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Original Soundtracks For Web shows Are Promoting New Indian Talent

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OTTs (over-the-top platforms) are quickly making OSTs, or original soundtracks, more popular than tracks for Indian TV shows ever were. Millions of viewers are tuning into OSTs of web series’ either via YouTube or through music streaming apps, and it’s giving an opportunity for independent musicians a chance to shine.

Popular examples include Kaam 25, an OST of Netflix Original Sacred Games (2018), which has over 19 million views on YouTube. Rapper DIVINE, whose life inspired large parts of the Bollywood blockbuster Gully Boy, has composed the song. At 19.6 million views, Darshan Raval’s Yaara teri yaari for Amazon Prime Video’s Four More Shots Please is just as renowned. Meanwhile, Yeh kya hua of ALTBalaji’s Broken But Beautiful (2018) has got 9 million views and the title track of Dice Media’s Little Things (2016), starring Mithila Palkar and Dhruv Sehgal, is now nearing 1.5 million views. All this because these artists and their tracks got a stage to shine thanks to the growing OTT platforms. 

Not just that, OSTs for web shows are attracting Bollywood biggies like Udit Narayan and Shreya Ghoshal, and even major music labels like T-Series and Sony Music.

Show & movie producers also prefer creating original music to buying rights to Bollywood music as those syndication deals cost Rs 20-30 crore and OTT content players are spending just 1% of that amount in music production at present.

OST of the past, present & the future

This trend is another import from the West. Iranian-German composer Ramin Djawadi and Indian-American musician Siddhartha Khosla have gained popularity for the music they have composed for worldwide hit shows Game of Thrones (2011-19) and This Is Us (2016), respectively.

Djawadi has also spun the GoT soundtracks into a live concert format whose tickets for these concerts are priced between $18 and $400. Khosla is touted as “one of the busiest composers in TV showbiz” with several shows under his belt besides the tear-jerker This Is Us. He boasts 23,000-plus monthly listeners on Spotify and his most prominent soundtrack — This Is Us Score Suite — has been streamed over 680,000 times on the app. 

The US is a mature market for OSTs. “The West had its golden age of TV in the late 1990s when shows like The Sopranos had great tracks. Meanwhile, most Indian TV shows used Bollywood songs as padding for the longest time,Sameer Nair, CEO of Applause Entertainment who has spent over two decades in the TV industry with Star TV and Balaji Telefilms, among others told ET Magazine.

India, too, has had a few popular OSTs of television series. Back in the days of Doordarshan, many title songs were popular, despite the onslaught of film music, like songs from Govind Nihalani’s Tamas and Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj  , both by Vanraj Bhatia, or the title song of Subah, composed by RD Burman. 

When Indian TV underwent the saas-bahu phase, it saw lyricist Nawab Arzoo try all combinations of “rishtey” (relationships), “aansu” (tears), and “kahaani” (story) to weave catchy title tracks for shows across Hindi entertainment channels but there were hardly any cassettes, CDs, or LPs dedicated to tracks from TV shows. 

The digital medium has solved that supply problem almost entirely.

Show Me The Songs 

While one can always “skip the intro” and the end credits but there is the option to check the credits in OTT platforms.

It’s important to consider that unlike Bollywood hits and Punjabi ditties, these OSTs have no elaborate marketing machinery behind them and no big budgets to boast. The Little Things’ title track Song for Survival, for instance, is a DIY video. Dice Media’s parent company Pocket Aces’ co-founder, Ashwin Suresh, shot bits of it, too, standing next to his director of photography. Featuring its music composer and lyricist Neel Adhikari and actor Mithila Palkar, the video also uses animation and visual representation of the lyrics to enhance the impact. 

Most production houses and OTT platforms set aside 1-5% of their production budget for music. The show’s popularity drives people to its music and not the other way around, says Suresh of Pocket Aces to ET Magazine. It also keeps helps create memory of the show intact between two seasons, he adds. 

Shruti Naik validates his argument. “If I’ve just watched a show and liked its tracks, I spend the weeks that follow listening to its OSTs, googling the artist and their music. Almost 30-40% of my playlist has OSTs from my favorite shows,” says Naik, 28, a flamenco guitarist based in Vancouver to ET Magazine

ALTBalaji has amped up its game with artists like Shreya Ghoshal and Papon singing in some of the OSTs.

Major music labels have begun to take note already with two of Hungama Play’s OSTs from its web show Bar Code made available on T-Series’ YouTube channel and Sony Music has picked music distribution rights for at least five web shows across OTT platforms.

“At 50 million views, the audio-video streaming numbers for Four More Shots’ title track across platforms are as good as a regular Bollywood movie. The genre will have a slow start, but over a period of time, there won’t be any difference between Bollywood music and web series music,” – Jay Mehta, head of digital business at Sony Music India told ET magazine.

Struggling streams

Artists are also bullish about this genre even though streaming revenues are low, royalty contracts too complicated including archaic clauses.

One harbinger of the industry is Dub Sharma, who enthralled the audience with his musical chops in Gully Boy, and is trying to decode the royalty collection process so he can simplify it for his community of musicians. Sharma recently gave the distribution rights to one of his old tracks called Roshay to Amazon Prime’s Made In Heaven.

“OTT players don’t have the rights to shows for perpetuity,” he says. “So, if your music continues to run on their platforms after a show’s contract renewal, your payouts also go up.” 

All this chatter around royalty and payout is Greek to an upcoming artist like Nilotpal Bora.

TVF spotted the 29-year-old Assamese artist on YouTube two years ago and roped him in for Tripling’s second season. His composition Ishq ka haafiz has been making waves ever since the series released on the platform and SonyLIV and since then, Bora has been on music tours.

But is this growth sustainable? Only time and streams will tell.

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