Opinion: Marrying tradition with technology – Role of social media in the Indian Classical Music industry

Rohit Kaul of HCL Concerts, explains how digital media paved the way for smaller artists, sealing the gap between tradition and technology. Kaul gives an understanding of the role that social media plays in nurturing talent in the Indian Classical Music industry.

The pandemic was a watershed event in the lives of India’s classical artists’ community – almost overnight, it wiped out physical concerts and music festivals, the primary connection with their fans. The term “virtual”, a word till then practically non-existent in our collective lexicon, became the centre of the world’s existence. The pandemic became the catalyst that helped seal the union between tradition and technology. Thus redefining the role of social media in talent management for the Indian Classical Music industry.

However, the initial excitement about digital media providing artists access to a large, untapped audience inexpensively was short-lived. While the digital platforms, unshackled the constraints of a physical arena, they created other challenges for classical artists where the virtual journey wasn’t entirely understood, and neither was it smooth.

The reality is that digital media brings its own set of rules, and the artists need to master these to leverage the immense potential it offers.

Physical concerts are challenged by the constraints of economics. Concerts have many costs that cannot be wished away such as light and sound systems, venue rental, and marketing. To be economically viable, organizers need to have a packed house and thus rely more on veteran artists to achieve it. Digital platforms and social media are comparatively inexpensive and hence provide a platform with a lot more talent flexibility. YouTube is the preferred medium of choice; other platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are not far behind. Some like OneStreaCom even allow artists to sell tickets. These relatively inexpensive platforms also allow artists to upload content for free.

A Nielsen study reveals that concert fans are likely to use social media three or more times a day and that they are even more active across social media networks while attending live events. A well-crafted social amplification strategy can help both, music festivals and artists build awareness before, during, and after their concerts. 

Other important elements to keep in mind: create a music festival or concert hashtag and make sure that it’s present from the very first event announcement to the final performance.

Concert attendees love driving conversations and what better way to do it than build a community around the hashtag – to benefit both the event and its performers.

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However, that is one aspect of the story. Social media content feeds are driven by sets of complex algorithms. What viewers end up seeing is dictated by how these algorithms engage with each piece of content put up by the artists – and therein lies the story. The challenge constraining artists here is that the algorithms are structured to push content that they believe viewers are likely to view and engage with, which subsequently drives the ad-based revenue model of these platforms. This emerged as a bigger constraint to overcome than the constraints artists faced in relation to physical concerts.

Every day, 45% of the world devotes two hours and 24 minutes to social media and demographics are key. Most users of social media platforms are comparatively young – driven primarily by millennials and GenZ. Attention spans of this set are also notoriously low as they consume higher amounts of content. A Microsoft study showed how people now begin to lose concentration after about eight seconds. This figure was 12 seconds in 2000. Contextualize this to classical artists publishing content on social media.

Merely putting up content and expecting significant views rarely works – it’s more about how to work the content to make it more engaging and relevant to young audiences on these platforms. Both artists and concert managers need to also take advantage of new opportunities brewing across the music ecosystem to truly harness the power of social media and other digital platforms in the Indian classical music industry.

These include, among other things:

Content Distribution: Artists and concerts can cross-distribute content across multiple platforms. Their content mix should also be varied to include videos and photos to Facebook live sessions, teasers and announcements. 

Fan Engagement: Artists need to spend time engaging with their audience and having a presence on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube can help captivate fans and drive more authentic connections. 

Live Streams: Fans are always keen to interact with their favourite artists. It’s always a good idea to use platforms such as Facebook Live to engage with fans over a Q&A session or a fireside chat.

But there are some additional things to keep in mind: The quality of video production is key. Videos with high production quality get recognized by the algorithms and rank higher. Consistency of content also plays an important role.

Putting up an hour-long concert recital on social media doesn’t cut it. Remember the low attention span issue highlighted earlier. This has led to the emergence and mainstreaming of short-form content – YouTube shorts and Instagram Reels being prime examples. Swaraag, a Sufi rock and Indo-western fusion band, is a great example of a group that understands this and puts out engaging social media content. They use short-form content at the top of their content funnel to generate more eyeballs.

Another way to drive more visibility is to actively engage with the audience on the platform by responding to comments and queries, tagging the audience, fellow artists, friends etc. This drives conversations, ultimately creating stickiness with fans.

Collaborations between artists also work well with the algorithms and help cross leverage a wider audience spread. Sitar maestro Purbayan is a great example of a classical artist who does this very effectively. He often puts out slice-of-life updates – interactions with friends and family, travel videos, etc. that satiate the curiosity of fans and drive engagement. This sends the right signals to the algorithms that pick it up and put it across more audience feeds which in turn brings in more and younger audiences.

Music platforms are similarly key to driving visibility for artists. They invest in promoting both physical and virtual concerts. Being visible on these platforms also has a salutary effect on the artists’ profile –also a driver for recognition on social media. The platforms also ensure the longevity of content by slicing and dicing it into smaller, bite-sized portions to integrate with short-form content feeds. Then there are promotions –during festivals and otherwise, that also push artist visibility.

This article is penned by Rohit Kaul, Head- HCL Concerts.

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