To mark a partnership with India’s copyright society, The Indian Performing Right Society Ltd, LBB’s Natasha Patel speaks to T-Series’ president of global digital business and legal and IPRS’ CEO about a partnership to protect 200,000 songs and how the music label has established itself over the years
In 1983 T-Series was founded by Gulshan Kumar, and over the next few decades the label slowly went from strength to strength before cementing itself as India’s largest music record label in 2014. T-Series started with creating cover version of different songs and now has become the most viewed YouTube Channel in the world. The label has been there through the rise of India’s music scene – and then some. This March the label joined forces with The Indian Performing Rights Society Ltd – India’s only Copyright Society – to ensure its music isn’t subject to any exploitation and to protect the label’s lyrics, compositions and tunes.
To make this new partnership and to find out more about the growth of a record label that’s known by Indians around the world, LBB’s Natasha Patel spoke to Neeraj Kalyan, president of global digital business and legal at T-Series and Rakesh Nigam, CEO of The Indian Performing Right Society Ltd.
LBB> T-Series has expanded greatly over the last 20 years - what would you say have been the biggest changes?
Neeraj> From a cassette manufacturing company to India’s largest music label and a successful film production studio with global presence has been a real rollercoaster ride. The music industry has witnessed a paradigm shift in consumption patterns thanks to innovation in technology. With the digital and online consumption steadily increasing through mobile handsets growth, greater internet penetration, growing bandwidth, decreasing data costs and millions of young audiences hungry for good content, it was an opportunity that we identified perhaps first in the India music industry and started riding the digital wave in 2004.
LBB> How have you shifted strategy as consumers move their interests onto different mediums?
Neeraj> Being a non-tech company the real task at hand was how to align ourselves with the changing consumption habits and set a real goal of annual revenues that we can achieve in the next decade or so. It was all about setting the right foundation in terms of content digitisation and meta-tags, getting the right people on board and putting the distribution pipes in place for seamless delivery in the future. We had the first-mover advantage and the hard work over the years preparing for the future gave us the much needed edge.
With easy access to distribution, the biggest advantage one can claim is Content, Content & Content, as only a good content can survive massive choices available to consumers with much skewed attention span. We have maintained our focus on creating new good content backed by seamless distribution pipes and robust target marketing as that is the only mantra to maintain market share in a highly competitive market.
We are the first music label in India having its own in-house designed and developed Media Archival & Management system (MAM) to manage two Lakhs [20,000] audio and 90,000 videos and corresponding metadata within the system itself.
Technology has helped us achieve the goal of managing all our distribution partners directly (without any aggregators) and today we have automated and seamless content delivery capabilities.
LBB> T-Series have a huge presence on YouTube, there are songs on the channel that have over a billion views! Is this your biggest audience and how do you ensure that listeners return time and time again?
Neeraj> The recent growth in internet in India has catapulted the consumption of Indian content and has been a strong catalyst in the growth over the past few years, not only on YouTube but on all music streaming OTT platforms. Consumers nowadays watch music (glossy videos with neat storylines are like short films) and not merely listen to it, and increased bandwidth coupled with lower data costs have helped platforms like YouTube penetrate in the interiors of India which till now was on the fringe of the entertainment ecosystem. The spike in consumption is directly proportional to the content quality and quantity. We have managed to maintain our upward growth curve on YouTube primarily because we consistently remain focused and committed toward creating good content and back it with tent pole programming. The four C’s namely Content, Curation, Consumption and Consumer engagement have been our focal point and that has finally led us to where we are on YouTube today.
Social media has become the most important tool of marketing for any product and music / films are no different. We extensively use all available social platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Short Video apps like Josh, Moj, Reels, YT Shorts etc to reach out to our consumers and gauge traction which helps us in planning our content and marketing strategies.
LBB> Tell me about your catalogue of music- what style is the most popular?
Neeraj> Indian entertainment is based on four pillars which I call the ABCD of Indian Entertainment – Astrology, Bollywood, Cricket & Devotional content. Historically, music in India has always been film music and that legacy has been there since the ’50s. Film music indeed is the main contributor to Indian music, but we have recently witnessed a steady and sustainable growth in non-film music as well. Five out of 20 most viewed videos of T-Series on YouTube are non-film songs.
LBB> I live in the UK and have grown up listening to cassettes on T-Series. How big is your international presence? And how do you market yourselves outside of India?
Neeraj> UK is our third largest market after India and North America. The internet has made the world more or less flat and Bollywood is no longer restricted to India only as audience acceptance has broadened globally. The popularity of Indian content is expanding to global territory as good music has no language which indeed is helping us grow in unchartered territories.
LBB> In any given year how many singles are released on the label and what drives the agenda for what’s released?
