| 01 Oct 2023
Mandar Thakur: 'The music industry needs some serious re-investments'

Times Music COO Mandar Thakur has been at the forefront of music industry for over two decades.  Thakur's pedigree remains firmly rooted in the music business and its development. Prior to Times, Thakur ran a Digital Music and Media Consultancy business with a premier client list clientele including some of India's most diverse music, mobile and internet businesses. He was till late 2009 the General Manager of Soundbuzz, Asia- Pacific /Australia /India's largest Online and Mobile Music distribution business, and held direct management responsibility for the India market (which he started) for the group in 2001.

Thakur was also a part of the set – up team and India management  of the pioneering 24 hour Asian music television station Channel [ V] (part of the Rupert Murdoch owned News Corp's Star TV). In an interview with's Poonam Ahuja, Thakur opens up on the topsy-turvy voyage of the music industry, the labels' investment plans to strengthen and widen its repertoire, 4G/LTE to soon be a golden bullet for the labels as well as provides us with an an insight on the overall industry scenario and the fast changing Indian music consumer.


From Entertainment Co./Media Bank Group, Channel [ V], Soundbuzz to Times Music. How has the journey been in the music business for the last 20 years?

Frankly, my ride in this business has been beyond my wildest expectation. I started when I was 18 and am lucky to be a part of the absolute start-ups/birth of the mainstream music concert industry in India, management, music television industry in Asia/India, digital music distribution industry and now the recorded music business. I hope I get to keep doing things that keep me excited and engaged.

What are your key responsibilities at Times Music?

As COO, the buck stops at me. I am effectively responsible for running the entire company and maintaining its financial performance and growth. A large part of the job is to manage the company on a day to day basis, while the other critical part is revenue management, growth and strategy. Having direct first hand experience of working in and building some of the above mentioned industries has helped me bring perspective to my current role and meet challenges in a short, medium and long term.

Which were the special major initiatives under your leadership for Times Music last year?

I am yet to technically finish a year at Times Music, however a major role has been to recalibrate the DNA of the company to get it ready for the future. I believe in absolute nuts and bolts and being an entrepreneur I have hands on knowledge of cashflow management and detail level operations of most areas in the company. The people (The most important asset)-having the right team and investing in their knowledge that'll enable them to perform,and of course having the right organization structure and business direction and plans are very important.

Secondly, we have embarked on a reinvestment plan that has seen us start a home video business, grow repertoire that is in our core strength areas as well as heavily invest in new repertoire, the genres that Times Music may have not been earlier present in.

Thirdly, we have increased our distribution business in physical (I believe our systems today are absolute best in class); we have several reality led initiatives in digital distribution and we are the only company that has several mobile apps running on Blackberry; Android and Apple iOS. In fact Times Music apps are featured with most regularity on the Blackberry App world home page.

Fourthly, publishing administration - outside of another label, we are well adept and are collecting publishing income globally and have registered directly with collection societies globally and we work to exploit that through a network of sub-publishers that are responsible for each region geographically. These are just a few examples of some of the very progressive steps Times Music is heading towards.

What are the major challenges faced by music labels today?

There are only and only challenges that music labels are facing today - including the very real question of what exactly is the role of a music label? I think it's different stokes for different people and hence every label (especially in India ) has a different future. Some will specialize in films, some in other genres, some in digital, some will play well in a 360 degree approach and what have you. What, though is plainly clear is that the future of every label is definitely not the same. We at Times Music have seen this early on and are on a well laid out growth strategy. For the last few years the music industry has been battling its own demons and is definitely still hungover and unable to focus on core values - which are about creating great music, marketing and distributing it however commercially possible.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard and those have turned into practice which has turned into history and that now into legacy and hence the speed of execution being as slow as it is. This industry definitely needs some seriously knowledgeable and competent executive talent as well. We have to change all this if we are to survive as an industry. Today's business is about partnerships and B2B income as much as about direct consumer income. It is critical to acknowledge and understand that the music industry is hard pressed to understanding its consumer (which it once owned), daily changing consumer choices and preferences and the ability to tap into the consumer at multiple touch points. Also value propositions of the past in the new value chains are eroding fast.

