GUEST INTERVIEW: IN CONVERSATION WITH SOUMINI SRIDHARA PAUL, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, HUNGAMA ARTIST ALOUD

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The music marketing rulebook has undergone a complete overhaul in the recent times. With most of the traditional marketing avenues, barring radio, now almost redundant, the search for alternate and smarter routes have accelerated.

Launched in 2010, Hungama Artist Aloud, a digital media, distribution and talent management platform, has been providing a platform for independent artists and producers to showcase their talent. The platform is now venturing into independent content distribution as well as artist representation from the blooming regional market.

At the forefront of all major initiatives at Hungama is Soumini Sridhara Paul, Senior Vice President of Hungama Artist Aloud. Soumini, during her experience of around 20 years in the music industry has donned many hats. She has represented various platforms as a part of the Senior Management, Business Head, Product Head, Content Creator, PR, Events and was also an active musician at a time.

We at IPRMENTLAW spoke to Soumini to know her perception on the shifting paradigm in music marketing, A&R, role of the aggregator and what makes Hungama Artist Aloud a name on the list of most artists looking for representation.

What is the current trend in music marketing? What kind of trends do you predict?

The method of music marketing has been a consequence of the media available for it. Prior to the 2000s, where music was largely associated with Bollywood, Ghazals, Devotional, Indi Pop or International Music,  the media tools available were largely driven by cinema halls, television, radio, print, in store and outdoor and the distributors of the music were primarily record labels in the form of cassettes and CDs. The amplification was more visible to a generic base and the ROI generated through all the marketing was largely based on repetitive communication or playout. As the years have evolved and if we look at just the last 11 years, with the boom of content aggregators and digital streaming services, not only has the method of music consumption changed but also the media available to it. In the early 2010s, digital took over from television and pretty much changed the mechanisms. With this new media tool, one could reach out to a consumer directly and not be forced to take a generic approach. The concept of community became mandatory and fans getting information from the horse’s mouth was more authentic than generic media. In 2020, with the pandemic impacting Bollywood and the independent scene getting some space to gain attention and visibility, not only did the record labels start giving the non-film music scene more attention but the method of music marketing as well got a new life. Social Media LIVE, influencer campaigns and short video platforms have now become a necessity to be added in the overall marketing strategy. While cinema halls, television, radio, print and outdoor continue to be brand and image builders, the new media platforms are extremely mandatory to be able to create direct communications and build an organic fan base.

What is the prime reason for which artists want to be associated with Hungama when there are plenty of options available?

Artists have always looked at releasing their content officially and continue to do so even through this social media and digital boom because having an establishment release a content officially definitely has more value than a self-release on a social handle. In the days of Indi Pop, the artist’s focus was on being signed on by a record label and those who did not get signed on were left to either give up on their dreams or wait unendingly for an opportunity. Hungama Artist Aloud was set up to give an opportunity for such talent who either did not get signed on to a record label or wanted to do it on their own. Right from the beginning, we believed in the philosophy that an artist knows his / her creativity and hence should be independently allowed to make that creation while we would come in to help them take their content into the world. We played our role of curation by bringing in our years of experience on what is marketable content and accordingly took up the license of the content for distribution with the artist / licensor retaining the copyright. The freedom to create, the distribution spread, the committed team, the marketing services and more are possibly some of the reasons why artists come to us. Finally, I would like to believe that we are transparent and take the effort to treat all artists equally irrespective of how big or new they are.

How has the role of an aggregator changed and developed over the years?

Most of the aggregators in India offer distribution as their main offering. We offer marketing services at a cost because every content we release is handpicked and so it is impossible for us to market every content and artist equally unless they have paid for the campaign which we deliver on. This has also been built with the belief that the artists need to look at themselves as brands where their content and the marketing and distribution of their content is all part of brand building. Working with an aggregator actually helps an artist be in control of his/her work and image.

Does the operational and revenue model differ for an upcoming indie artist than an established one?

For an artist who releases his/her content through Hungama Artist Aloud, our revenue models differ on various avenues which include the social following and reach the artist has or the marketing service he/she buys into but it is not limited only to this. Finally it is a mutually agreed structure.

The role of an A&R has changed completely. What does the role involve now?

As long as there are record labels and aggregators, A&R will always exist. The only thing that has changed is the modality. Previously, the commercial model was built by the record label on a gut feeling and that amplified by a strong marketing plan and distribution based supply chain created the business model. Now, with marketing becoming more personalised and community based, the role of A&R has become more about recognising the talent who already has a strong fan base because the assumption is that it is the fans that become the first consumers. Having said that, numbers are not meant to be the only criteria. Musical style, personality, presence – all the parameters that were necessary to make a commercial success still hold true.

How does Hungama scout talent? What kind of a filtration process does Hungama implement?

In Hungama Artist Aloud’s case, our main focus is to create a democratic approach to content across languages, genres and artists. The only thing that we are particular about is the final mix of the content we acquire on license for distribution and the marketability. Sometimes, an artist can be misled with his/her creativity and not be objective about its quality. We do not aim to give production tips but we do have an understanding of what our consumers are willing to consume and hence we do take stands and share inputs accordingly. Outside of that we are open to all forms of content and often push the artists to feel free to express.

What efforts are involved behind developing an upcoming talent into a star or a brand?

The term star or brand is relative. We are living in a time where the shelf life of a content is very small on its own. Hence to create longevity, there needs to be investment made towards marketing. While we have built the ecosystem and network we offer to the artists as part of amplification, the extent of its use is based on how much is the artist willing to investment in himself / herself to be able to build more reach, recall and popularity. Keep in mind that we are a platform and hence like we put in our efforts and investment towards building our brand, the artists need to look at themselves in the same way. We definitely aim to build popularity of the artist through our brand but individual artist popularity is more dependent on the artists’ investment capacity and willingness to do so.

How important is it for an artist to self-invest?

It is very important for an artist to self-invest. The moment an artist goes independent and decides to take the DIY route to distribute original content, he/she is pretty much taking control of his/her positioning, content and image. Hence the artist definitely needs to look at investment beyond just the content. In fact, today, the audio and video are also marketing tools which need to be amplified to be discovered. If you think about it, if the most popular artists need to be marketed then how is that not applicable to new talent?

Is patience a virtue for upcoming artists even if they are signed by the best aggregator?

Patience is a virtue in any scenario and not just for upcoming artists. Most aggregators only offer distribution. Distribution only makes your content live across the platforms. Being live does not mean you are popular. The role of discovery is still dependent on various aspects which to a certain level needs orchestration.

Hungama is one of the oldest and leading aggregators in the country so certainly while lots of things worked out, some wouldn’t have. Can you highlight how and why can an aggregator fail at times?

There are multiple factors that make an aggregator or even a business successful or fail. In the music business, it finally comes down to artist relations, expectation management, timely payments and transparency. One philosophy I live by and also instil in my team is to be honest and approachable to an artist even if you have bad news to share. I feel proud to say that I have lived with this approach for the 25 years that I have been in this business and that has what has led me to have some really long standing relations.

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