HIVEWIRE #08: India’s Live Music Landscape | Opportunity for International Appeal, Local Talent, and a Highly Engaged Live Community

HIVEWIRE #08: India’s Live Music Landscape | Opportunity for International Appeal, Local Talent, and a Highly Engaged Live Community
Parekh & Singh live at LiveBox Festival, Bengaluru; Shot by Bitupan and Apolok

By Srishti Das

Collaboration: SkillBox - Anmol Kukreja, Roydon Banghera

Edited by: Mayuyuka Kaunda

During India's post-pandemic live entertainment resurgence, the Backstreet Boys' concerts in Mumbai and Gurugram this year were fully booked, and Lollapalooza's debut in Mumbai drew 60,000 attendees. SkillBox reported a 5x increase in platform listings, with electronic music leading, followed closely by Hip-hop. Tier II and III cities, including Indore, emerged as live music hotspots. Even on the less mainstream side, eight thousand plus people attended Tale of Us at NSCI Dome in Mumbai last November, and over fifteen thousand came out for Boris Brescha at the same venue in May this year - almost doubled in just over six months. While comparing the two shows, many other factors must be considered. It is still clear that the appetite for live music experiences across genres and sizes is increasing in the Indian market.

Events span diverse genres and sizes, from dance parties to rock gatherings and food and alcohol festivals. This diversity allows artists and organisers to create unique experiences for music enthusiasts. In this changing landscape, artist strategy teams must develop well-structured growth plans, collaborating with local partners for more than a one-off event partnership.

Securing the right rates for international artists in India poses a challenge for promoters and organisers. While the country's appetite for music is rising, large-scale live shows are still relatively new to its entertainment scene. However, the expectation of standardised rates for international artists can hinder emerging industry players, leaving music enthusiasts yearning for diverse live experiences.

Effectively navigating this terrain demands a thorough understanding of the factors that ignite excitement among the Indian audience. Leveraging consumer data and qualitative insights is essential. Notably, tier-two cities are emerging as pivotal live music markets, driven by a youthful demographic eager to experience live music. This trend offers international artists a more accessible and cost-effective option than larger metros with higher ticket prices.

Crucially, collaboration with local promoters and teams, coupled with a deep understanding of India's rapidly growing live music scene, is vital to fostering repeat attendance and immersing fans in the artist's narrative. This approach enables international artists to cultivate a sustainable fan base in India, eager to invest in exceptional live music experiences. Nurturing these connections is paramount as India's music markets progress towards sustainability and continued growth.

The vastness and diversity of the Indian markets allow for various kinds of shows, making space for artists from any stage of their careers, such as:

  • Club shows (capacity: 200 - 500) - The success of a club show depends on the artist's ability to sell tickets and attract an audience. The artist/promoter makes money from ticket sales, while the club/venue generates food and beverage sales revenue. In other words, this is the opportunity for artists to take charge of building their audience and selling tickets while the venue provides the space and infrastructure for the show.
  • Standalone shows (capacity: 2,000 - 10,000+) - These are one-off large-scale concerts with big-name Indian/international touring acts. Large outdoor spaces are usually used since the live infrastructure is still developing. Promoters typically look for artists touring Asia and offer them three to four city tours based on the artist's streaming, social media, and historical ticket sales data.
  • Artist tours - Artists typically go on tour to promote a new music release. The artist’s team plans the tour based on insights from the artist's social media and streaming data. Sponsorships can help reduce the financial risk of touring, but the ultimate goal is to convert streaming fans into ticket buyers.
  • Festivals - India has a variety of homegrown festivals, ranging from 2,000 to 30,000 people. Festivals can be based on big-name artist lineups, experiences, or culture. SkillBox is organising India's first-ever Korean music and culture festival. While K-pop is a focus, the overall goal is to unite people who have grown to love Korean culture through music, television, or streaming. Thus showing that there is something for everyone regarding festivals in India.

Brand sponsored - India's advertising laws for alcohol are stringent. Therefore, alcohol brands often use live music and its audience as a marketing outlet like most other markets. There are two types of live music marketing for brands:

  • Sponsorship of existing events: A brand sponsors a tour or event that resonates with its target audience. The goal is to increase brand reach and awareness and to allow attendees to sample the product.
  • Brand-led sponsored tours: A brand creates its own intellectual property (IP) by sponsoring a tour with the help of an agency like SkillBox, which has expertise in the live music market and artists who would resonate with the brand's ethos. The brand controls the tour's narrative, from its positioning, look, and feel to its on-ground branding. Again, the goal is to increase brand reach and awareness and allow attendees to sample the product.

