Universal Music Partners With Indian Hit-Maker Desi Melodies in Push to Grow Market Beyond Bollywood

Desi Melodies
Courtesy of Desi Melodies

Jaani and Arvindr Khaira of Desi Melodies.

The deal highlights the push to expand India's non-film market and the surging consumption of regional-language content.

Universal Music Group is partnering with India’s Desi Melodies, a leader in the recent wave of Punjabi music, in a global distribution deal that underscores the rapid growth in consumption of regional-language content in the emerging market.

The deal announced Tuesday (July 7) will solidify both Universal and Desi Melodies’ position at the forefront of India’s burgeoning non-film music sector, which has been cutting into the overall pie of India’s Bollywood-dominated market.

Universal Music India “continues to be committed to transforming the non-film music market, with the aim of giving Indian music and artists a global platform to find success,” Devraj Sanyal, MD and CEO Universal Music India and South Asia, says in a statement.

Under terms of the multi-year partnership, Universal Music India will exclusively distribute all audio recordings from the Desi Melodies catalog, including past releases and future non-film releases, where rights are retained by the label worldwide. Universal will provide Desi Melodies with global support and distribution for their audio catalog and future releases from UMG partner labels around the world, Universal says in a press release. The first release from the partners is expected later this month.

Founded three years ago in the Punjab region of northern India by lyricist Jaani and filmmaker Arvindr Khaira, Desi Melodies has emerged as a rising player in India’s entertainment industry. The label’s hits include the singles “Filhall,” “Coka” and “Kuch Bhi ho jaaya.” The duo, working with frequent collaborator B Praak, has also produced hit records for other labels and film soundtracks. Desi Melodies has more than 5.5 million subscribers on YouTube.

Desi Melodies is benefitting from a sea change in the growth of regional-language content in India the past few years, which is a result of greater smart-phone penetration, access to lower-cost high-speed internet and the proliferation of streaming platforms, including ones native to India like JioSaavn.

Punjabi, Tamil and Telegu are the dominant languages for regional-language content in India, which now accounts for more than 30% of all of consumption on streaming services there. Punjabi tracks are contributing 12% of all regional music streams, the same proportion as Tamil and Telugu tunes put together, according to a KPMG report. Acts like Badshah and Guru Randhawa helped Punjabi overtake English as the second most-played language on the platform.

On streaming service Gaana, the consumption of regional music now contributes to about a third of all the streams on the platform. And on JioSaavn, a surge in demand for regional music led to a fall in international music's share from 25% in 2018 to only half that in 2019.

While the majority Tamil and Telugu songs come from movie soundtracks, most Punjabi plays are of non-film pop and hip-hop. As a result, the share of Bollywood music, India’s dominant musical genre, has been shrinking as a percentage of India’s overall streams. Bollywood music's portion of the pie slipped from as much as 70% in mid-2016 to a little over 50% in early 2019, while international music fell to 18%, KPMG found.

India is the 15th biggest market in the world for recorded music, with streaming accounting for 73% of all sales. Overall industry revenues rose by 19% in 2019 to total $181 million, according to IFPI's 2020 Global Market report.

For Universal, the Desi Melodies distribution deal is the latest in a series of strategic label launches in India by the major. In 2018, UMI launched VYRL Originals, India’s first dedicated non-film label. It has released more than 50 singles from a roster of 20 artists that includes Mithoon, Vishal Mishra and Arjun Kanungo. Last year Universal formed a “multi-channel partnership” with Mass Appeal, the New York-based content company co-owned by Nas. Mass Appeal India’s signings include hip-hop star DIVINE.

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