Give us an overview of the Indian Music Industry for the year 2010-2011?

Well, from the time that I was in start-up stage at Soundbuzz, a decade ago and the birth of the digital revolution was taking place - we are definitely a different industry. New players have emerged (hope their business models sustain though ...), new business models have emerged, new styles of music have emerged and new consolidation in industry ownership structures has happened. The only way is up from here. This is an industry that has been forced to adapt and needs some serious reinvestments. More importantly it has been established now that 4G/LTE will be soon a reality - I believe that is a game-changer in a high adaptation rate country like India. The golden bullet the rest of the industry (including the film industry) was hoping will happen with 3G, will simply not and will only be a reality with 4G/LTE.

I just hope the industry realizes that and does not naively think 3G is the game-changer and puts all it's hopes in one basket. Moreover, in the various forms of 4G, it's clear that LTE will be the dominant format going ahead and that's what India has. We are today very uniquely placed wherein:  Access ( EDGE , 3G and the upcoming 4G/LTE ) ; Devices ( smartphones and tablets ); Processing speeds ( a basic smartphone has a 1.2GHz  processor  ) ;Services ( for consumers )  and Price point affordability have all collided to make a significant ecosystem that is on a definitive growth line if we are able to connect all the dots together.

Today, promotions have become easier for musicians especially through live streaming, social networking sites, digital and online media. ; OML; NH7  are digital music platforms that are helping indie artistes to showcase their talent and get recognized. Why are the A&R of music labels not unearthing much of new talent?

Like everyone else - the role of A&R had somewhat eroded past few years as Bollywood took charge in India across all forms of entertainment and also became severely cool for both - the classes and the masses. A&R as a concept has been redefined globally too in the past few years. Consumer sensibilities and tastes have changed and keep changing on a daily basis . With the advent of more ' discovery ' tools like the internet and the fact that the world is now led by the concept of ' recommendation and discovery' - the role of the A&R person is now critical more than ever. In fact I will agree with you that we need some serious A&R in this country on multiple levels. A&R is the bridge between artistic creation and consumer appeal and that must be invested in heavily. Since the imposition of entertainment tax, concerts and live shows have reduced, specifically in Maharshtra.

In November �Bacardi Weekender NH7' took place in Pune instead of Mumbai due to high entertainment tax. What are your views on the entertainment tax introduced by ex-revenue minister Narayan Rane which is killing the live music?

Logic and reason of taxation on entertainment is beyond comprehension. To try to decode it is futile. The biggest future and livelihood of talent (especially new talent) in this country is via live shows and that is the area most taxed. I wish senior artistes are able to take this up with the government rather than only being stuck on copyright issues.

What is Times Music doing to produce another Alisha Chinai, Indian Ocean, Euphoria and recreate the magic of indie music scene like 90's?

Times Music believes wholeheartedly that fresh talent is the lifeblood of the music industry. We are very heavy on the indie space and the country's biggest rockband Indian Ocean have released albums of new bands like the talented Faridkot on our label, and will make some surprise announcements on new acts/ albums very shortly. The aim for a company the size of Times Music is not to just be in the pop music scene but to look at genre expansion across the board from indie to fusion to sufi to many other new and emerging sounds. Rahul Sharma and Kenny G's album was also a milestone. Our fantastic publicity machine works wonders for artistes and albums. Being a media house – marketing and communications is second nature to us. Today most genres of music collide in every other song and the actual ' song' itself is critical and has become the centre of the musical universe. At least in the foreseeable future we will still be a song dominated industry.

How are you planning to tap the regional market which is growing in leaps and bounds?

