Ditto goes desi

Over the past decade or so, the entire music industry has completely transformed. During my stint with EMI Music India, handling the Warner repertoire in 2005-6, we hardly used the term ‘digital’ music. Our focus was on selling ‘physical’ units like CDs and DVDs to retail stores. Though mobile phone operators asked for content for their ringtones and caller-back tunes, the market was nascent. It was in 2007 that EMI hired a full-time employee to handle its digital operations. Cut to 2018 and music retail stores are a thing of the past, barring a few that focus on vinyl records, a craze among aficionados and audiophiles. With almost everyone carrying a smartphone or possessing a laptop, it’s all about music streaming services and apps.

Sturdy launchpad

The grey area, however, has been distribution of independent and non-Bollywood music and the discovery of fresh talent. This is where UK-based Ditto Music, which set up its India branch late last year, comes into the picture. Ditto Music’s founder and CEO Lee Parsons, who was in Mumbai last month, says the idea germinated when their band never got any recording deals from labels. “I and my brother Matt thought there would be many similar groups and decided to help them,” he adds.

Over the years, the company has helped launch the careers of numerous artistes including biggies like pop stars Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, and rapper Stormzy. “They became big later but it was Ditto which gave them the break,” Parsons points out. “Once we succeeded, we decided to expand to other countries. Since I am from Birmingham which has a lot of Indian musicians, this country has always been on my mind.”

The India and South Asian operations are headed by Gautam Sarkar, formerly of Saregama India who says the focus will be more on regional and independent music. They have begun by having licensing agreements with or by acquiring lesser known labels strong in different regions. After getting Bhojpuri and Gujarati content, Ditto has worked on Punjabi and Marathi music, besides being in talks with one company from the south. “We will put out this music to countries with a sizeable Indian population,” shares Parsons.

Competitive space

The music will be distributed to streaming services. They have also been in talks with four artistes and plan talent contests in North India and the North-East. “Bollywood will not be our area as most streaming services get them anyway,” says Sarkar. While that might be a boon for upcoming and lesser-known talent, from the user point of view, the good news is that popular streaming service Spotify has announced plans to launch its India operations later this year. It’s an announcement that implies stiff competition for existing services like Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Soundcloud, Gaana, Hungama, Saavn, Wynk, Jio Music and others.

Obviously, the entire arena has changed. A recent music conference talked only of business in the new scenario. There was barely any mention of the actual quality of content. Who cares, as long as the money comes in?

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