From Bollywood to Spotify: The Rise of Indie Artists in India

During the pandemic, we have witnessed a rise in the popularity of Indie artists in our country. Let us look closer into it.

This global health crisis clearly changed the game for many industries in business, but the impact it has had on the indie-music industry, not just in India but even abroad, is something we cannot ignore. This genre of music has not just become popular in terms of the choices contributing to the evolution of music in India, but also as a professional career opportunity for many independent artists across the country. The youth of our country has significantly embraced this genre with open arms, courtesy to their unique heartwarming musicality and its ways of production, which starkly differs from the age-old musical narrative of the Indian Cinema.

The Bollywood Dilemma

Many critics from the music industry hold the opinion that this gradual rise of Indie music has been a result of the massive decline in the quality of music produced by Bollywood, especially last year. With the deteriorating graph of musicality and obnoxiously framed lyrical productions, the audience naturally shifted to the more comforting and “closer to home” genre of music, which our independent artists have become the masters of. While at the risk of expressing personal bias, some of these artists literally made me survive the nights of self-loathe and introspection by their comforting music and even more nuanced writing, making the lockdown slightly more bearable. Singer Sona Mohapatra, in an interview, spoke about “releasing 11 singles during the Lockdown, out of which nine tracks were released independently.”

New Streaming Services and it’s Wider Platform

This sudden rise in popularity witnessed by some of these independent artists could also be due to the rise of streaming platforms in India like Spotify or YouTube. This gave them a platform to not just produce their own music but to also spread it across the country and get the recognition they deserve. YouTube has definitely changed the game for these independent artists by bringing in the ‘music video’ angle to the entire Indie genre, which attracts way more crowd than any other lyrical production. With Spotify cumulating special playlists for indie artists and strategically publicizing to its worldwide audience, the reach of this genre has now seeped through the deeper layers of our country, which is clearly implied by the number-game on their social media handles. Artists like Nucleya, Emiway Bantai, Gajendra Verma, Darshan Raval, Divine, Shirley Setia, Arjun Kanungo, Nikhil D’Souza, Vivek Verma, Badshah, Amit Trivedi, Shravan J Nair, Shubham Sarita, Papon, Benny Dayal, Jonita Gandhi, and Sanam Puri have come up with several notable tracks, which are counted as among the finest in the country. YouTube also helped these artists to create their music and promote it globally. Producers like Aditya Dev, Aditya Pushkarna, and Aakash Ravikrishnan have changed the indie music industry by creating their own original sound.

indie artists Spotify
When Chai Met Toast (source: Spotify)

What’s Next?

With Bollywood music currently facing decline, is the independent music industry the place where we look forward to as listeners, or do we expect most of these indie artists to venture into Bollywood? When we asked Raghav Meattle, a popular indie artist, about this, his response was simple, “No, never grew up wanting to sing a Bollywood song. I think if I get to do my kind of music in Bollywood, that’ll be the best. I just want to keep writing my own songs and making them popular. If they end up in a film, then great!”. This clearly is indicative of the fact that Indie artists are not willing to give into the pressure of succeeding in Bollywood instead they do want to make their own space free from the pressure of making music suitable to a movie. Same can be said about artists like Divine and Prateek Kuhad who had few successful tracks in some Bollywood movies but at the end of the day, their priority remains to create music which appeals to their fan-base and that is only possible when they are able to create independent music. 

I just want to keep writing my own songs and making them popular. If they end up in a film, then great!

– Raghav Meattle

But this was not possible to think 10 years ago, simply because of the lack of revenue the independent music industry had before the prominence of the streaming platforms. The changes in the last few years have been massive. In conversation with Meattle about the change in the indie music scene, his reply was, “It’s changed a lot with new platforms and streaming services coming into the equation. Spotify has helped a lot to get us, Indie artists, more listeners and also find new monetization streams”.

Raghav Meattle’s ‘Shine a Light on Me’ as featured in Netflix original, ‘What Are The Odds’.

Typecasting Indie Artists Into ‘Boxes’

Having said that, many of these artists have also been typecast and pushed into certain ‘categories’ related to their work, out of which one of them being the “ukulele 5-word lyricals” and many more. This typecast makes the audience expect a certain ‘kind’ of music from these artists and any deviation from it, might end up into a disaster. Arguably, this works to benefit them by being able to make a more solidified base as their fan-following in their industry, by delivering what is expected of them. However, this could also make them feel caged and restricted while brainstorming their music. Independent artists stand out from the crowd because of their ‘underdog/lowkey vibe’ which presents a stark contrast from the extravagant Bollywood musical remakes, which only end up ruining the originals for everyone. 

I think the Indie Music community in India is growing massively. And I am fortunate enough to be able to do what I love these past years and am still continuing it; many people now are accepting this culture and many are interested in pursuing it as a career.

– Gajendra Verma to HT. 

According to the statistics provided by HT, the first six months of this year saw “over 300 albums/EPs/singles and over 700 music videos released independently, and over 1300 singles, music videos, and 200 albums/EPs,” were released independently in the last six months this year. The numbers are indicative of the growing influence of independent music. They evidently show the dedication and hard work these artists have put in, especially during the lockdown and their graphs have only gone up since then. From Kuhad to Divine, another distinctly noticeable behaviour amongst this community is of engaging with their audience on their handles and making them feel more connected and approachable, which falls in stark contrast with Bollywood’s musicians as they try to maintain a certain level of stardom with their fans. 

To Achieving Greater Heights

For a long time, East and West have always exchanged knowledge and skills, be it art, culture, technology, and so forth. There’s no doubt that when it comes to music, a country like India has not only been open towards the drastically changing music scene globally, but also has accepted it with an open heart. This has pushed its indie scene forward in turn. Independent music in India represents the urban chawls of Mumbai through rappers like Naezy and Seedhe Maut but at the same time it also represents the voice of Kashmir through the voice of the band Parvaaz. Instead of aping the West, we have finally embraced our music which is diverse and honest and authentic. 

Parvaaz indie artists
Parvaaz (source: parvaazmusic.com)

The future only brings in hope for these musicians, who feel that 2021 will see more people exploring all forms of music.It will surely take a longer time for their music to reach the masses since independent music doesn’t quite have the same marketing muscle or distribution network as that of a label, but we can definitely hope to witness their journeys of holistic growth and recognition, seeping their ways into forming their own musical industry filled with ‘soul-stirring’ music and sooner or later, for them to top the charts of their own labels.

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Feature Image Credits: Siachen Studios

Hridika Rao 


Sloka Roy