For an international act to break through in India, where over 85% of the music consumed is domestic repertoire, the key is “localising the content pieces”, says Roochay Shukla, senior marketing manager at Outdustry. In November, the artist services company completed three years of operations in the south Asian nation where it has broadened the fan bases of a diverse roster of clients that includes Dua Lipa, Major Lazer and Lauv. Here, they tell us about three essential ingredients they’ve repeatedly used in the formula for success in India.
Over the last five years, a visit by any A-list international act touring Mumbai has typically included a party hosted for them by an A-list Bollywood celebrity at which they’re photographed with a bunch of famous Indian film stars. Be it Coldplay or Ed Sheeran, their trips have been documented with selfies with actors they’ve probably never heard of. So when Katy Perry headlined a festival in Mumbai in November 2019 and was expectedly snapped at such a soiree, the folks at Outdustry didn’t want Dua Lipa, who was opening for Perry, to miss out on the action. They got Lipa, who was in the city for just the day of the concert, to meet with one of the biggest names in the business, actor Shah Rukh Khan, for an exclusive photo-op. “Her Indian Instagram followers increased by around one million in the three-week period just before and after the show, and the country ranked number four in her top locations,” says Shukla.
But it doesn’t always take coordinating between two sets of management teams across continents to score a big Bollywood moment. In early 2019, soon after the poster for much-anticipated hip-hop-themed Hindi film Gully Boy was released, the Outdustry team realised that it would be perfect for a piece of meme marketing. “Everybody was talking about Gully Boy,” says Shukla. “We said, why don’t we have fun with it? Back in the day, Diplo had an EP called Random White Dude Be Everywhere. It was a no-brainer for us as to get his face morphed on to that poster in place of [actor] Ranveer Singh and we contextualised it with a caption saying “Mera Bhi Time Aayega” (My Time Will Also Come) because of the film’s song “Apna Time Aayega” (My Time Will Come).” The response, he claims, was “phenomenal”. After Singh left a comment on Diplo’s post, it went viral and “overnight, we had 20-30 press pieces about it”.
Enlisting Indian acts to rework international tracks has become one of the go-to ways of introducing non-lndian music to wider local audiences. “What a remix does is that it has a long-run impact on people finding and digging out the original,” says Shukla. “That is always the plan of action for us, it has to somewhere result into people recognising the artist and their other songs.”
Among the projects they’ve arranged are a special Diwali-themed remix of Major Lazer’s “Light It Up” by electronic pop music producer-singer Ritviz and a Hinglish cover on Flume’s “Never Be Like You” by playback and pop vocalist Jonita Gandhi. But their most high-profile undertaking until date is a remix of Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” by composer Amaal Malik that features singers Sukriti and Prakriti Kakar.
According to Faizan Khan, who handles A&R at Outdustry India, matching the foreign artists with the right Indian counterpart is “a two-filter process, [the first] is a sonic sweet spot [and the second is about] who can drive a lot of cultural social value for our artists”. For “Levitating”, Malik and the Kakars fit the bill both for the listenership habits of their fans, which spanned “Bollywood and commercial music as well as international music” and their demographic make-up, which was “largely teenage”.
The choice of Malik was carefully made. His formidable fan base, known as the Amaalians, helped the remix trend at No.1 on Twitter in India twice during the week of the remix’s release at the end of March – with the hashtags #WeAreComing and #DuaLipaAmaalMalik. And the overall success of “Levitating”, which is still in the official Indian international singles chart, helped propel India from No.17 in the list of Lipa’s top countries on YouTube in 2019 to No.4 right now.
YouTube views remain perhaps the important success metric in India, where the 450 million monthly active users of the video streaming service are two and a half times the estimated 180 million MAUs of audio streaming platforms. “From a perception perspective, we are very, very, very YouTube-driven, in terms of what are that artist’s previous views or how many views has their video done in 24 hours, or 48 hours,” says Shukla. “It gets a bit difficult when we try and pitch collabs.”
Outdustry has worked around this somewhat by leveraging the influence of popular YouTubers to create buzz around their acts. With a relatively upcoming artist such as Lauv, Outdustry was able to capitalise on his actual presence in the country during his tour of Mumbai in May 2019 by devising different campaigns for different DSPs. For YouTube, they got him to film a video in which he duetted with creator Aksh Baghla on a cover of his hit “I Like Me Better”.
Lauv shot another video with Baghla via Zoom last August and in November 2020, appeared on popular “video podcast” The Ranveer Show by Ranveer Allahbadia to talk about his struggles with mental health. “We felt that audiences here could connect with Lauv a lot because he’s so real about expressing his feelings and emotions,” says Shukla. Even though he hasn’t released any new music this year, India remains his No.2 country on the basis of YouTube views, narrowly behind only the Philippines. According to Shukla, “The Indian audience, if they’ve been a part of your journey, their loyalty is going to be with you forever.”