Music apps

How older Indians are embracing OTT music apps

Every millennial or Gen Z-er has had to deal with a parent or grandparent who is deeply dissatisfied, confused, or frustrated with the seemingly simple act of listening to music. In most cases, this is because their painstakingly digitized music archives are becoming obsolete. Sometimes a file may not be compatible with their mobile devices. Or, the file itself may be corrupted.

The simple solution may be to sign up for a music streaming app that will provide access to thousands of songs, artists, and albums. However, for those born in the 1950s and 1960s – a generation that moved from radios and transistors to record players, cassettes, CDs, and then downloaded and downloaded files – by paying to “stream” music, they can never really feel ownership of the gifts. its not always easy.

It also does not offer the same satisfaction. You can’t flip through songs you’ve saved for decades and play an old favorite you almost forgot. And you might not find that music in the sea of ​​pre-populated homepages on most new-age streaming apps.

Goa-based writer and photographer Vivek Menezes, 53, says that “in the age of streaming and instant availability of almost everything, a lot of music has actually disappeared”. An avid collector, Menezes was keen to introduce his sons to the music of South America and various bands from West Africa that he had grown up discovering. “But they only exist in some of my old CD and record collections now. In this music ubiquity, where I can find 200 Celia Cruz songs in a second if I want, the ones that have me more affected are not available,” he said.

In the shift to streaming, Menezes lost around 25-30% of the music he had collected, despite the rapidly changing landscape of file formats. When he got an iPod in the early 2000s, he had digitized much of his collection. “When it died, it took so much of my music with it.” He now listens to much less music than before. When he plays anything online, it’s from YouTube streamed through his smart TV – anecdotally, YouTube seems to be the preferred option for many older users.

For while OTT music apps have opened up access and consumption, aficionados like Menezes also lament that it has made the process of listening to music much less of a communal experience. “Everyone is now plugged into their own thing. The teenager’s point of view (at home) is: ‘you listen to what you like, why can’t I listen to what I like?’ »

During the pandemic, when families were locked down for months, millennials and members of Generation Z began to encourage their elders to use these apps. Today, there are nine main ones: Gaana, Apple Music, Spotify, JioSaavn, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, Airtel’s Wynk, Hungama Music and Resso. Industry sources say that in the pre-covid era, most apps only saw new tracks performing well; since the lockdown, however, they’ve seen a slight but definite increase in those who mostly prefer songs from a few decades ago.

“(During this period), many of them were forced to be exposed to streaming apps through younger people, whereas previously they did not come to these apps at all, finding it difficult to access, understand and navigate,” says Vikram Mehra, Managing Director of Saregama India Ltd, India’s oldest music label.

In 2017, Saregama launched the Carvaan, a vintage-style offline music player that comes preloaded with 5,000 “evergreen” songs. With variants launched for Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Bengali and Punjabi, the aim was to make digital music consumption easy and familiar for older listeners. It also removed the need to register, subscribe, or enter credit or debit card details.

In a 2016 study of 23 cities in preparation for the launch of Carvaan, Mehra said three things stood out: most older users valued the convenience of listening rather than controlling their libraries; they wanted to be less dependent on others to get their music; and more often than not they sought the comfort of music at a time when they were in the 15-28 age bracket.

To some extent, this is true for Prakriti Prasad, 51, Delhi-based parenting coach. “We are always listening to Doordarshan rangoli between 8 and 9 a.m. every Sunday,” she says. Prasad and her husband are fans of Dev Anand and Kishore Kumar and although catalogs on streaming apps contain Bollywood songs of yesteryear, it is a ritual that the couple have continued. Other than that, they mostly use YouTube to rip a song they want or ask voice assistant Alexa to help them.

Sometimes, however, Alexa doesn’t understand or plays a remix of an old song. Other times, Prasad has to “sift through (YouTube) a lot to get to what I like, and it’s kind of hard. It used to be that you just picked out a CD or tape you wanted and put it on. play,” she says, recalling the time when she would walk into a store with a list of songs she wanted to record on tape.

When asked if she tried to replicate this process online by creating playlists, Prasad says her student daughter tells her the same thing. “Maybe we just need to pull ourselves together at the end of the day and learn,” she laughs.

In Kolkata, Sankar Prasad Datta, 66, also finds YouTube the easiest to use. Like Menezes, however, Datta suffered a huge loss of the songs and albums he was most attached to. “I’m looking for specific albums I had. One is a tape from the 1980s, featuring Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Boy George. It’s just not there. The other is a particular LP by that singer Hindustani called Sharafat Hussain Khan I can’t find that either.

To some extent, the dissatisfaction is driven by nostalgia. In terms of content in particular, this is not an easy hurdle to clear. A study by French music streaming app Deezer in 2018, for example, found that most of us stop listening to new music after the age of around 30.

Datta, however, says he’s always up for new music, but only when it “really touches your heart.” As an Indian, I also invariably listen to contemporary Bollywood music. I like Pritam and Ismail Darbar but I just feel like the compositions were better before.

In 2018, HCL Corporation launched its HCL Music app, hoping to make a catalog of Hindustani and Carnatic classical music available on OTT. However, the app, which is highly rated on PlayStore and AppStore, is widely used by a demographic under 40. Users over 50 account for only a “high single-digit percentage” of their “several thousand installs,” says Rohit Kaul, chief marketing officer in charge of HCL Concerts and HCL Music. However, older users flocked to HCL’s off-app channels to stream their vast Indian classical catalog – the over-50s accounted for 25% of HCL Concerts live viewers on Facebook and YouTube. “Ease, convenience and access are what drive their listening habits,” adds Kaul.

YouTube’s overall convenience and accessibility also stems from the fact that it comes pre-installed on Android phones, which make up at least 90% of India’s smartphone market.

For Saraswati Rajagopalan, a Delhi-based carnatic veena artist who retired from All India Radio, YouTube works best because it’s easy, has “almost everything” – and there’s a video option if she wants a preview expressions of the artists she listens to. In Vadodara, Gujarat, 60-year-old Harish Lakhani alternates between the radio and YouTube for his and his wife’s favorite music: old Hindi movie songs, bhajans and kirtans. They find streaming on this platform easy; a simple Google search for a song invariably brings them to YouTube.

Many older users grew up with the transistor on at home all the time – it buzzed as people went through their day, took naps, and at after-dinner family gatherings. When satellite TV channels began to branch out in the 2000s, many left the music-only channels on to stream music videos during meals and household chores.

Even today, Jaipur-based Soundara Viswanathan, 56, leaves Tamil music channels like Raj Music or Sun Music running in the background during her morning chores. In Kolkata, Datta’s wife also cooks with music, but although she uses YouTube at other times, she loves FM radio for her morning songs.

This listening pattern is also consistent with the data Mehra sees through the encoded return path in Carvaan devices – the average listening time per day never drops below 6-7 hours, he says.

When she spends evenings with her on the terrace, Viswanathan’s neighbor brings her Carvaan. The two are also part of large music-themed WhatsApp groups, through which they exchange YouTube links. Viswanathan, an amateur singer, uses only one other app: Smule, a karaoke app that allows her to sing solos live and collaborate in duets with other users around the world. “So really, there’s no need for a JioSaavn or Apple or Spotify for me.”