Times Music is already tapped into the regional markets. We have a decent size presence in the Tamil industry and the Bengali music industry. We recently acquired ' Aaravan' which will be launched shortly in the south with a awesome soundtrack by talented music composer Karthik. We have an excellent team which is locked into the markets and cautious in picking what works. It is very easy to get carried away by the lure of the regional markets if you dont have a taste and sensibility to ride then patiently.

On the digital front, the music market in India is expected to reach $4.25 billion in 2014. Elaborate on your expansion in the digital space, tie-ups and digital distribution deals?

Digital is a very strong area for Times Music. We believe that digital is the present - not the future. The kind of repertoire we have allows us to have a very significant �long tail' in the digital world. Due to our advertising advantage we work with operators and key partners directly to promote products and enhance revenues. Global presence for Times Music is critical and we have steadily begun to build that up in a disciplined manner. We work with different platforms geographically and also run direct promotions on some destinations.

In fact the recent TRAI guidelines make it an advantage for a company like us.

Digital growth for us is achieved with:

1) a deep understanding  digital consumption habits of consumers

2) a understanding of the complexities of the digital business structure in India and globally and how the future digital roadmap is unfolding from a product and consumer uptake pov so that the company's strategy is pegged to that reality- this is also critical and can only be understood only if one's a �user'. Unfortunately for many the RBT is the be all and end all of digital.

3) We divide digital into :(a)  local high uptake product RBT etc , that we work with the various players to promote via direct â€?call to action' based advertising to drive sales and

(b) developing mediums like mobile apps . As I mentioned earlier - Times Music is the only company in India ( at least that i know of ) that actively plays in the app space and has it's apps across the Blackberrty, iOs, Android and Symbian platforms and our apps are featured heavily across Blackberry App World's home page recommended section.

4) Significant global distribution and partner / product promotion programmes that allow us to maximise revenues from the likes of itunes etc

In one of the interviews you said that India is the second market after South Korea where digital has overtaken physical sales (purely on a top line revenue level).  What is the potential and growth size of Times Music in terms of revenues in the digital market?

I'd mentioned this in 2007 and it is still a fact. This was due to the market study my past company Soundbuzz released alongside with various stakeholders and was eventually used as an original reference point of many articles and industry estimates across the globe and India. Today - on a topline level - this is still a fact - that music generated income for mobile operators is far more than the actual turnover of the music industry. Operators must pay more for royalty. All the stakeholders in the value chain do is margin management. Entire businesses are based on eroding margins - which is ridiculous.

It's an open secret that most music companies' digital income is between 30-40% and that figure applies to almost everyone except a few global players who've upped it even more. The potential is anyone's guess and we'd be pretty comfortable if our digital income crosses the half way mark soon ... Fact is that today walled garden's are down and the mobile internet is a reality with services like Beyond Oblivion and cloud based formats of existing services come into play . In India it's just a matter of time and Times Music is, I believe, quite well poised to entrench itself into the digital business even more closely.

Times Music has converted its devotional albums into mobile apps along with innovations in digital distribution of music over the past year. Elaborate.

Mobile apps are today's new digital currency. The deeper role that a mobile app plays is that it releases the need to having everything hardcoded into the device firmware as it once was. Just by that simple leeway - Apps have opened up our world to pretty much anything being accessed anywhere. Today there's an app for almost everything. The ecosystem is also connecting the dots quickly - smartphones /tablets are getting increasingly smarter, 3G speeds are decent enough , 4G / LTE is around the corner, consumer uptake is high and data usage has some serious light at the end of a voice dominated tunnel shaped market.  It is important to realize that Apps are not yet a money making proposition for all and the Apps space is fairly tricky to navigate unless you and your teams are serious app users.

At Times Music me and our team are early adopters of technology . Our specific Apps on nutrition , Ganesha , Yoga and other speciality areas are featured fairly heavily on Blackberry Appworld home pages besides being available on iOS , Android etc . The trick with Apps is 'engagement �. I believe that we're able to bring this to the consumer. We also are in the midst of working with different developers globally to develop more.


