HIVEWIRE #04: The future of music scenes lies in subcultures and storytelling

For new young markets, streaming can be more engaging because they can choose what they want to hear for the first time. They are born with a remote in their hand, unlike any generation ever before. It’s access at an unparalleled level.

HIVEWIRE #04: The future of music scenes lies in subcultures and storytelling
Steve Harvey

Last year, I was invited to a conference in South Africa. Before that trip, music discovery had become too comfortable during the pandemic. I knew the sound I liked and stuck to it, letting Spotify just feed me what I needed. Experiencing Amapiano and Gqom in South Africa, a new flavour of House and Techno was precisely what I needed to bring my drive for music back and discover new cultures and stories.

My trip to South Africa was incredibly transformational to my career and identity. Experiencing thriving local scenes in a market almost unwilling to give in to a Western sound, that too without a local flavour made me rethink and re-educate myself on embracing my identity. As an Indian millennial, I can promise you, us urban kids grew up with a promise that the more “Western culture” we embraced, the cooler and popular we would be. This behaviour trickles into the Music Cultures today that have struggled to come through urban centres in India.

What intrigues me personally is the amount of music I consume every time I return from an International trip compared to before,the first being passive and the latter being extremely active. I never consumed music through Playlists but now, music consumption for me has become a game. Now, it’s about making playlists and constantly adding to them. If you don’t believe me, here is a seven-hour Amapiano playlist to prove that point! This has led me directly to my new blog about the Music Industry, entering another era of subcultures and making Music discovery fun again through the lens of storytelling.

The future of music scenes lies in subcultures and storytelling

We have re-entered an era of subgenres and subcultures

Streaming Music Services initially started as a way to cater to the growth of Traditional Music markets. However, its importance is now moving quickly towards predominantly serving emerging markets. This is not because the development of new subscriptions has slowed down in the West. It is because the way new markets engage with the Music Industry draws more engagement to streaming as opposed to traditional markets. Music discovery is the most engaging aspect of streaming services, where streamers actively interact with the platform in search for new music. For new young markets, it drives engagement to the platforms that give them the most accessible option to discover more. YouTube and Spotify are best placed to offer that to new music fans.

Traditional markets pay for streaming, and emerging markets are driving engagement

When I started to work at Moodagent in 2017, I wanted to run a small study to prove that a service without a free tier would only serve urban educated centres, instead of working as a mass product. This practice resulted in the process of studying music listening cultures across different Economic and Social backgrounds in India. One of the many qualitative interviews that I did included my Grandmother. I asked her if she would pay to be able to choose songs to play. She replied, “Why would I want to choose my songs? The radio does it for me and for free.” Even the excitement to know what the next song was was an essential part of her listening experience. Six years later, she can now control her smartphone and actively chooses what she wants to hear on YouTube. In essence, the behaviour towards consumption is changing. The ads don’t bother her. She is accustomed to it from her years of consuming entertainment on the Television. My grandmother is a laggard and it took her six months to learn things. However, kids these days figure out technology before they are even five years old. Music habits are changing across age groups in India at this rate. The rate is higher when you look at the youth. Imagine that.

As a result of new technology and the digital leap-frogging in new markets, the youth is growing up with more access to the world than any generation before. This generation wants to tap out of what is popular and what is being fed to them through programmed consumption. The youth from emerging markets wants to define the soundtracks of its life based on intimacy and authenticity. For Rural Centres, aspiration, lifestyle, and new experiences away from a barricaded life are the flavours they chase in their youth and are arguably what will drive growth in these markets across sectors over the next decade. For countries like India in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the next shift of music scenes will come as a repurposed Genre creating a new subculture of music rising from Rural and Semi-urban centres. For example, Gengetone, a rising Kenyan music scene that includes a mix of dancehall, the local Genge music with a mix of Hip-Hop and Reggaeton, or Mahraganat, a mix of Egyptian folk music with EDM, presented with highly autotuned rap that has taken over the Egyptian market even after being banned by the Government.

An introduction to Gengetone

Case Study: Shift in the Bollywood Music model is giving rise to Music discoveries in India

Bollywood is THE norm in India. But now, you might hear Indians from urban centres speak about how Bollywood is still influential but not as important as it was pre-pandemic. While accurate, it does not imply that Bollywood is listened to by lesser consumers. In 2022, The Indian Music Charts analysed the top 75 songs on Spotify. The conclusion from that report was that Bollywood consumption was around 22%, International content at 28%, followed by hyper-local scenes, Punjabi (24%), and South Indian (14%). India has a Music “Scene” nomenclature problem (that’s a newsletter topic for another day), but these numbers give you a quick round-up of the broad music scenes in India. It means more people listening to Bollywood music are discovering newer local and International music, such as Hip-Hop and Dance Music. Since Bollywood/Film singers such as Jonita Gandi, Shreya Ghoshal, Anushka Manchanda, etc., now have their own non-Bollywood careers, , non-Bollywood Artists have found their way into the Bollywood Industry, such as Divine, Badshah, OAFF, etc. These non-Bollywood/Independent Artists have now become the carriers of new music discovery away from the usual Bollywood look, feel and sound. If this happens through streaming, whether YouTube or Spotify, it only means that the youth engages with music discovery much more in emerging markets, while traditional markets mostly stream music passively.

