'Sterling Reserve Music Project aims to promote regional independent music'

Devraj Sanyal, Managing Director & CEO, Universal Music & EMI Music, and Bikram Basu, COO, Allied Blenders & Distillers, talk about Sterling Reserve Music Project

e4m by Moumita Bhattacharjee
Published: Apr 3, 2019 8:59 AM  | 5 min read

Universal Music and Allied Blenders and Distillers have announced the launch of Sterling Reserve Music Project. It is one of the first enabler platforms to discover, incubate and promote emerging musical talent from India. They have introduced a track called Yo Yo that brings together rapper IKKA and an upcoming talent from Canada R S Chauhan.

exchange4media spoke to Devraj Sanyal, Managing Director & CEO, Universal Music & EMI Music, and Bikram Basu, COO, Allied Blenders & Distillers, to understand what is the future prospects of independent music in India that is ruled by Hindi film music.

Excerpts from the interview:

What is the aim of Sterling Reserve Music Project?

Devraj Sanyal: For the last two years, I have been desperately trying to find a partner that shares our vision. As Universal Music or any major label, you will pick and choose top-end artist with top-end ability and of top-end language, which is generally Hindi, Punjabi and not anything else. What happens to the independent musicians of the country? I know 5000 DJs. There are probably in excess of 2,00,000 independent artists in our country today who are talented but have nowhere to go. But beyond a point, let’s be honest, how will you get to my door? So we create an external platform that will allow us to work with somebody who shares the same vision as us. It is a very expensive thing to do. The combined vision is to form an eventual home for independent music. There are a lot of musicians who don’t want to go commercial or be a sell-out.  This is for that world. All you have to do is send us your music; we have big team who listens to all the songs. We have received some 550 songs already.

When you say it’s an expensive project, what does it mean for a partner like Allied Blenders and Distillers?

Bikram Basu: It can’t be a one-off commitment. It has to benefit the brand and Universal. There has to be commitment to talent. When you are talking about emerging talent, you are talking about people who are talented. When we come in, it also helps to round it off with live gigs and get into the digital social space. It’s beyond sponsored talent hunt. We are in it together to build something really cool. There is so much talent in the country. We are also language and genre agnostic. We are looking at rock, hip hop, Hindi, love ballads, Punjabi, English. We are going to do languages. That’s really good and relate to people.

What are your expectations from a project like that in terms of consumer response?

Devraj Sanyal: I think we don’t have any expectations of how many streams. Our mission is, firstly, they should be available everywhere. Next is to make sure that they are prominent and relevant in the place they are available. That’s an impossible scenario. Today, if you open your music app, you will see all Bollywood content. I run a non-film business in the country and it is tough for me to be up there. Today, I got the AirCheck India Top 20 Most frequently played songs on Radio report.  My song is at No. 7. No non-film song has ever reached number 7. So availability across media is important. Plus our expertise to shove them into the visibility spot.

So there are no revenue targets attached to the project?

Devraj Sanyal: We expect something will happen. There are no numbers. It’s too early in the day to have numbers. The minute you set a target, I am Universal Music, I am no longer part of Sterling Reserve Music project. I am a commercial guy now. I already have world’s largest label doing its job.

Bikram Basu: It’s more of a qualitative thing rather than a quantitative thing. So if three or four of them really go big and some find mid-ground, and somewhere we get the purpose we want to achieve, it will help them. It will help Universal Music and Sterling Reserve Music project in their own way. It works for the whole ecosystem.

Devraj Sanyal: Brands that are in it for branding never win. Brands that are in it for vision and long haul always win. Coke Studio didn’t get in to sell Coke. They eventually sold Coke. But talent was the core. And their standards were the highest.

In the 90s independent music got a good response. But it eventually fizzled out. What do you think is the reason?

Devraj Sanyal: Independent music died not because of independent music. Films came, films spent money, films bought television, radio and everything and chucked us off. In the last couple of years, Bollywood is having a spectacularly bad run. It just doing remixes and recreations. There is no original music anymore. It is great time for us. We launched a platform called VYRL. Today it is the number 1 home for independent musicians.

As per BARC India’s recently released report called What India Watch 2018, music content seems to be most consumed by kids and youth. Where does Independent music fit into this category?

Devraj Sanyal:  We are making music for young people. We are a country where 600 million people are below 27 years of age. You can’t make music for old people. But if you make good music, chances are that everybody will love it.

Bikram Basu: Young people stay ahead of the curve. They have the ability to understand.

What do you think will be the future of non-film music in the coming years?

Devraj Sanyal: Non-film commercial music not attached to films is the game for next few years. Independent music is the underbelly. In the next two three years, non-film music will come to the fore and I think then independent music will have a real shot. But in music, there are no rules. One song goes like a rocket and changes the dynamic. 

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