Indian musicians are relying on bedroom studios

Indian musicians are relying on bedroom studios


Anushka Maskey's 2020 song 'September Embers' has all the makings of an international hit. The folk pop tone has global appeal, and with over 1,28,000 streams on Spotify, it's fair to say it has its own audience. Her song was not created in a state-of-the-art studio, but in her home studio with producer Pranay Bakshi aka Cosmic Grooves. The Sikkimese-born, Mumbai-based singer-songwriter, who started out recording guitar and ukulele on her MacBook with a USB microphone, has since slowly upgraded to a “simple set-up” consisting of monitor speakers, electric guitar, MIDI keyboard and condenser microphone. “For me, there's no longing for a time in the future when I'll have more equipment or resources. All the resources are already there,” says Maskey.

Anushka Maskey

Anushka Maskey

Down south, Kerala-based indie artist Haniya Nafeesa, who has over 1,86,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, attracts a large chunk of her 3 lakh-plus Instagram followers through her homemade covers of popular songs. With a few film songs in her catalogue, she can evoke the intimacy of the lo-fi electronic pop sound on songs like ‘You Good?’. “The quality of music or artiste does not depend on resources,” says Nafeesa, who collaborated with Gujarati-origin artist Krameri and Kerala producer 6091 to record ‘You Good?’ in her bedroom.

Indie artist Haniya Nafeesa

Indie artist Haniya Nafeesa

Looking at bedroom studio artists by genre, one finds pop, lo-fi, indie-folk and even hip-hop. These genres are probably popular because the songs don't require live recorded drums (as in rock or metal) or string sections (for more ambitious pop). Here, everything can be added via beat packs, sound libraries, plug-ins and digital audio workstations.

Create your next album yourself

Bedroom-made music has been around for a long time — from the Beach Boys in the 1960s (who recorded the first two 'lo-fi' albums in 1967) to punk bands and the no wave genre, and later hip-hop producers. And like all art movements, this one too has a certain cyclical nature to it. Over the past decade, the rapid digitisation of music production and distribution has fuelled this trend, and the pandemic has helped the DIY music movement take off, especially among Indian musicians.

He followed in the footsteps of artists such as slack-jawed rock artist Mac DeMarco, singer-songwriter Billie Eilish – whose Grammy-winning album, When we all fall asleep, where do we go?was recorded in her brother's bedroom — and British singer Kenya Grace. The electronic-pop artist's song 'Strangers', from her 2023 album Aftertastewas recorded entirely in her Hampshire bedroom, and it not only went viral, but also topped the Billboard Dance/Electronic Songs chart last October.

Back home, Indian artists have become aware of the ease and economic logic behind knowing how to produce their own music. Where earlier it was only due to a lack of resources, it is now a creative decision as it gives artists control over every aspect of production. “How I use what I have and collaborate with my community makes a huge difference,” says Maskey.

UK-based Arjun Harjai is known as the One Minute Composer. Through the YouTube series – in which he sits at home with his wife Divya Harjai and brainstorms song ideas – he says he is “rediscovering the joy of making music”. The series, which began this January, was inspired by his subscribers, who encouraged him to “present music in a more refined way”, much like a vlog. This has led to songs like ‘Winter Ayun Waliye’ and ‘Maangooge Na?’ taking social media by storm, garnering over 8,57,000 and 67,000 views respectively on YouTube.

Arjun Harjai

Arjun Harjai

Distributors come to court

The power of the internet and the democratisation of technology means artists have a plethora of tools available to create music. Think digital audio workstations like Steinberg Cubase and compact, affordable recording equipment. Grace has talked about relying on her intuition and YouTube tutorials to master the recording software Logic. Aftertaste Album.

And for those who want to go further, there are plenty of music distributors today that offer better reach through editorial playlist placements, AI-assisted marketing tools, and opportunities to pitch at music festivals. “After talking to a few artist friends, I found out that Distrokid [an independent digital music distribution service] “It’s affordable,” says Nafeesa, whose song ‘You Good?’ is part of Spotify’s Malayalam indie playlist. “As a platform, it was easy to understand and navigate, and the artist gets a lot of freedom.” It runs on an annual fee and lets artists release their content whenever they want. In Bengaluru, Rudy Mukta is also considering a bigger set-up. “I like the idea of ​​building up slowly and learning about home studio equipment,” says the Toto Music Award-winning singer-songwriter, who started with her friend’s iPad. “But I want to incorporate more live instrumentation in my songs.” And that will require professional intervention.

Rudy Mukta

Rudy Mukta | Photo Credit: Lendrick Kumar

Outside the house

What the major music distribution companies are offering:

Madverse

Plans: Free (with one release per month and 85% royalty), ₹599 per year (unlimited releases and 90% royalty) and ₹2,999 per year (95% royalty, cover art studio access and editorial playlist pitching)

MGMH Groove

Plans: $7 or ₹600 per song (93% royalty, lifetime distribution and no subscription fees), $20 or ₹1,600 per album (same features as singles)

TuneCore

Plans: Free (unlimited releases, 80% royalty), ₹1,299 per year (unlimited releases, 100% royalty), ₹2,299 per year (unlimited releases, 100% royalty, cover art creator and more), ₹3,999 per year (for labels and professional artists with unlimited releases, 100% royalty, access to exclusive partnerships, expert advice and more)

CD Baby

Plan: $9.99 per song or album (91% royalties, marketing tools, and worldwide monetization)

Distrokid

Plans: ₹22.99 per year (100% royalty, playlist spotlight pitching, and more)

However, artists are wary of music distribution companies because they charge more for add-on services and also take a share of the revenue generated from some streams. Still, companies like Gurgaon-based MADverse are justifying their prices. Founder and CEO Rohan Nesho Jain says they provide tools to foster the DIY ethos of bedroom musicians, including an AI art cover generation tool. “We also provide data-driven insights that help artists understand their audience and improve their strategies.” More than 51,000 artists from 60 countries have signed up to release music or use other MADverse services, with a significant portion of them making pop and indie music. “Hip-hop and rap also have a significant presence,” he said.

Rohan Nesho Jain of MADverse

Rohan Nesho Jain of MADverse

Compared to the one-year-old MADverse, Ritnika Nayan, founder of music company MGMH, offers a different kind of conversation. Early last month, she launched her distribution service MGMH Groove, and she hopes to become a means for artists to put their music on Spotify editorial playlists, take it on the road with tours, and put it in TV shows or movies. “In a way, the artist gets the support they need, without having to sign exclusively with a label. We want artists to be empowered,” says Nayan, adding that they have 15 releases scheduled and more than 25 accounts in the first week.

Ritnika Nayan of MGMH

Ritnika Nayan of MGMH

Singer-songwriter Govind Thampi

Singer-songwriter Govind Thampi

Artists have their own wish lists, too. For instance, Govind Thampi, aka Thampi, an Indian singer-songwriter who grew up in Doha, wants “more reliable ways to send my music to playlist editors and other promotional partners.” With the number of bedroom artists on the rise these days, they may soon start dictating more requirements to distributors.

The author is a Bengaluru-based freelance music journalist.



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