For new young markets, streaming can be more engaging because they can choose what they want to hear for the first time. They are born with a remote in their hand, unlike any generation ever before. It’s access at an unparalleled level. Young audiences can find and look for music that is not fed to them on the TV and radio or any other mainstream channels. What you have now is a new generation of first-time streamers searching for the sound they relate to, becoming a part of something much bigger, a community. Because of these specific developments, now is the time to invest in showcasing a new open world of music for new young fans to new music subcultures they identify with and can be catalysts for in the future.

The Subculture era of Music must focus on storytelling and Music discovery

Music is becoming more social, not only from a consumption standpoint but also from a creation standpoint, and thus, the definition of success has become very individualistic. Artists must now dive deeply into their aspirations and their cultures in the most authentic way possible, now that authenticity is appreciated and yearned for, and at a stage where platform dependency is causing clutter all across the board, artists' strategies need to become more focused, identity-driven, and stylised through carefully understanding platforms and nurturing authentic relationships with fans through storytelling. They need to not just form a commercial fanbase, but a community.

As more music is created, the fragmentation of fandoms will continue to increase, resulting in fewer superstars. I always believed that if music formats got shorter, storytelling would become valuable. At last, the Music industry will be forced to look at the depth of fandom rather than the width of it and create platforms and tools that will enable artists to share their fandom through Social Media. However, the strength of fandom lies within a fan's identity rather than what they showcase on the outside. To nurture fandom, artist relatability must increase, but not superficially. Artists and their teams will need to use platforms in a way that showcases the story, the aesthetic, the fashion and the culture from which the music comes alive. It has to be holistic. They need to create a world. Marketing teams will need to analyse fans across different platforms and cater to all of them differently. Repurposing content for music discovery will no longer stand out in the sea of content.

A great example of how to use platforms for storytelling is the Netflix show Top Boy, which was initially cancelled but made a comeback with Drake as the Producer in 2022. This has brilliantly showcased the context of where UK Drill, Grime and Hip-Hop come from without even using the soundtrack as a way to manifest the story-line. Artists like Little Simz, Santan Dave, Kano, Asher D, etc., have also been a part of the cast, enabling the stories of these artists to come to the forefront. It has made them more relatable to the mainstream masses and has in turn driven brand new fanbases to their music. They have gone from the status of Underground legends to household names. Newly signed Columbia Records artist Central Cee has also used his freestyles to explain the slang, language, and culture that his community of rappers in the UK represent. Moving away from the formulated marketing campaign surrounding social media and streaming services needs innovation through creative storytelling to drive more subcultures that arise from the same genre, but have unique identifiers.

Gatekeepers are essential, but only ones that strengthen a scene through authenticity without personal agenda

Authentic fans will become the gatekeepers that we need today, the ones that help provide context for the music, giving new fans reasons to engage and helping artists sort through the masses of music released daily. This is a new kind of gatekeeping, a gatekeeping that doesn’t hinder a “scene”, but one that pushes for a new narrative that strengthens and expands the “scene” correctly. However, the rapid pace of culture means that cultural moments without the depth of fandom quickly evaporate. This places more emphasis on authentic long-term creator-to-creator collaborations that keep fans within the sphere of the music’s culture and community. The broad umbrella of UK Hip-hop and Amapiano are two subcultures that have individually strengthened the community of fans through collaborations within the subcultures, ensuring a long-term sustainable space for old and new artists to grow within their context. This is the foundation of digital clusters that enable subcultures to thrive in and create the ground for longevity.

Culture-led collaborations keep fans at the centre of the scene, where they belong

The focus for Artists now is cultivating fandom, which will increasingly convert into creating niche scenes and cultures. Scenes will become smaller and more authentic, dabbling with identity, expression, fashion, art etc. The message is clear: Bring back identity-based cultural moments and experiences. Fans will drive these cultures, creating a new space for culture superfans and influencers. This will be an essential time for independent labels, similar to the 90s with the rise of independent labels across Dance music (e.g. Warp Records, Shut Up and Dance, XL Recordings, etc.) and Rock music (e.g. Epitaph, Fueled by Ramen, Rise Records etc.) many of which eventually got picked up by the majors for their sole ability to create authentic local and regional scenes and fandoms.

The rise of micro-scenes and subcultures will reignite identity-based music consumption and most importantly, music discovery. We are taken back to the era where we would have to sift through hundreds of vinyls, cassette tapes or CDs (depending on which generation you belong to) to find music that spoke to us and made us feel seen and understood. Spotify’s latest updates on music discovery is catering to the very simple fact that we have re-entered a new era of subcultures and subgenres and new generation music fans are all in search of their identity through music and entertainment.

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Srishti Das is a music industry professional focused on bringing more light from new music markets and cultures. You can reach me at to discuss collaborations, projects or to just have a chat!