Universal Music India launched VYRL Originals, a platform dedicated to promoting and building the category and culture of non-film music in India. In India, where the Non- Film music has for years remained dormant, the enterprise brings a lot of hope for artists by giving them a platform. In an exclusive interview with Loudest.in, Vinit Thakkar, Senior Vice President, Universal Music Group India & South Asia talks about his journey, the vision of VYRL Originals, and it’s future efforts.
Speaking about his journey from Sony to Universal, Vinit shared, “I have been one of the most fortunate business executives. This is my 14th year in Music Business, and I have done everything from Talent Management, to Brand Sponsorships, to Marketing, to Film Co-Production, To Managing a Festival, you name it, I have possibly done it. After spending six years at Sony, there was an exciting opportunity that came forth from Universal, which was going to allow me to do things that I had not done at Sony. I felt the time was right to jump the ship and come to Universal, and three years ago the only thing that I had not done in the Music Business was the creative side of A&R – working with artists and talent and that’s how VYRL happened.”
Talking about the need of investing into Independent Music in India, Vinit said, “I think the ecosystem has changed. When you look back, how Pop Music originated in India, it coincided with the launch of Cable & Satellite TV. The MTV and Channel V gave birth to Pop Music, which was at that time bigger than non-film. Similarly, the 4G revolution happened in late 2016 and Data was easily accessible and consumption of music was shifting from Cassettes and CDs to Audio and Video Streaming Platforms, and I felt that when the consumer taste and consumption habits change, that is the right time to do something new. I thought we were at the cusp of change and there was going to be a supply-demand problem because there is going to be a need for content, with so little content coming out – I felt the only way to bridge this gap was to make non-film music and work with the artist – and that’s how this whole journey started.
The ’90s saw a rise in non-film music, which slowly died out. How was the market going to continue to stay self-sustainable this time and what precautions were going to be taken? Vinit responded saying, “Because of the democratization of platforms, because of the infrastructure. I think we were anyways behind compared to the rest of the world – where it is mainly an artist-driven industry, which we didn’t have. We are trying to build a category as well as building a culture of Non-film music in India. I feel this is here to stay very long. Today a lot of other labels are looking at this is as an opportunity and future-growth area as far as Music Business is concerned. I think the increasing demand for content – for the number of hours if you see people spending on their mobile phones has significantly increased year after year and I understand that trend continuing. The more time they spend on digital platforms, the more entertainment they need. The more entertainment they need, the more content needs to happen. If more content needs to happen, the companies to invest more in creating content, and this is why I now believe that this is here to stay forever.”
Talking about how an artist is brought on board and their process, he shared, “Our process is vastly different compared to other labels. I spend a lot of time, sitting with the artist, understanding them as individuals, their aspirations, their goals, and what they are seeking from the label. I spend a lot of time with them trying to explain the ethos and values of the label. I think it’s needed because in any relationship if both parties can complement each other, then that’s a right relationship to have. Where we feel there is a marriage of sorts – our philosophies, our vision is similar, that is when we get artists on board. The artist has to be a singer-songwriter; we are not looking for playback singers. We want the artist to have a little bit more than singing – it could be doing their own compositions or the ability to write their own lyrics. We help them by providing infrastructure in place, but we like them to be singer-songwriters first.”
Talking about other Independent artists as well to be a part of the VYRL Top 20 playlists, Vinit said, “Well, there are two types of artists – one who are exclusively signed on with us for non-film music and then there other kinds of artists who are not exclusively signed with us, but have done one or two singles with us.”
Sharing the challenges he has faced with the platform, Vinit shared, “Firstly, the willingness of the platform to support – be radio, TV, streaming platforms to support and believe in this culture of non-film music. Secondly, explaining artists – that this is not a one-song vision, and this is a long term vision, and the need for a commitment to each other is because none of this can be done overnight – Rome was not built in one day! It is a process, and that took a lot of explaining and understanding. Thirdly, nobody was doing it the way we were doing it. It always helps when there is a new category being built that there are more players in the game who contribute to it. If more competitors are doing it, then it becomes a sort of easier to make the category. Because the competition wasn’t doing much, there was more of a challenge to achieve what we did.”
Talking about his process about working with the artists directly, Vinit said, “I think I’m a friend to them, I’m a mentor to them, and sometimes I’m a father to them. That’s the kind of relationship that I share with them. Different points of time, you will end up playing different roles. It’s not always about work. Today, for me the validation for all of this is that a lot of my artists today showed up here not because we asked them to come, it’s because we as a label support our artists always and it was heart-warming to see that artists today came to my support and support what I was going to share about the VYRL story.”
Talking about pitching their artists to Bollywood for Film Music, he shared, “Well, a lot of our artist’s original unreleased music has been used in Bollywood. We have made more than 16-18 tracks in the last two years. We don’t make too much hue and cry about it, but as I said, I love Bollywood music. I think in this country Bollywood and Non-Film music will co-exist and we are an artist-first company – whatever helps our artists to grow, we will be willing to do that.”
Sharing plans about future projects, Vinit said, “We have an incredible roster of talent and a series of releases which are out there. In September we have three releases, and we are looking to maintain two to three releases every month from here onwards.”
Discussing the possibility of exploring other genres like Hip-Hop, he shared, “I think there two kinds of Hip-Hop – one is underground Hip-Hop which is going to sit well with Mass Appeal India which is our genre-focused venture. Then there is ‘Hip-Pop’ with artists like Badshah and Ikka. Hip-Pop has a home in VYRL. Ikka is an artist who is exclusively signed on with us. We will continue to work with him. There are a couple of other Hip-Pop music artists as well that are not signed with us that we will continue to work with.”
A promising successful venture – VYRL Originals. And what a year it is turning out to be for Universal Music India. It was inspiring to see how spirited Vinit was while sharing his thoughts, and I believe that we have a lot more to watch out for from him and his team.