The Inside Story Of Non-Film Mobile First Music App Twaang – From A Music Aggregator To A Digital Publishing Platform For Independent Artists

Interview with Twaang co-founder Vishnu Raned about the non-film mobile-first music app, its evolution from a music aggregrator to a digital record label, revenues and road ahead

Twaang Mobile Anrdoid App

“It’s not that people don’t like Classical Music, It’s that they don’t have the chance to understand and experience it,” Gustano Dodamel, the Venezuelan conductor and violinist had once said.

The same holds true for Indian classical music which isn’t dead but in today’s digital age the link between singers and their fans has been slowly eroding away. According to the famous tabla player Zakir Hussain, “Classical Indian music is thriving in India, as for the rest of the world, our music is considered one of the premier from of classical music and has a very large audience base.”

Zakir was sharing his thoughts with Twaang which organized a concert earlier this year with the tabla maestro and leading veena exponent Jayanthi Kumaresh. The concert “Illusions of Pure Sound” was a huge success in Bangalore since both the artists have never played together and that is what made the concert unique, Twaang co-founder Vishnu Raned said.

Prior to this in 2013, Twaang also presented Jayanti Kumaresh along with Anil Srinivasan on piano in a concert titled ‘Parallel Strings.’ The event was themed as ‘Beethoven meets Thyagaraja,’ bringing together two genres of music.

Launched in 2012 at the YourStory Mobile Conference, Twaang the digital music publishing platform and an on-demand music library mobile app has been the force behind the creation of a common platform to bring the music maestros of the classical industry and their fans together.

The mobile first app available on both Android and iPhone, claims to bring the largest collection of non-film ‘Indian music’ across genres like classical, fusion, contemporary, live concert recordings among others to smartphones.

“We bring the largest collection of non-film “Indian Music” to smartphones around the world. With over 100,000 music titles, 6000 albums and 4000 artists, our music collection spans genres – Indian classical, Folk, Fusion, Live Concert Recordings and more,” Vishnu said.

Besides the app is not only streaming non-film music but over the time it has tied up with 44+ record labels and a number of independent musicians and artists such as Shubha Mudgal, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Zakir Hussain, among others who provide exclusive new music for release, publishing, promotion and sales. “Today Twaang is also a launch pad for new artists and bands,” shared Vishnu while informing that the Android app has crossed 100K downloads (downloads plus users via OEMs partnership) in 16 months.

The inception of Twaang – music on the move began in early 2012 when Vishnu realized the need for such an app while traveling. Vishnu told me that the idea struck by chance while driving to his long time friend Shirish Hirekodi’s place, who is today the tech brain behind Twaang and the other co-founder.

Born in Bangalore, Vishnu spent his childhood in Coimbatore. He came back to Bangalore for his engineering later and started working as a software engineer building programs for serial ports. In fact at his first job in 1997, he met Shirish.

Inception of Twaang – mobile first app

Later on Vishnu did his MBA from Germany, worked a while with Anderson company now known as Accenture Technologies and returned to India in 2004. Since then the engineer turned sales guy has been working with Vishnu Raned Twaangenterprise software companies and helping quite a few US based startups set up their base in APAC.

Adding more details on how the idea of building a mobile app for non film Indian music came about, Vishnu recollects that it was a weekend, he was travelling to Shirish’s place but was crammed in the weekend traffic of Bangalore.

“I forgot my iPod, the radio was not doing any good with their RJs getting on my nerves. Which is when I realized that the only thing I had with me was the phone and I wished it would be great if I had the music that I listen to on the mobile that could be connected to where ever I am.”

At that point of time Shirish was about to join IBM, Vishnu discussed the idea with him. This led to an extensive research of the markets, apps available and the trends.“There were music apps which focused majorly on Bollywood music but there were no apps that focused on high quality on demand non film music for mobile.”

Selecting a market like non-film music space isn’t a niche for Vishnu but a unique space as he saw a demand for the music from around the world. Besides it was a pure play business decision for the startup as it realized the audience that consumes the kind of music are generally interested to pay for good quality content as opposed to mainstream Bollywood. One of the reasons why earlier this year we saw Bollywood music streaming site Dhingana closing down and later being acquired by Rdio. Revenues were a big question for T-Series, the biggest record label of Bollywood which was backing the music library of Dhingana.

