Gaana’s mantra for the future, says CEO Prashan Agarwal, is great content plus a seamless UI for the Indian user who doesn’t want to put in too much effort to discover the songs, and a strong focus on regional content
An IIT graduate and a Dean’s Merit lister from ISB Hyderabad, Prashan Agarwal, CEO – Gaana, brings enormous experience to his current role. From a Senior Associate Technology at Sapient to IM Leader at GE, from a VP at Naukri to Founding Director at AllCheckDeals.com, Co Founder at PropTiger and 19miles.com to his current role of CEO at Gaana, Prashan Agarwal has been leading Gaana with the acumen of an accomplished business leader, Entrepreneur and Angel Investor for more than three years now.
Karthik P K caught up with Agarwal on the sidelines of the launch of VYRL Cover Star by VYRL Originals and Gaana.com in Mumbai, to speak about the opportunities and priorities of music streaming platforms and how they are moving ahead to widen the spread of their content genres. And of the phenomenal growth of Gaana over the past year from 60 million to 100 million users, plus its ongoing mission to create a platform which is personalized to the user and creates room for regional music to get its due.
Does Gaana have a library of content from private bands and performers? If so, what is that number? How do they help Gaana’s offerings?
Well, We only work with labels, so we do have a lot of songs from private bands that come to us through a platform called ‘Okay Listen’ and other smaller platforms that are there in the country, and that is distributed through Orchard. These kinds of songs have a very niche audience they appeal to, and so we see a decent amount of traction on these songs. The usage is very high, but the number of customers who listen to these songs is limited as of today.
How popular is this genre of music on Gaana?
The popularity of private bands would be in low single-digit percent as of today. Because if you look at the country, there’s a lot of evolution that has happened in regional music, English music. And then, of course, Bollywood music continues to grow. But what we’ve seen is the emergence of regional music and English music. Now, the band phenomenon continues to be a niche Indie music scene, if I may call it that. What is working out today, if you look at from a mainstream perspective, is hip hop to a certain extent.
Gaana will help these promising private artistes by making their content available to its millions of users. Any other way you plan to help them? Will you actively promote this private content on the home page push notifications of Gaana on mobile and the web?
When you talk about private bands, you talk about non-film music, which is pretty much the same genre. What is happening with non-film music is that with VYRL coming into play and us also doing bits and pieces in terms of promoting non-film music, we absolutely want to give the same kind of distribution to non-film music as a mainstream artist.
So if you look at a band, the guys behind that band have now completely started showing up on the homepage as well.
Secondly, we are also working on creating absolutely new offering for Indie music, which will focus on private offerings from smaller artists and bands and basically open up the entire funnel — much like what SoundCloud has done in terms of creating a platform where people can come and through some basic curation can upload their songs; and if that song appeals to my customers, than definitely they’ll make it to the showcase on the Indie music page.
After the fan following grows to a certain threshold, we will be looking at the homepage offering for them. But essentially, if you are a local band and you are able to get a label to back you like VYRL, then definitely there are a lot more chances for you to make it to the homepage.
After the fan following of an Indie act grows to a certain threshold, Gaana will be looking at the homepage offering for them. But essentially, if you are a local band and you are able to get a label like VYRL to back you, then definitely there are a lot more chances for you to make it to the (Gaana) homepage
How has Gaana been faring so far?
We are the market leaders in the music streaming space, we have now 100 million monthly users. The entire country today has about 150 million customers who stream music online.
Broadly, if I look at the market, the entire Indian population — which is 1.4 billion customers — listens to music. All of us love antakshari, all of us know about 200 songs each. So from that perspective, there is still a huge amount of potential in the market.
Over the next few years the market will grow phenomenally from this 150 million; it will grow to about 400 million customers, and we will continue to be the market leaders given the kind of focus that we have on regional music, the kind of brand salience and brand recall that we have amongst the Indian customers. We are definitely the first port of call when it comes to music streaming for the Indian customer.
