India's Music Industry Charts Its Future as It Eyes Bigger Share of Global Market

ISSUE 11 2019 - DO NOT REUSE!!!
Courtesy Photo
Dhanush (left, in black) and Dhee in the “Rowdy Baby” music video.

The country of 1.35 billion is getting its first official music chart, measuring data from radio and streaming services (though not from YouTube, for now).

Ask someone on the street in India what the No. 1 song in the country is, and you'll get a very different answer depending on where you are in the country of 1.35 billion people.

In Mumbai, the home of Bollywood, someone might say "Duniyaa" ("World"), from the hit Hindi film Luka Chuppi (Hide and Seek). In Chandigarh, the Punjab capital with the nation's biggest regional pop scene, it could be "Lambhergini" by duo The Doorbeen. In Chennai, where the Tamil movie business is, it might be "Rowdy Baby," actor-singer Dhanush's smash from his latest release, Maari 2.

By the end of 2019, Indians may finally have a definitive answer. As early as July, the Indian Music Industry, the trade organization that includes over 200 Indian record labels, will launch the country's first official music chart. The weekly, 50-position, all-genre list will be compiled by Barcelona-based music monitoring company BMAT and based on streams and radio airplay.

The chart is part of the IMI's "Vision 2022" plan to make India one of the world's top 10 music markets in revenue. It's currently ranked at No. 15, according to IFPI's Global Music Report 2019, with $156.1 million in revenue.

Indian music executives can't guarantee the new chart will boost revenues, but they see it as a sign of the market's maturity and a way to stoke interest among artists, labels, listeners and streaming platforms. "Having these charts is a reflection of India's growing stature across the world in terms of its contribution to music," says Amarjit Singh Batra, managing director of Spotify India, one of the five audio streaming services that will share data with BMAT. Apple Music and local players Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk will also participate.

In a country with 23 official languages and a fragmented music retail system, consolidating data for a definitive chart isn't easy. The declining market for physical products has always been disorganized: Many transactions take place in cash at tiny stores in places like railway stations.

Until now, sales figures have been documented through certifications. "Back in the day of physical sales, we launched gold, platinum, multiplatinum," says Atul Churamani, founder of independent publisher Turnkey Music. "People could make whatever claims they wanted on the success of an album without any verification."

Without audited sales data, past chart compilers augmented results with polls. From the mid-1950s through the mid-'90s, the country's de facto chart was the radio program Geetmala, on which popular DJ Ameen Sayani counted down the biggest Hindi film hits of the week, based on weekly feedback from over 100 record stores and more than 400 "listeners' clubs."

Starting in 1991, the liberalization of India's economy paved the way for the establishment of privately owned FM radio stations and satellite TV channels. A number of them started weekly charts, including the popular Superhit Muqabla, a Bollywood and Indian pop countdown that ran on TV for three years in the '90s. Rankings were based on votes sent in on postcards -- as many as 100,000 a week during the show's peak.

Convincing streaming services to share information for the chart wasn't a problem, says IMI chief digital officer Hari Nair. The challenge was streamlining the data received from the various platforms. "We're working out permutations and combinations, like how on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart a paid stream is valued more than a free stream," says Arjun Sankalia, who serves as a technical adviser to the Indian chart committee, composed of representatives from IMI, IFPI and BMAT.

One platform missing on the IMI charts is YouTube, left out due to the prevalence of views paid for by Indian labels, an open local-industry secret. The IMI has not ruled out adding its data in the future; with over 265 million monthly active users, India is YouTube's largest streamer.

Nair and Sankalia say the chart is shaping up to be an apt reflection of India's consumption patterns, in which languages -- not genres -- distinguish music listening. "You will see Hindi, Punjabi, English, Tamil and Telugu on the chart," says Sankalia. "The point is to have as representative a sample as possible."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Superhit Muqabla as a radio show. It was a television show. 

This article originally appeared in the April 27 issue of Billboard.