Can independent music genre become big business for radio?

Independent music has grown exponentially on digital radio, but does it have the potential to be an enticing proposition for mainstream radio? We ask few players...

e4m by Saloni Surti
Updated: Jul 4, 2013 8:10 AM
Can independent music genre become big business for radio?

Melodies created by independent artists have set the music registers ringing from the very beginning on Indie pop in the country. While the genre has now taken a backseat on the television front, it still captures millions of hearts through various other media including digital and live concerts. The over Bollywoodisation of music media now – be it radio or television – has given rise to a need gap for audience who are not exactly in tune with contemporary music.

Independent music sourced from artists and bands grew in the last few years as the perfect content format to reach out to the masses that are looking for music beyond Bollywood or Hollywood. Music sourced from independent artist has managed to become a niche in itself across radio with a number of broadcasters airing it either on their terrestrial station or digital streaming portals.

“Since the time we have launched Radio City Freedom, we have received tremendous response from our listeners. We now have more than 700 independent artists who share their compositions with us,” remarked Kartik Kalla, National Programming Head, Radio City, explaining the gaining popularity of independent content.

Independent music as a genre, as of now, is stronger across digital radio, as compared to its terrestrial counterparts. While some radio stations air pockets of independent music, it is not as strong as the other genres.

The strong digital foundation
Radio City and Radio Mirchi have exclusive digital streaming for independent music, namely, Freedom Radio and Mirchi Edge. Radio Whiskey, an online radio station, is dedicated completely to music sourced from independent artists.
Independent music majorly caters to the musically inclined youth who do not find the content of their taste on terrestrial medium. This genre has a niche appeal, and digital being able to offer tailored catchments, serves the purpose well.

“Mirchi Edge is designed as a niche station and caters to an audience that may not be the mainstream audience of FM Radio. Reach numbers for this station will never match the more mainstream product. Our primary goal is on creating a really high quality product that discerning listeners will enjoy,” said Rahul Balyan, Head – Digital Initiatives, Radio Mirchi.

Independent music on digital radio has higher appeal as for interested listeners it is the content of their choice served in radio format; thus, maintaining the beauty of randomness that radio possesses.
Vineet Singh Hukmani, MD and CEO, Radio One points out that the non-royalty nature of independent music as a genre comes handy for digital radio streams which already function on comparatively lesser funds. “Every genre takes time to grow and the quality of music will ensure loyalty of fans who will demand an exclusive format. Alternative rock in the US or EDM (Electronic Dance Music) grew the same way. Internet radio stations, however, are able to focus as this a low risk no royalty option but the downside is that it comes nowhere near terrestrial radio push and reach.”

The lose terrestrial connection 
On the terrestrial front, Radio One has a dedicated show for independent content in all its seven markets on every Thursday. Radio City also airs Freedom Hour, a show that offers independent artists’ content every Saturday in the evening slot. A number of regional radio stations also look at independent content from artists in various languages.

The difference between independent music on digital radio and traditional radio station is that on the former it is an independent genre and for latter it is content differentiation.

“Any content to be a genre on radio needs to be accepted by the listeners,” explained Ashwin Padmanabhan, Business Head, Big FM. “A lot of exposure is required, promotion and visibility is required. On traditional radio, there is also the danger of unfamiliarity to the masses.”

Launching a new format on traditional radio has its own set of known woes, including slow ER rate, limited inventory and lack of measurement.

Harshad Jain, Business Head – Radio and Entertainment, HT Media explained that at the current inventory and on air band, it is very difficult for independent content to grow as a genre on traditional radio stations.

“We could look at it,” said Jain explaining Fever’s approach toward independent content. “It depends on the inventory situation and extreme evaluation and analysis.” Fever has aired independent content in its partnership with Coke Studio.

Independent content came to the fore in the last few years as means to fill the need gap felt by a chunk of audience who felt disconnected from radio. However, it managed to grow as complete genre only across internet, which gives larger scope of experimenting with sharp target ability at a very low cost. Terrestrial radio station still follows the mass format and treats independent music as differentiation.

For the medium to be treated as a self sufficient genre on the terrestrial radio stations, independent music needs to grow as content which is strong enough and has fan base that compels a station to switch.  

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