Music apps

Why Indian music apps are disappointing: 4 rankings

JioSaavn was the only local service to score more than 8 out of 10 on an index we put together on western music coverage. Global services dominated the top four, with Spotify and Apple Music sharing the top spot (9.3/10) – a sign that resource-rich global apps are signing deals with more music companies to offer more Western albums.

Each app’s rating is the average of its ratings across 10 individual genres, which in turn are based on how successful we have been in finding critically acclaimed albums in each genre in the libraries of various music apps.

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The poor showing of Indian apps is at odds with growing interest in international music, which a 2021 report by trade body Indian Music Industry attributed to fewer domestic film releases during the pandemic. For some Indian providers, it is important to offer more than Western music. Siddhartha Roy, CEO of Hungama Digital Media, said the company is focused on small towns and has been designed to the taste of Indian listeners. “While Western music is an integral part of our audience’s consumption, it’s not a dominant subgenre for the mainstream audiences we cater to,” Roy said.

Global-local gap

It’s not all bleak for local services. If you insist on subscribing to a local provider, you can still be happy with JioSaavn, which scores close to 9 in genres like pop, rock, metal, and hip-hop.

But if you’re a fan of electronic dance music (EDM) or jazz or western classical, all local services score less than 8 out of 10, so it’s best to opt for a global service.

Of course, this does not mean that world services are perfect either. For example, YouTube Music doesn’t have the rock underpinnings like the Eagles’ 1976 “Hotel California” album. Spotify is also missing big names such as 1970s music icons Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Both artists have removed their music from the service to protest podcaster Joe Rogan’s alleged covid misinformation being spread on Spotify.

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Music majors dominate

The reason some services may offer more Western music than others comes down to agreements with music companies. There are three groups that lead the music scene: Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music. A fourth entity, Merlin, works for independent record labels operating outside the Big Three. If a service strikes deals with these four bands, it can give its users access to most music under the sun.

An interesting exercise would be to see how much of the music in our dataset is contributed by each group. The information for which the group holds the copyright is usually present on the display page of an album. After collecting this information for all albums, we find that Universal contributes the most to the dataset, followed by Sony. If we think of the dataset as a sample of critically acclaimed music, each band’s contribution to the dataset could, in a way, also be their contribution to all “good” music.

Missing offers

The copyright information also helps us determine how many albums from each group are available on each service. Gaana only hosts 2.4% of Universal’s albums in the dataset, not including The Beatles, Nirvana and Kanye West. Despite Merlin’s website describing JioSaavn as a partner, it only hosts 66% of his albums. Closer examination shows that albums by the prominent music company Beggars Group, otherwise a member of Merlin, are missing from JioSaavn, including albums by the band Radiohead and earlier ones by singer Adele.

Chart 4:

It’s possible Gaana didn’t make a deal with Universal, and the JioSaavn-Merlin deal excluded Beggars Group to begin with. Queries sent to Gaana and JioSaavn went unanswered. But the stark gaps between promise and reality show that India is still at a point where music fans must first research and figure out which service has most of their favorite international albums.

Shijith Kunhitty is a freelance journalist.

Methodological note:

The analysis is based on various top album lists curated by respected books, magazines and websites in each of the 10 chosen Western music genres. There were two types of lists: the best of all time (the “canon”) and the best of recent times (contemporary).

For example, for EDM (electronic dance music), the canon was taken from a list of the most influential albums from dance music publication Mixmag, and the top contemporary albums were taken from annual lists of ` ‘Top 20XX Albums’ from dance publication Resident Advisor for the past 10 years.

The final list had 317 critically acclaimed albums: 50 canonical and 267 contemporary. These albums were searched programmatically, and sometimes manually, in the libraries of each of the music apps listed in the scan. After equally weighting canonical and contemporary albums, a rating for each service is assigned out of 10, based on availability.

Spotify, for example, had 46/50 EDM albums in the canonical list, and 236/267 in contemporary. This translates to 4.6/5 points for Canon and 4.4/5 for Contemporary, for a total score of 9/10 for EDM.

The individual ratings for the 10 genres were then averaged to arrive at an overall rating for each service.

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