FM Radio is trying to maximize its existing content by taking conversations online, as with Red FM Digital Radio, which has done this very smartly. And Saavn has been putting up interesting podcasts like Bhai Ke Raapchik Reviews by Kirthi Shetty, who is an exceptional talent – he was the voice and producer of Mawaali Bhai on RED FM — for example. Both pipes of music delivery are expanding their content framework. Would you comment on this? What is Gaana doing in this space?
Radio Mirchi is exclusive to Gaana, so we have all the Radio Mirchi stations and programs on Gaana for the last 5 years. We have been promoting radio content much like other platforms. Radio Mirchi continues to be a big draw for a lot of our customers, Meethi Mirchi is one of the strongest programs that we have on the platform today.
I do not differentiate between radio programs and podcasts. When I look at the Indian customer, he doesn’t even understand what a podcast is. So for me, radio is podcast and that is the basic premise on which we are building our entire radio offering on the app.
So, the radio pages today don’t just have Radio Mirchi, now we have programs like Comedy Nights with Kapil. We have a lot of programs that we are doing in terms of storytelling, with Ashish Vidyarthi.
Our focus has been to bring more and more Indian radio audio content on the radio tab of Gaana and we have seen a decent amount of success. We don’t call it a podcast; that’s the only difference. For me, radio is podcast and that is the basic premise on which we are building our entire radio offering on the app.
So, the radio pages today don’t just have Radio Mirchi; now we have programs like Comedy Nights with Kapil. We have a lot of programs that we are doing in terms of storytelling, with Ashish Vidyarthi
What would help music streaming platforms like Gaana and Saavn perform better? These have created the category for the Amazon Primes and the YouTube Musics to move in, and soon other streaming platforms too will enter India. How do you see the streaming and FM Radio players evolving their offerings?
The biggest thing is content. When we look at the way live streaming is kind of shaping up, most of the people are now coming online to listen to music. Given Gaana’s brand presence, we have been fortunate that people come to us as the first port of call. It is our job and duty to make sure the kind of content that we offering to the customer is absolutely top-notch, and that’s why we have invested not just in Hindi music but in regional music, English music, and now non-film music, podcasts, radio programs… we are doing a lot of meditation and devotional programs too… all that will be part of our Radio Podcast offering.
So the idea is to create more and more diverse content for the Indian consumer as he comes online, and to make the entire process of consumption easy through voice search, through a lot of interventions on the app where you can see the entire app translated into 12 languages, a voice-led recommendation approach where you mention just one song and you can lean back and listen to 15 songs on the platform.
So the idea is to have the best content and then create a seamless experience for the Indian user who doesn’t want to do much effort to discover the songs.
The idea is to create more and more diverse content for the Indian consumer as he comes online, and to make the entire process of consumption easy through voice search and interventions on the app in 12 languages, a voice-led recommendation approach where you mention just one song and you can listen to 15 songs on the platform. Have the best content and then create a seamless experience for the Indian user who doesn’t want to put in too much effort to discover the songs
Gaana already has close to half its user base in the 15-25 age group, and you’re reportedly targeting a 600 million user base by end-2022. But looking back, what have been the best accomplishments of Gaana in the last 12 months?
The 100 million is a big, big milestone for us as we’ve grown almost from 60 million last year to 100 million as we close the year, and that is a big milestone because I think the way music streaming is catching up in the country, pretty much the entire population will be online in the next five years. That is the biggest achievement because we are not just growing, but are building a new category altogether in the music space.
What future plans are you most excited about?
The biggest thing that we are excited about is kind of creating more and more content for the customer, and that essentially is through backing the regional music.
I think India is a diverse country, there’s a lot of music to be explored. We are doing a lot of work, which will come to the fore this year. Because of what we did with Punjabi music in the last few years, today, Punjabi music is almost as big as English music on my platform, and it used to be half of English music; perhaps lower than that.
So the idea is that I bring the same level of competence on Tamil, Telugu, Hariyanvi, Bhojpuri… because that’s what the customer wants to listen to, because nothing is as close to your heart as the song in the language of the place where you were born, you’re brought up, you have so many memories that are attached to those kinds of songs.
So, create a platform which is personalized to the user and creates room for regional music to get its due.