A Dive into the Emerging Music-Tech Landscape
I hope you all are having an excellent start to the year! This week, my good friend Ankita has taken over our newsletter. She manages some fantastic artists in the market, such as Pina Colada Blues & Anohnymouss. She has done some remarkable work in the music tech and investment space since she recently graduated from Berklee Valencia. She will tell you more about herself before diving into a more listicle-styled essay this week focussed on innovation in the Indian music and tech landscape.
Music was the one thing that made me happy as a baby; at least, that’s what my mother said. My introduction to the music world became so strong that I switched started with Sheryl Crow, Backstreet Boys, Mark Knopfler & Westlife. For a girl growing up in a middle-class family in India, that was quite a repertoire to be introduced to in the late 1990s. I don’t know if I was singing before I was walking, - but I sure was singing while I was walking ever since I could remember. What started as mere enjoyment eventually became a passion for music. I was sent for piano & singing lessons as a kid, and eventually, that led me to sing in many bands & choirs, playing the church organ. As I grew even older, I became the go-to musician at my different colleges and workspaces.
As a musician, I was always fascinated by the music industry. With time, I realised that I didn’t just want to enjoy it; I wanted to scratch beneath the surface and figure out what was really going on. I wanted to know what made Sony, Universal & Warner do what they do. What was it that really made artists who they were? Eventually, that itch became so strong that I switched from being an engineer and consultant to actually working in music.
During my master's in the music business from Berklee, Valencia, I was one of the very few engineers in my class, coming from a consulting background with absolutely no experience in the music industry. Every concept that was introduced to me in class was new and fascinating. It was there that I realised that I could take the good parts I loved about the tech industry and combine them with the industry that I wanted to be in. Thus began my tryst, or rather my obsession with the music-tech industry.
After I finished my degree at Berklee, I led strategy & partnerships for a venture studio. I had the opportunity to work with over twenty music-tech & creator-tech startups from all over the world. From Artiphon and Insoundz to The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and Pocket Piano, I was introduced to a fascinating world that strived to combine music and technology meaningfully. However, there weren’t many Indian startups that I could reference. The music tech scene in India is very small, and not too many startups really exist in this intersection.
Fast forward to 2023; that isn’t the case anymore. India is booming and has seen several music tech startups pop up over the past couple of years. In the last few months, India has definitely come up in conversation and in the news as a big part of the AI music start-up explosion. From music streaming services such as Wynk, JioSaavn, & Social Mob to TikTok alternatives such as Roposo & Triller and some of the hottest Gen AI music tech startups, the music-tech ecosystem has definitely come quite far.
For the purposes of this article, this is how I define startups - “Startups are young companies founded to develop a unique product or service, bring it to market, and make it irresistible and irreplaceable for customers.” Throughout this piece, we’ll deep dive into some of the most innovative music-tech startups in India and highlight what makes them unique and why you should be interested
India’s role in the global music-tech ecosystem
At the 2023 All About Music conference (India’s most prominent music conference held annually in Mumbai), India’s role in the next generation of music tech startups was pretty evident from the panel that focused on the topic. According to the Global Innovation Index 2023, India ranks 40th out of 132 economies on a list that is dominated by European countries. If you look closely at how this plays out in the music-tech space, the pattern remains the same, with India's leading innovation in Central and Southern Asia.
Innovation for India comes in all sorts of ways, derived from fixing the population's needs. With many significant leaps in the tech space, India’s introduction to UPI (Unified Payment Interface), which reshaped India’s financial landscape, has got to be among the most notable. In a country with huge economic disparities, most families want their children, aka the next generation, to have stable jobs that promise fixed incomes and secure futures. This has shaped the dynamics of Indian culture so much that up until the late 2000s, in most middle-class families, you could see parents forcing their children to become doctors or engineers or, in some cases, chartered accountants. Given the way the educational system works in the country, children are forced to make this decision at the tender age of 15. To change it would be a very expensive endeavour both in terms of finances and time. What this, in turn, has built is a generation of doctors and engineers who built their careers and invested in assets, thus building a financially stable middle-class world and, more so, the upper middle class.
Each one of these steps has eventually resulted in change. A more financially stable middle class has led to a new focus on innovation and building companies to fuel that innovation. This is even reflected in pop culture with the arrival of the famous ‘Shark Tank - India’, where becoming an entrepreneur is now seen as an acceptable career accessible to everyone regardless of background. The liberal arts graduate in me can’t help but point out that this is a very broad-stroke approach, considering the nuances of the background I painted.
So, has this innovation jump translated to the music tech space? Yes, but the leaps are slower. One tech founder I had the chance to speak to mentioned how they have their eyes on India simply because it is growing and will definitely grow further. According to them, the industry is in a state of flux, and the current founders will shape what it will look like. I could not agree more! With increased conversations around royalty structures and payments and Gen AI taking a more central space, we are definitely on the precipice of change. So, what does the future of the Indian music-tech ecosystem look like? I had a chance to dig a little deeper, and here are some of the game-changers and trendsetters to look out for :
1) MADVerse: MADVerse is a one-stop digital platform for everything from music distribution to promotion and performance. A homegrown label with Indian roots and a global presence, they aim to support artists in growing their footprint across the globe by collaborating with artists from all corners of the world. MADVerse focuses on building communities around artists, giving them creative freedom and complete ownership of their masters. Rohan Jain founded Madverse and now works with some of India’s biggest independent artists.
2) Hoopr.ai: Hoopr.ai is India's first AI-powered music licensing platform focused on delivering solutions for discovering & licensing the right music for creator videos. Led by founder & CEO Gaurav Dagaonkar, who has spent several years in the music industry and built content and technology company GSharp Media, Hoopr.ai came out of his many years of experience working with music supervisors & licensing music for films & advertisements. Hoopr aims to empower creators to make a living from their content by working with music artists across the country’s regions.