Throw light on the music publishing business in India?

I've directly handled Warner Chappell's and Peer Music Publishing's sub-publishing for India for about four to five years in the middle of last decade when the business was in its infancy. There was only Deep Emotions (then representing BMG Publishing) here prior to that.  Today it's a changed landscape - copyright laws are recognized and being

implemented, mechanical royalties are a reality etc. Sony ATV is now formally represented by Sony Music there's definitive change.The only true blooded music publisher though seems to be Achille Forler of Universal / Deep Emotions Publishing at the moment. Hopefully the other music publishers and their representatives will together build a strong business in India.

The other thing is that somehow publishing has become the 'in' thing for a lot of musicians. I just fear that a lot of them do not necessarily understand what this means. Fact is that you still require a hit to monetize the publishing rights that you may own, and still require a administrator with infrastructure to collect / exploit. This where a publisher comes in. Otherwise owning all these rights will be pointless and a bit like potentially having a lot of money but locked in a frozen account. Also the role of a publisher in the traditional sense will vary - especially in markets like India where there is an imminent domination of a different form / construct of music - Bollywood. Hence due to the different structure most labels also end up becoming publishers due to the heavy catalogues that they won.

Junglee Music, acquired the music rights of Hema Malini directorial debut movie �Tell Me O Kkhuda', Which other movies are under the roof of Times Music?

Junglee Music is the movie / Bollywood arm of Times Music. Besides 'Tell me O Khuda', we've also acquired ' Aravan ' in the south (Aravan is actually our 100 th such project in the South!). Our home video business is growing steadily and we've become quite entrenched in the processes of that. There's a heavy slate of movies that will be announced soon that will include both audio and home video. We also just released ' Not a Love Stroy on DVD. Our past releases have included Ragini MMS, I am, Bhindi Bazaar etc to name a few.

How much revenue was generated in the previous year for Times Music?

We are a privately held organisation and hence do not break out revenues per unit. All I can say is that there's a definitive increase over last year on a quarter by quarter basis. Our new initiatives in publishing / copyright collection / exploitation; digital business

lines; and our new revenue products in the physical business are reaping benefits. We've also taken a long time but streamlined the entire company from a systems/process pov and that enables us to squeeze better profit out of a rupee.

Share your views on the standard of music in Bollywood last year?

The standard of music in Bollywood has defintely become more contemporary. New styles of music genres are being infused. This is also because the top few music composers today are either rock musicians or come from a non-Bollywood background. Even the voices in Bollywood are very versatile. Look at Suraj Jagan, Mohit Chauhan,

Anushka Manchanda…these are ' different' from the traditional Bollywood norm. For the common man - Bollywood is pop music and in the absence of decent songwriters and hits in the pop music area (outside of Bollywood ), the dominance of Bollywood will remain. Of course needless to say Bollywood also produces it's fair share of crappy music.

Throw light on the copyright issue?

I always say - In India Copyright was long considered the 'right to copy'. For the most part intelligent advertising agencies and film makers thought that if you use 30 seconds of a song it was all legit and free. That is the naive legacy of copytight that we come from . I just hope that the government takes a mature stand on the issue. Fact is that we are a radically different country culturally and the structures of things are different. Whilst I'm all up for being in sync globally and also very strongly believe that our songwriters must earn revenue over a long time – I am also against blindly copying the systems existing in the west. Our economics work differently and hence those must be reflected fairly for all parties.

Do you think the non- film market will be back - changing sounds of music in Bollywood?

There is no question about it that there will be a non-film market in India. It had already started in the mid 90's with Indi-pop and then Bollywood just got better. But the second wave also has begun and more importantly our consumers are younger, hungrier for new music/sounds, are willing to experiment and due to increased exposure will consume all forms of music.

What are Times Music plans for the year ahead?

We have a simple plan: to grow revenues exponentially by creating better music products that people will enjoy and pay for and create industry grade distribution systems that will monetize our product via digital, physical and copyright administration.