In both cases, the alcohol brand benefits from the association with live music, a popular and engaging way to reach its target audience.

Local rate-card culture vs. International "Offer Culture"

In India, the live music industry operates on a system where local artists receive compensation based on predetermined rates per show. These rates vary depending on the event's scale and location, promoting transparency and knowledge-sharing among industry stakeholders. This rate card system simplifies the financial aspects of live events, offering clarity for artists, promoters, venues, and other professionals in the Indian live music market. This also simplifies the booking process for promoters, as they know that the rates for branded shows and corporate/wedding events will depend on the additional deliverables required.

In contrast, the international music landscape embraces "Offer Culture," considering the complexity of each market's maturity and allowing event organisers to adapt to the unique dynamics of international artists' engagements. Rather than adhering strictly to fixed rates, this culture empowers organisers to explore new opportunities for artists based on available budgets and the event's vision. Flexibility is crucial when working with international artists, given the variations in fees and availability due to their stature, touring schedules, and other considerations.

To harness the full potential of "Offer Culture," strong collaboration between agents, promoters, and organisers is crucial. This process typically starts in India when local promoters or organisers approach an artist's booking agent, often for artists with a substantial fan base in India or a proven track record of selling tickets. Local teams assess the artist's popularity in the market, event-associated brands and partners, and logistical considerations before making an offer. These local insights help the artist's team gauge expectations in a new market, considering growth opportunities and fan engagement.

Maintaining clarity on the artist's fee range is essential to ensure understanding. Sometimes, the initial offer requires creative negotiations and a willingness to cooperate. Credibility is a significant factor when selecting a promoter, especially in India, where concerns about hosting large-scale events may exist among booking agents.

To navigate this landscape effectively, artists and their teams should collaborate with local partners to develop tailored strategies for new markets. This approach allows for customised solutions with long-term objectives, fostering supportive artist communities. Additionally, it promotes the growth of booking agents in India with a deep understanding of market dynamics, facilitating opportunities for international artists and fans in their home markets.

While rate cards have streamlined the Indian live music industry, "Offer Culture" holds the potential to bridge the gap between domestic and international artists. This dynamic interplay between established practices and innovative approaches highlights the ever-evolving nature of the Indian live music scene, ensuring diverse live music experiences that captivate audiences nationwide.

Opportunities for mid-tier artists in India

India's live music scene provides a fertile ground for artists and industry players to thrive. Factors like disposable income, niche music scenes, experiential entertainment, and brand innovation contribute to a dynamic ecosystem fostering creativity and passion. As the Indian market evolves, it offers an exciting canvas for crafting unique and unforgettable live music experiences for a nationwide audience.

International artists find a distinct proposition in India. Unlike some markets with sporadic performances, India offers mid-tier artists opportunities for multiple engagements, particularly in electronic music. For instance, artists like Hozho and Innellea have frequented India, building their popularity and showcasing the Indian market's grassroots investment potential. Innellea, part of the Afterlife roster, has performed in India twice since August last year and was announced for DGTL India in November. Such investments pay off as artists often gain significant popularity over time, much like Ben Böhmer, who has become a household name in India with rising ticket prices and increased show attendance.

Moreover, India's diverse and fragmented audiences create opportunities for artists and event organisers to redefine live experiences. Small yet highly engaged music scenes for various genres, such as rock and metal, demonstrate niche markets' potential to thrive. SkillBox's Livebox series, featuring international sensations like Bonobo and Plini and local rising artists, underscores the importance of creating unique, immersive music moments for audiences. An emphasis on the live music experience is exemplified by SkillBox’s show series Livebox, which has showcased international sensations such as Bonobo Plini and has recently announced multiple Grammy Winning artist Jacob Collier for a three-city tour, Tesseract tour next year along with local rising artists such as Parvaaz, Raman Negi, Sickflip, Aswekeepsearching, and The Yellow Diary to name a few. This underlines the importance of creating unique, immersive, and unforgettable music discovery and fandom moments for audiences in one spot.

