Kartik Sundar

September 25, 2023

From Bedroom to the World: How Short Video Apps are Creating a New Generation of Indian Pop Stars

Today’s fairy-tale journey of a pop star doesn’t start with a manager scouting them at a local bar. In a data driven world where record labels need to make each investment count, they need to see a proof of concept to start betting behind a future star. While streaming platforms are the eventual goal to determine success, artist and song discovery today doesn’t organically happen on these DSPs. Artists with aspirations of stardom don’t necessarily need to drop an entire track, let alone an album. Thirty seconds of audio on a short video application is all it takes for someone to go from zero ears to a billion.

In the West, it’s widely acknowledged that TikTok is the pre-eminent platform for artist discovery and song virality online. The application sees immense engagement, with users spending close to an hour a day and 83% of accounts even posting content themselves. Perhaps most importantly,  younger people ages four to fifteen spend an average of 90 minutes per day on the app. With Generation Z being the cultural trendsetters of today, their love for the application makes it essential for musicians to build and sustain audiences. A lengthy breakdown Vox perfectly captures the pipeline from artists going viral on TikTok and their subsequent growth on Spotify.

In India, with political tensions between China being at a precarious point, the application was banned in June of 2020. The gaping hole that TikTok left in the Indian social media landscape was then populated by a slew of short video apps; namely — Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Moj, Josh, Chingari, Roposo, and a few more. The Indian music industry has long been gatekept, with Bollywood films and large record labels effectively monopolizing the dissemination of music to the masses. Today, with each of these applications having hundreds of millions of users actively consuming content on a daily basis, it’s allowed bedroom artists a more democratic way to be found.

The trend has also led to a greater acceptance of indie artists into mainstream Bollywood. The Deepika Padukone starrer Gehraiyaan was accompanied by a soundtrack spearheaded by indie composer and producer, OAFF. Till Gehraiyaan’s release, Kabir Kathpalia, who goes by the moniker OAFF, hadn’t really had his music break into domestic charts in a meaningful way. Through ‘Doobey’, the highlight tune from Gehraiyaan, OAFF virtually turned into a recognisable name overnight. The song trended in the top charts of all platforms and today has racked up over 80 million streams on YouTube.

From Bedroom to Billboard

Singer-songwriter Anumita Nadesan uploaded a cover of a famed Bollywood song “Jashn-E-Bahaaraaon her Instagram profile in December of 2020. Entirely organically, the song accrued millions of views and had tens of thousands of creators use the audio in their own Reels.

The success of her subsequent covers showed that Anumita Nadesan had struck a chord with audiences. But for an artist to truly make a name for themselves, original songs need to be created. Partnering with Big Bang Music’s Indie incubator ‘Big Indie Bang’, she released “Khwaab in February of 2022. The track saw Indian short video application Moj come in as a platform partner, giving them exclusive rights to the audio before its release across platforms to create a buzz. Once again, without any paid promotional push, ‘Khwaab’ gained over 17 billion views on Moj across creations and saw close to a 100 thousand reels created on Instagram. The immense success of the single even had renowned fashion designer Manish Malhotra use the track as the soundtrack for his latest collection. Just over a year from uploading a single unfinished cover on Instagram with a guitar and mic, Anumita went from complete obscurity to one of the most sought after names in independent music in India.

There’s a certain unpredictability that makes these platforms even more difficult to accurately navigate. Aditya A released his song ‘Chaand Baaliyaan’ all the way back in April of 2020. At the time, there wasn’t anything outstanding happening around it to make people take notice of the sound or Aditya A himself. Fast forward two years later, Chaand Baaliyaan suddenly exploded on Instagram reels, seeing over 200 thousand reels being created to its audio. The song currently has over 60 million streams on Spotify and its video has crossed 20 million on YouTube. While it’s not unusual for an old artist’s music to be discovered by Generation Z (take the sudden popularity of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ on TikTok), seeing an indie artist’s two year old track unexpectedly reach viral charts is nothing short of incredible.

What’s important to note in this entire journey is the pipeline that these short video applications provide. When consumers scrolling through these shorts start enjoying snippets of an audio, almost two thirds of users go to streaming services to play them in their entirety. It gives artists and labels a relatively low cost method of evaluating where to invest their money. For an artist, dropping a collection of short audio snippets to see what resonates with audiences gives them an understanding of which track to finish. For labels, tracking and monitoring spikes in short video usage for a certain audio is imperative to discover artists before competition gets to them. It’s an entire funnel for A&R teams that didn’t even exist five years ago.

For brands, tapping into the explosion of the short video market is imperative. With consumers spending so much of their social time scrolling through these videos, having your brand placed within the ecosystem allows for greater engagement than before. From the audio side, this means either licensing viral audio sounds to use in campaigns or even identifying sounds that you think might go viral and acquiring them for your brand. Manish Malhotra’s usage of ‘Khwaab’ for his latest collection is just one example of how brands can leverage the moment to stay engaged with audiences.

Platforms like Instagram are now going the extra mile to create entire IP’s based on short audio. Their new ‘One Minute Music’ concept has them partner with hundreds of creators and artists to release audio and videos that are exclusively for reels. Famed Pune based artist Ritviz even released an entire album that consisted of five 30 second tracks for the Moj platform. Whether this trend leaves us in a state where this becomes the de facto duration of music content remains to be seen. What’s undeniable is that the stars of today and tomorrow are bound to be found and grown on short video platforms.