| 19 Apr 2024
Adarsh Gupta: 'We want Saregama to be the Future of Music'

From fast moving consumer goods to consumer electronics to music in markets as diverse as India, Russia, England, Poland and Fiji Islands is quite a journey. But  for Saregama India business head-music Adarsh Gupta it has been quite an enriching and enjoyable one. The former Times Music head has quite a challenge on his hands: push arguably India's oldest music label Saregama into its next phase of growth and transform it as a company which rakes in the moolah in an era of deteriorating physical sales and increasing digital consumption of music.

Gupta is, however, quite used to challenges. As COO of Times Music, he launched Times Wellness and Bollywood arm Junglee Music to capitalise on the raging popularity of commercial film music.

In a conversation, Gupta shares the progress of the company, key challenges faced by the music labels in the country, Saregama's stake in Timbre Media and its expansion plans for the year ahead. Excerpts:-

You joined Saregama in 2010 as the head of its music business…

Saregama is the largest reservoir of the best content that anybody has in India and this stood as the biggest and massive opportunity for me to join the company. Saregama's catalogue was not given its correct justice in any vector of monetization, so seeing this as a very big opportunity I joined the company in 2010. Since the time of appointment my single minded focus has been to monetize our assets and products in the best possible manner and I am working meticulously towards achieving this goal.

Throw light on the key challenges faced by music labels in India?

Music piracy is the biggest enemy that is killing most of our values. Besides, we have a framework where physical sales are declining and that is a matter of fact. The digital ecosystem is extremely complex and to make sense of the entire ecosystem and then monetize it correctly for our company is the biggest challenge faced by the industry today. Parallel to this is the copyright issue which is posing to be a huge challenge for the music fraternity.

The Government will introduce the Copyright Bill in this monsoon session…

It is a bit premature to comment on this issue. All stake holders including music companies and film producers had submitted their representation to the standing committee, who in turn sent a recommendation to the Government. We informally learn that the Government while deliberating on the recommendation, have mooted further changes to the original proposed amendment. We can offer our comment only after seeing the final bill which will be tabled before the house.

Saregama India has taken 10 per cent stake in Timbre Media, how will the strategic partnership benefit the growth of the company?

In the digital ecosystem the fastest growing business line has been mobile radio. WorldSpace was a much cherished radio brand for genre-based programming across the globe. The USP and the big differentiator of digital radio is that it is radio by choice; I can choose my radio streams as to what I like to listen.  Increasingly now radio is heard a lot on mobile across the country, so we are targeting mobile, internet and DTH users.

The digital radio channel will feature what type of content and when is the service expected to go on-air?

By September-October we should be in the market actively driving the service. From Carnatic to Indian classical to devotional, the digital radio will offer all popular language and genre' based content to consumers.

How much revenue is Saregama expected to generate from its tie up with WorldSpace Radio?

I cannot divulge any monetary details, but I can assure that this partnership is going to get solid revenue stream for us in comparison to Saregama's last two-three year's profits.

Which mobile operators have been signed and roped up for the WorldSpace Radio?

We are at the final stages of signing three major operators of the country. We plan to take the service globally on the internet. Majority of the target audience would be from Indian diaspora-rich nations globally like West Asia, the US and the UK.

Saregama has re-launched LPs in the market. Elaborate.

Saregama has recently launched LPs and we intend to introduce 5-7 titles every month. The entire product category has been very resourceful and LPs have made an additional solid revenue stream for us in the physical sales business.

Now on to the financial side: revenue from the Music segment was Rs 27.01 crore, while the segment witnessed profits of Rs 9.66 crore in Q1 this year. At a time when the music business is said to be doing badly, how is that your profits are going up?

Our primary driver has been digital this year. We have increased the number of vendors who we are reaching out to. We have revamped our digital team and intend to become digital major in a two year perspective. Digital today contributes about 70 per cent of our revenue. Physical has grown drastically this year growing 25 per cent over last year at a time when all industry reports are showing that their physical sales are dropping by 28-30 per cent. We have performed exactly the opposite. Our catalogue is also clocking up substantial business.

What have you done right to get physical?

We have reengineered our physical team. We have gone back to basics and have been working closely with our wholesalers. We have introduced different products for SEC A, B, C, D markets. We have developed premium packs for the SEC A with specific pricing and for the B towns we have recipes with products at specific price points. Finally, we have pushed our devotional genre across all SECs.  Also in the past we had a lot of stocking issues. If there were orders for 100 units, we could deliver only 80. We have since taken that up to 99. Our collections have also improved. Overall our logistics management system has played a great role in that.

How is your online platform doing in terms of sign ups? And revenue streams?

We believe our online platform is not up to the mark as is needed in the space today. We have a new digital team and we are doing a revamp which will be ready by  December and it will become a benchmark for the industry.

What new talent are you looking at signing up? Artistes, independent, Bollywood titles?

The last quarter of this year will see us introducing something which has not been seen before. We are focusing on the Pop space targeting the youth, basically the Youth Pop Icon space. We are being very selective on the Bollywood front like we took up the music of Gandhi to Hitler and Soundtrack. We will also work on synergizing everything we can from our film production side within the company.

In the regional and bollywood space we would be about 45-50% of all monetization potential of the market. We have recently launched 'Sarhadein' conceived with Lata ji, and we are in advanced stage of negotiations with Gulzar Sahab for an album.

Your vision for Saregama as a music company?

I joined Times Music in 2006 and it was a great learning experience, as I launched various initiatives for the label. And now I am utilizing all my knowledge and experience of working in the music business to maintain and take forward Saregama's stature in the market.

We are working aggressively in digital space whether it's the VAS, internet or the international potential. In every quarter Saregama is planning various initiatives to expand its content, events, physical sales and digital markets. For instance, we just did the Rahat Fateh Ali Khan concert in the UK. We are firing on the events front too and within three to four weeks we will be announcing a 21 city US tour with a major music artiste.

We are a music company not just a label. Saregama intends to be huge and spread out comprehensively in the next two years. We are on the war path and intend to get our music industry leadership status we held for so many years back. We want to be the Future of Music in India.