Brands are increasingly open to innovative partnerships and experiences within the live music realm. For instance, Royal Challenge American Pride partnered with LiveBox to create an IP, recognising the value of tapping into existing audiences rather than building new ones. Johnnie Walker Blonde collaborates with SkillBox to reach its target audience through events, highlighting the significance of meaningful connections with fans. These developments open doors for artists and promoters to think creatively and forge collaborations that resonate deeply with audiences.

Balancing the opportunity for International Artists and Local Performances

The global music landscape is witnessing a growing appetite for international artists, and India is no exception. However, this upward trend has raised a pertinent concern - the potential sidelining of local music. While the allure of international acts is undeniable, it's essential to strike a balance that ensures local talent gets its deserved spotlight. This balance between international and local music is critical for nurturing a thriving and diverse music ecosystem.

The choice between filling clubs and selling tickets for live music experiences presents a unique challenge in the live music industry. The rise of "Guest List (GL) culture," particularly prominent at weekend club shows, has reshaped how fans access live music events. This culture prioritises free or discounted entry, impacting traditional revenue streams tied to ticket sales. Often, artists are paid fixed fees to draw crowds to already busy club nights, with primary revenue derived from food and beverage sales. Balancing the interests of artists, venues, and fans within this culture becomes crucial. Artists deserve fair performance compensation, considering their role in attracting club-goers. Conversely, venues heavily rely on food and beverage sales to remain financially viable.

Additionally, it is essential to explore the correlation between an artist's music and their DJ sets. Many artists, especially those known for original compositions, use DJ sets to connect with their audience differently. Striking a balance between these two aspects of an artist's repertoire can create a richer live music experience for fans. However, it's worth noting that artists who release their own music often sell more tickets than those who play covers or DJ exclusively. Hence, distinguishing DJ culture from artist culture is vital. With its curated sets, DJ culture offers fans a unique dance-oriented experience. On the other hand, artist culture encompasses the creative process of composing and performing original music, fostering a more intimate and personal connection with the audience. Recognising and respecting these differences enriches the music scene, allowing fans to fully engage with both DJ and artist-driven experiences, thus contributing to the diversity and dynamism of the live music ecosystem.

Building a Thriving Live Ticket-Buying Community

The importance of cultivating a local live ticket-paying community cannot be overstated. This community is essential in any music scene, providing the support, enthusiasm, and resources necessary for artists, venues, and music-related enterprises to thrive. It is the foundation upon which a dynamic and enduring musical landscape is built, enriching the community's cultural integrity and creating lasting memories for everyone.

Local live music scenes often hold cultural significance, and supporting them helps preserve and celebrate the community's musical identity. Furthermore, a robust local music community has a positive economic impact, generating jobs and boosting local businesses. Supporting local talent through ticket purchases at local shows is essential for the growth of the music scene. It enables emerging and established local artists to thrive and continue their creative journeys, contributing to the overall development of the local music ecosystem. A thriving local music community encourages artists to explore new creative horizons, fostering innovation and unique musical expressions. By attending shows and buying tickets, the community also plays a pivotal role in sustaining local music venues, ensuring they can provide artists with quality performance spaces. Moreover, live music events have the power to create a strong sense of belonging among attendees, connecting like-minded music enthusiasts.

Brand involvement has also become a noteworthy aspect of the live music scene. Brands are keen to align themselves with artists and events, offering unique and immersive experiences to audiences. However, this collaboration must be carefully managed to maintain the music's authenticity and drive the growth of artist fandoms.

One of the intriguing aspects of the Indian live music scene is the abundance of international artists performing in India. In contrast, Indian artists often face challenges when establishing themselves globally. This dynamic can inadvertently lead to audience fatigue in India, where familiarity with international acts can overshadow local talent. Additionally, professional artists need to drive more engagement with the audiences that drive ticket sales, enabling them to play fewer shows at higher ticket prices or secure international bookings. To address this, there's a growing need for more platforms and initiatives that support and promote Indian artists internationally, fostering a balanced and sustainable exchange between local and international music scenes.

A delicate balancing act will define the evolution of the live music scene in India. While the appetite for international music is growing, it's crucial to ensure that local music is noticed. Striking the right balance in revenue models, artist engagement, brand collaborations, and international exposure is key to maintaining a vibrant and inclusive music ecosystem that caters to the diverse tastes of Indian audiences. Cultivating a local live ticket-paying community remains essential for supporting local talent, fostering creativity, boosting venues, and preserving musical heritage, all while striking a balance between international and local music to maintain a vibrant and inclusive music ecosystem in India.