3) Beatoven.ai: Beatoven.ai makes it easy for content creators to generate background music with the help of AI. It has very simple steps that start with you picking a genre and mood, which is then used to generate a track that can then be placed alongside a video. Its intuitive UI had me making a song in less than a minute. Founded by Mansoor Rahimat Khan, a musician himself & Siddharth Bhardwaj, Beatoven has seen a lot of success on both the global stage and in India. From being a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt 2022, Meet The Drapers, and Music Ally SI:X, Beatoven has also been selected for the Google for Startups accelerator program. Beatoven lets you create unique music for your needs each time.
4) Soundverse: Soundverse is an AI Assistant for content and music creators that allows them to create original content in a flash. With the help of the Soundverse Assistant and AI magic tools, users get an added advantage over other creators in creating content easily and quickly. Currently in its beta stage, open to only a small group of creators, Soundverse is expected to launch for the public in January ’24. With Saurabh Pateriya & Philip Srebrev at its helm, Soundverse was born with a vision to redefine audio creation using Generative AI. Saurabh’s background includes work with Spotify and Samsung's innovation wing.
5) DIBBL: DIBBL is a sync library that represents more than 300 premium artists and their entire catalogues. Their services range from shipping curated playlists for ad films and web shows to a tech platform for exploring soundtracks that can inspire your next set of visuals. Founded by Harsh Tokas & Yogi Tandon, DIBBL has been responsible for sync placements in Shehar Lakhot on Amazon Prime Video and Highway Love on BBC Studios.
6) Moj: Another homegrown video-sharing social media platform that took off following the ban of TikTok is Moj. Founded by Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Pratap Singh, and Farid Ahsan, Moj claims to have about 160 million Monthly Active Users (MAU). The app is available in over 16 Indian languages, making it a very accessible option in small cities and towns in India. In 2022, Moj merged with MX Taka Tak in a deal valued at $700 million, making them India’s largest short video platform.
7) Social Mob: A homegrown distribution service focused on India’s indie artists, especially from the South, Social Mob brings together artists and the community. With an aim to bring together people with similar tastes in music, Social Mob wants to become the place where you can find hidden talent and the next big trend before it blows up.
8) Fairplay: Fairplay is an online music licensing platform for creators, filmmakers, and brands. A music licensing marketplace that offers hundreds of premium quality songs from the best of Bollywood to the most talented independent artists from the country and beyond, Fairplay’s library is meticulously handpicked by the country’s top A&Rs. Fairplay was a finalist of the Music Ally x Universal Music Group Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
9) Roposo: Roposo, commonly known as 'TV by the People', is a video-sharing social media service where users can share posts related to different topics like food, comedy, music, poetry, fashion, and travel. Even though Roposo has been around since 2014, the app has become more popular since the ban of TikTok in 2020, with users from TikTok moving over to the platform. Founded by Mayank Bhangadia, Avinash Saxena & Kaushal Shubhank, Roposo’s key advantage is that its focus on multiple Indian languages gives it an edge in smaller Indian cities and towns.
Find them here: https://www.roposo.com/
This list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the music streaming services based out of the country. JioSaavn, Wynk, Gaana & Hungama have definitely given voice to regional music and have empowered the local languages that often don’t get the spotlight on bigger DSPs. Because of the massive conglomerates that power them, I don’t think they belong on this list of music-tech startups, but these DSPs do have their place as an integral part of the ecosystem. The only exception to this rule could have been Saavn until their merger with JioMusic.
Saavn started off as a Hindi cinema distributor in North America and later decided to pivot to become the place for Bollywood music and other indie music. Saavn became one of the largest distributors in Bollywood and other Indian entertainment. JioMusic, on the other hand, was a subsidiary of India’s second biggest telco operator, Jio, and was the music streaming service that the operator provided. In 2018, Saavn announced a merger with JioMusic in a deal worth more than $1 billion. By the end of the year, Saavn rebranded itself to become JioSaavn, thus further establishing its place as one of the significant DSPs in the country. Looking at the industry as a whole, we can see that India’s music-tech startup scene has startups focused on building communities around Indie artists, music generation with generative AI & building homegrown alternatives to TikTok.
The ecosystem has seen great strides locally, but no startup has become a global standard. That is not to say we are far behind. 2023 saw a shift in the right direction. Beatoven.ai was featured on Andreessen Horowitz’s (a16z) AI x Music List as an emerging company in the royalty-free music generation space. It’s only a matter of time before there is more global recognition for Indian music-tech startups.
Although we’re on the right path, there seem to be some apparent roadblocks. All the founders I talked to had the same opinion regarding investment within the ecosystem. While most founders are excited to build, the consensus was that there weren’t enough investors willing to take the plunge into the music-tech space. According to an article in The Hindu, the “non-availability of patient capital often leaves deep tech startups gasping for breath”. This is true because Beatoven.ai’s founder, Mansoor, had to go to San Francisco to complete his raise for his Series A round, which Google eventually led. Hoopr.ai, on the other hand, has seen success raising on home ground and has raised quite successfully from Dholakia Ventures. All this points to the fact that the Indian subcontinent desperately needs more venture capitalists willing to take risks in the music-tech space. After all, the music industry alone is valued at around $40 billion.
So where to from here? While this article looks at where we are today, my search showed me that the industry has a lot of potential. The music-tech landscape in India has the potential to grow and make its mark on the global stage. The next few years are crucial; I think it’s time to start paying attention.