Neeraj> On an average we are releasing four to eight singles per month across Hindi and Punjabi genres.
Indian Music is primarily film-based and historically, songs are integral part of our films and films are part of our lives. Songs are primarily based on the film script or are heavily inspired from the film script and situations in the film. We also use certain web & data analytics tools that provide consumer engagement, conversion data and other important data points which are analysed to ascertain consumption patterns and help us finetune our content and marketing strategies. YouTube has been perhaps one of the most exquisite tools to serve audiences and test content adoption rate.
LBB> How, if in any way, has 2020 changed that?
Neeraj> Covid changed a lot of things and one of them was movies didn’t release theatrically in 2020 and in the absence of film music the only way to survive was to release as many singles. The success we tasted last year has further strengthened our belief that at the end of the day it’s good content only that works. We will continue to be bullish on non-film singles and are planning to release much more singles with top-of-the-line videos in 2021. We have seen a considerable jump in content consumption during lockdowns. The only negative has been that we are not able to theatrically release our films which we have produced with such passion. We hope and pray that this pandemic ends soon, humanity returns to its normal behaviour and commerce and travel resumes as before.
LBB> Tell us about T-series joining The Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS)
Neeraj> The way I see it, unification of authors, composers and music labels / publishers is the only way to ensure that everyone gets their dues for their contribution into making a song. Together both T-Series and IPRS will work together in generating awareness and ensuring that people who use our music, also pay us the dues that we are entitled to in law. Entities have to start respecting our rights and the copyright law by paying authors and owners their share of publishing royalties, as is the standard practice in the music industry. This alliance is a win-win for both parties. I am sure that publishing rights in India will get a major boost and will lead to growth of the music industry.
Internationally, it is well established that publishing is a separate right, whereas in India, despite the 2012 Copyright Amendments, we as a community are still struggling in courts to establish rights in underlying literary and musical works. This perception has to change, and it is only when the music community as a whole is united, can we bring about this change.
LBB> Rakesh, as CEO of IPRS, what are your views on the association with T-series being a member of IPRS?
Rakesh> T-Series, India’s leading music label and the biggest film production studio in India led by Mr. Bhushan Kumar brings to IPRS a vast music library of more than 200,000 titles, including 50,000 plus music videos, comprising of more than 15,000 hours of music including musical compositions and lyrics forming part of songs/music videos spread across more than fifteen Indian languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Haryanvi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Rajasthani, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, etc.
IPRS will now represent the T-Series music publishing catalogue of lyrics and musical compositions and license a wide variety of platforms and businesses which exploit music in India significantly, enhancing the music publishing ecosystem in India and vastly improving the ease of doing business for numerous music licensees including broadcasters, digital services, telcos and various other small businesses intending to license music in a seamless single-window clearance for underlying works embodied in a sound recording or a music video.
This development is a watershed moment in the Indian Music Industry and will provide a game-changing boost to the IPRS, the registered Indian Copyright Society, representing music composers, lyricists, and owner publishers of music. T-Series presence as a member will significantly benefit authors and music composer members of IPRS. T-Series is one of the biggest music labels in the country with a 70-80% market share, and most music in the last 20 years has been released through them. T-Series has a stronghold across mediums ranging from films to digital. Thus T-Series coming on board will enhance the royalty collection for IPRS.
LBB> With that in mind, how has the Fair Pay and Fair Trade of Music project been viewed in India?
Rakesh> Fair Trade is about supporting, acknowledging, and celebrating businesses that seek to create an equal trade system through respect and transparency. At IPRS, we aim to raise awareness about why fair trade of music is critical and how it will help the original creators. Established in 1969, The Indian Performing Right Society has been driving significant changes, keeping pace with the changing times and positively influencing our members. We leave no stone unturned to ensure our members reap all benefits possible of their hard work and creative acumen.
The music industry is growing faster than ever in India. We are witnessing new platforms and mediums gaining prominence every year, reinventing ways audiences connect with artists. Similarly, new technologies empower many through new creative tools, who previously had limited access to them, redefining how music is being created and consumed today. In an age where opportunities and challenges go hand in hand, the role of Fair Pay and Fair Trade of Music could not have been more significant.
LBB> And Neeraj, what are the favourite parts of your role as president of global digital business and legal at T-Series?
Neeraj> Eating giant shark negotiators for breakfast. Jokes apart, negotiating license deals with our partners is most fulfilling for me. Striking a well negotiated deal gives me a lot of kick. Negotiations are only a way to put-forth your point of view. There is always give and take in any deal. However, once both parties are aligned on achieving a common goal or objective, the deal has to go through. My takeaways from any negotiation are (i) know your objectives (ii) strive to think out of the box and come up with solutions which will work for both sides as unless there is mutual agreement, no relationship can work.