Interview of the Month – IPRS

Interview of the Month

In conversation with T.Suresh, MD Strumm Entertainment Private Limited

With close to 1000 releases in multiple music genres ranging from pop to devotional to remixes and Hindustani Bandish in a modern avatar, 9 years since rolling off, Strumm Entertainment Private Limited, T.Suresh Managing Director, features on our “Interview of the Month”. In this freewheeling chat he expounds on the evident change and developments he has been witness to in a harmonious 25 year career in the music industry including stints as Business Head of Times Music, and Managing Director Virgin Records (EMI India)

You are from an IIT IIM background, what is it that drew you to music?
I always wanted to get into entertainment. There are many like me today who are heading entertainment companies and music labels. My basic calling always was entertainment and here I am.

How has the music industry changed over the years?
There have been a lot of changes, definitely. Newer challenges have emerged. The primary mode of consuming music has changed from cassettes and compact disc to audio and video streaming. This is the most evident difference in format. The other alteration I can see is the use of singles (1- track) instead of 6 or 8 tracks. Mind you, releasing singles, like in the west, where it was a norm, did happen for albums that the label considered premium even in the 90s but it was a rarity. In the present scenario where artists very often launch their own albums, releasing singles is more of a rule than an exception.

How do you tap the talent you work with?
Our core competence is our team of experienced music loving professionals who have also been in the business for long and bring their domain knowledge to the mix. This apart, many of our existing connections give us the right kind of insights into evaluating music artists. Also, staying abreast with the current and emerging trends gives us the bigger picture, this, by far is, one of our tested ways of building a catalogue. There is, of course, a lot that can be done with big ticket artists that we keep recording with.

Do you rely on data to help tap fresh writing or composing talent or is it that a human talent scout suits you better?

There is no point denying the value of data. YouTube, Spotify Apple, Amazon, do give you a clear idea of the goings-on. Data is readily available and can also be collected from various sources. Having said that I must add that, purely going by data would be taking things too far.

How has Strumm expanded over the years?

Essentially we remain in the same music content space as our early years but with a few necessary tweaks. We started off with three categories Youth, Devotional and various kind of fusion and easy listening vocal and instrumental music. We have since gone on to record Karnatak Kriti and instrumental music. We also realised that there’s a staggering amount of content to explore in the Indian devotional category. I can say with some amount of pride that Strumm are the pioneers of youth oriented devotional music in India.

Could you elaborate on this?

What I mean is we gave devotional music a till then untried and trendy sound with contemporary music arrangements. Devotional music conventionally has been believed to be the go-to-option for the elderly and for those with a different kind of gravitas. At Strumm we’ve made an attempt to make spiritual music more conversational and fun without taking away the inherent wisdom in the text. We have tried to expand the range of listeners by which we mean everyone between the ages of 15 to 60 can tune in to the Bhajans, Hymns, Kritis and other spiritual music.

Can you tell something about your popular product “Om Voices”?

“Om Voices”, was an experiment when it started and has been very well received across the music compass. It has gone on to become a YouTube phenomenon. Famous mantras, meditations and chants rendered by young female singers have struck a chord with listeners.

What are the other genres you have recorded music in?

We have recorded in a variety of genres. Cover versions of Hindi film songs we released have gone on to become cult classics. It is important that as a music label you create and develop your own niche. The process may take years but we’re ready to play the waiting game and have gone all the way to promote new music producers and songwriters. Hyacinth D’Souza, Ajay Singha, Kshitij Tarey, Sridhar come to mind off the cuff. There are many others we have worked with and will continue to espouse. Strumm has recorded over a 100 tracks in three years and have been one of the pioneers in audio streaming. Traditional Hindustani classical Bandishes set to groovy soundtracks, we believe, have immense potential that needs to be backed. We are doing our bit in the realm and are optimistic about the results.

Music consumption, production, & distribution has been changing over the years, how has Strumm been coping with these changes, riding the wave and staying relatable and relevant?

It is good to know that music consumption has been higher than ever before. Music, today, is more easily accessible to all. There was an initial fear when the format changed from physical to digital, but things have worked out for the better. The transition has been smooth and the format is as successful as the earlier one.

Please take us through the differences between promoting a pop versus a devotional album?

Pop music needs to be marketed differently. In some ways pop music and film music are similar. Both genres need stars, big personalities and big budgets. Promoting devotional music on the other hand is less expensive. If you consider the age demographic, devotional music has a wider scope as compared to pop music. The good thing is pop music is also evolving and does fetch jumbo returns especially if the audience adores it.

How has social media affected music consumption?

Social media, since some time now is an intrinsic part of every industry, especially the entertainment industry. It plays a telling role in building a fan base for all artists. Die-hard music fans follow their favourite artists wanting to know more and more about their everyday activities, hobbies, new releases and everything they can lay their hands on. Music companies also encourage this interaction. This connect is very important for music promotion and helps the song grow and reach its potential. Besides, there’s also the need to make motivating presentations to the available and emerging music platforms; notes to aggregators, usage of the right keywords in the presentations play a key role in today’s music build-up.

Are there any special or unconventional methods you have used in hyping your music at Strumm?

More than employing gimmicks and unconventional methods to promote music, we believe in creating the right product. Our approach in this process is meticulous and strengthened by teamwork that uses each other as a soundboard before entering the recording studio. My insights tell me that promotion can elevate a product but rarely does it make up for an average product and drive sales.

What according to you is the best and the worst thing about being a music entrepreneur?

It surely is an exciting journey as things keep evolving rapidly. Building a catalogue and getting to know your audience takes time and effort. As an entrepreneur you have to understand that you will not get everything right. There will be lots of hits and misses, which can be frustrating. That is where the ability to take things in your stride matters most. You may come into the business for profit making, but that should be a part of the larger picture and not the only reason for your getting into the music world.