The battle of genres in the music world

Articulation is the key in the times of changing economics and tastes

In India, we are on the cusp of an economic recession and companies are busy planning contingency measures and ideas to ride the storm. The music industry is no different, and is going through much the same issues and concerns. Interestingly, this is a phenomenon that is happening worldwide. In fact, several genres have started declining as the “middle majority blur” grabs more eardrums. In fact, the New York Times published an article a few years ago on the decline of jazz in North America. The same can be said of other genres such as reggae or even country music.

In India, Bollywood seems to be the only genre that sells. While most labels have shifted to streaming services (which remain unprofitable) and the YouTube wars continue to rage, the only reliable means of increasing visbility for artistes seems to be to either sing/play for the film industry or do derivative works and post them on the Internet to increase their following. Most other genres of music, and especially Independent music, is finding it exceedingly hard to compete with the muscularity of the film business. It is an important time to reflect on how to sustain several genres of music — including some of the classical works. More importantly, we will have to figure out how artistes can continue to find solace and sustain themselves through these times.

In lectures and several brainstorming sessions on the creative industries, we keep discussing the FANG — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google. In these sessions, discussions on valuations of assets or properties are premised entirely on original and innovative content. On further analysis, it becomes apparent that the people who ideate and create this content are often newbies, or what we call PWIs (‘people with ideas’). These are not the celebrities you and I know, nor are they large corporate houses with media/industry clout. In a sense, this can be a liberating thought for many creative people. There is democracy thanks to technology. But the premium here is the ‘I’ — the idea. Investing in original creative thought and new ways of presenting content is going to be key.

Artistes may also be well advised to re-educate themselves and be multi-versant. Understanding the visual media, sound design, artificial intelligence and data, articulation and finding the right teams to collaborate with are all skills that will serve well in the 21st century. But truly getting into these notions is an education, and in the absence of universities and colleges to serve them, I would advise artistes to look at sites such as Coursera or Udemy .

It is also no longer possible to exist in a vacuum when it comes to understanding audiences and tastes more accurately. This means better presentation, and certainly more authentic and heartfelt communication. When in doubt, seek it from experts or teams that specialise in socialising content.

Audiences are also becoming picky. While it is true that the “middle majority blur” —the Bollywood buzz or the pop music trends dominate music listening patterns — there does seem to be space and dedicated following for niche/speciality musical styles. The key seems to be consistency, and being in touch with one’s audience in a more dedicated manner. Not to get swayed by trends or blips but stay true to the course in a grounded manner. But understanding technology and as I’ve argued before, articulation is going to be key in the years to come.

While music industry patterns and economics are changing, Music itself seems to be more important than ever before. People on an average are listening to five times more music per week than they did before, in a study recently concluded by one of the major consulting firms in the U.S. I am sure it will be much more in India. If you are an artiste reading this, I would say do not lose hope. Open your mind, and your heart — and find a space under the musical sun for yourself.

The writer is a well-known pianist and music educator

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