release new music and collaborate with other artists,’ says Ishaan who collaborated with lyricist-composer Brite Roy for the songs ‘O Jaana’, ‘Saawariya’,’ Qaafirana Shayrana’, ‘O Chaand’ — all during the lockdown. “I am a 90s kid, hence I made a ten-song cover series called #Nostalgic90sWithIshaan in collaboration with musician Sagar Godavaria who produced the music for all the songs.”

Soumini Sridhara Paul, senior vice president, Hungama Artist Aloud

Soumini Sridhara Paul, senior vice president, Hungama Artist Aloud

Soumini Sridhara Paul, Senior Vice President, Hungama Artist Aloud says music streaming platforms have either started catalouging content artist wise, or created space for new content. “That has benefited indie artists and helped them get visibility. “With Bollywood shutting down, it was a big opportunity for them to engage with artists. We supported their releases and also created new digital IPs like #StayAtHome #StayEntertained which ran for almost five seasons and showcased more than 250 artists.”

Upskilling to stay relevant

Was everything that streamed through digital platforms successful? A few virtual shows streamed live, lacked technical finesse but in general, recorded music scored high on quality. Says Malvika, “In terms of content, the artists presented a vibrant spectrum of themes in and around the pandemic. With time at hand and nowhere to go, they spent a lot of time upskilling. They honed their skills learning to produce, record and set up home studios with decent equipment.”

Indie artist Ishaan Nigam

Indie artist Ishaan Nigam

Ishaan started learning music production on his own to record and produce unplugged tracks at his home studio that he set up during the pandemic. “Apart from being a singer, I also explored my musicianship as a composer and lyricist,” he says. For Vivek, it was time to study the theory of Hindustani music and understand ‘shruti’ and ‘swara’ better. “I also got some free time to practice my vocals, and undoubtedly my musical style improved,” he adds.

For 17-year-old artist Delhi-based Kiara Chettri, the pandemic break could not have come at a better time. Her single ‘Why’ was released last month and a ten-track album a few months before that. “We worked through the pandemic. Staying at home gave me a lot of time to focus on music and school. I am happy my album and my single got released finally.”

Music repertoire

While there was a sharp rise in hip-hop, followed by electronic music, Malvika observes that lo-fi music has also been gaining popularity since last year, probably because of its much-talked-about ‘chilled-out and calming’ traits and usage in short format video content like Instagram Reels and YouTube shorts.

Malvika adds, “There were a large number of releases in the acoustic guitar or piano-accompanied, singer-songwriter category as well.”

Another trend that gained significance recently is of playlisting on streaming platforms, says Malvika, explaining that “non-label artists do not get the same streaming numbers. To increase the number of streams or be discovered by more people remains a challenge for indie artists.”

Hence, to streamline playlists, ‘Artists Aloud’ recently launched Musical Forces – a genre-specific original independent music. Explains Soumini, “The idea stemmed from the fact that the consumer today is fragmented in their music choice and are aware of the different genres that they would like to follow. Hence we decided to build an IP that would help us to release several artists within the same genre. The name was meant to be generic so that it can be applied to any genre.”

The indie music scene is evolving and while it may not be a massively bankrolled umbrella genre, it is quick to catch up, feels Malvika. “It will continue to adapt, survive and grow.”

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