Prime Edition

ARJUN S. RAVI
OUT OF TUNE

Arjun S Ravi is the editor of Indiecision (http://nh7.in/indiecision). He believes in brutal honesty, and thinks your band sucks.

The Virtual Big Bang: How social media has helped indie thrive

The Reggae Rajahs’ Facebook page

ocial media has significantly changed India's 'alternative culture' landscape. Facebook and Twitter have been crucial to the propagation and acceptance of new genres of music, new forms of expression (like stand-up comedy in English), and a new era of food photography (courtesy Instagram). For the Indian indie music scene, social media assumed a role previously occupied by Internet forums like Gigpad and RSJOnline's forums – a virtual space to connect, discuss and troll. And while this is old news for those who've been updating statuses since it was fashionable to do so, there are now definite economic and functional benefits to spending an inordinate amount of time discovering how many calories your friends burned on their daily run and what their top five artists on Last.fm were that week.

I was invited to speak on a couple of panels at Social Media Week held in Mumbai last week, one on the role of social media in the music industry, and another on how brands are using social media to connect with consumers. Both panels had largely the same things to say about how social media has changed the business of reaching out to consumers. The reasoning is simple. Social media cuts out the middle man, allowing anyone – band or brand – to reach out to fans who have voluntarily agreed to 'Like' or 'Follow' them, and push out any communication without the need for an advertising agency (though some firms do employ a social media agency, they prefer to call themselves "digital" agencies, but basically they have a lot of employees updating Facebook and Twitter for various brands everyday) or a huge marketing budget. "The cost per contact has reduced tremendously," said one brand manager on a panel, indicating his delight at having to spend less to speak to consumers of his brand.

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Social media cuts out the middle man, allowing anyone – band or brand – to reach out to fans who have voluntarily agreed to ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ them, and push out any communication without the need for an advertising agency

he other big reason for so much excitement around social media (to the extent that there is now a global series of events called 'Social Media Week') is its ubiquity. Everyone is on social media. And the reason for them being on social media has a lot to do with how the alternative culture landscape in India is shaping up. With MySpace and Orkut, the reason to be on social media was to connect with new and old friends. But with Facebook and Twitter, that reasoning has evolved and you only need to read Twitter bios to find out how. Everyone's an amateur photographer, writer, wine enthusiast, "wanderer", poet and whatnot, and everyone has an amazing story to tell on Facebook about their recent holiday, the time they met Bappi Lahiri, or the music festival they recently attended. It's an economy of notional one-upmanship, a see-how-cool-I-am outlook that's crucial to people expressing themselves in creative new ways. Heck, a majority of popular English-language stand-up comics in India have bankrolled careers on the back of how funny they are on Twitter and the recognition that that has got them from the right set of people. Many scenesters consume a majority of content based solely on what's being shared on various timelines.

For the music scene though, social media has played a more significant role, one that was started by the forums, and one that is now allowing bands and promoters to consider reaching out to fans in a wholly different way. The popularity of Facebook and Twitter has allowed them to eschew mainstream media almost entirely to promote their events, albums, tours, et al. In fact, some promoters of larger-scale events like music festivals I've talked to are spending more time and effort on crafting social media campaigns than traditional media campaigns, simply because it makes more business sense. Social media allows them to respond to fan queries instantly, keep a steady stream of communication flowing, and save a lot of money on not making TV commercials or releasing print ads. Artists still need to write great songs, and festivals still need to give fans great experiences, but Facebook and Twitter are enabling them to do things they couldn't even dream of five years ago. So please, retweet this column and support the scene.

 

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