Vishnu couldn’t see the ROI with film music compared to non-film music. “At that point of time and even today, I can’t see monetization model for Bollywood music. While Bollywood is very popular but the music shelf life is not more than a week so one wouldn’t really pay for it.”

These insights from the market gave confidence to the idea and this led to the birth of Twaang as a mobile first app for streaming non-film music in May 2012.“We had realized that going further people will consume more and more content on mobile devices and that is the reason why we decided to launch Twaang as a mobile only venture and it still remains to be one,” shared Vishnu.

Twaang – from a music aggregator to digital publisher

Initially the app began its journey as a music aggregator of non-film music while collaborating with record labels. While the record labels had the music with them, the challenge was faster distribution.

To start with Twaang started working with them and still works with most of the established record labels in the country. “We took the content and powered with our technology and digital distribution. This gave the record labels a reach that they never thought of,” he informed while sharing that they have users from Poland and South America. “There is no way record labels could have reached a global audience by following the conventional route. So they saw a lot of value with us.”

With consumption of CDs going down and cost of distribution going high, creation of records was also becoming a challenge. This meant that record labels were at a risk when publishing non film music by giving a big blow to independent musicians and record labels.

This is when Vishnu, who is more involved in the marketing and sales of the Twaang app, started approaching musicians directly to pursue them to launch their work on Twaang.

To start with in July 2012, he approached well known Indian singer of Hindustani classical music Shubha Mudgal. “We approached her and shared our idea. Shubha liked it so much that she confirmed even before we had a working prototype. This led to the start and over the time we have signed a lot of well known musicians from the field.”

This led to the transformation of Twaang from just being a music streaming app to publishing music of independent artists and musicians. Vishnu shared that at this point of time they have 400 plus albums that are waiting to get released in the next 8-12 months which have been acquired directly by these musicians. “This is another clear difference between the Bollywood music streaming apps and us where we have now evolved into a platform for hundreds of musicians,” Vishnu shared.

Twaang’s mobile app evolution

Twaang being a mobile first app (review) from its inception also remains the backbone of the startup. Vishnu gives credit to his co-founder Shirish who has been the sole brain behind the app which has evolved from the shirish hirekodi twaangtime it has launched.

Recollecting the early days, Vishnu shared that the app was actually launched before the Your Story mobile conference but the team went to the stage for the sheer purpose of getting more users and reach. Twaang not only became one of the most talked app at the event but also had a little over 300 users downloading the first version of the app.

Since then Twaang has witnessed around 20-25 releases of the app which has been possible because of the various qualitative feedback from the users. While there has been constant work on the app, the startup has moved from server side hosting to cloud technology like any other smart startup.

Last month the app also went live with a paid version of the Twaang app which allows users to access a large database of music and the ability to download them for offline listening.

“Anyone can build a good music player. The differentiator here is content. And we thought we could differentiate our app by having our kind of music on the app – classical, fusion and devotional,” said Shirish while talking to YS last year.

Social media, the primary marketing tool for Twaang

The startup which has been bootstrapped and remains one quite proudly chose social media as the marketing tool to spread the word. “When we started shubha mudgal twaangand even today, our primary marketing tool to get the word around about Twaang has been social media. We have leveraged Facebook and Twitter, specially Facebook a lot which is our primary method to connect with our fans,” shared Vishnu.

I was also told that the Twaang mobile app has been designed as the Facebook app, so whenever Twaang runs campaigns, users see ads on mobile as if they are using Facebook. “Every day on an average we get 200-230 users out of which 65% comes from Facebook,” shared Vishnu.

Additionally, Twaang’s association with popular independent musicians has gained a lot of word of mouth for the app. For example if you land on to Sudha Ragunathan’s website you would find the badge of Twaang where the musician is inviting her fans to listen to her music on Twaang. On click a user is directed to the download page of the mobile app leading to a lot of a referral traffic.

Twaang’s revenue sources and challenges of the streaming business

Music streaming business cannot only survive on advertising money, a fact that was very clear for Twaang from the day it was born. Right now Twaang has two major sources of revenue – 1. Subscription model and 2. Offline concerts of non film music.

Vishnu informed that the startup’s primary focus right now is subscription; he believes it is a low touch model but at the same time he believes that it will drive a significant part of Twaang’s revenue . “At this point of time for the subscription feature we already have more than 100 people as paid customers. Almost 65 of them paid before the service was launched. We will look at brand advertising but subscription is where the money is.”

With the subscription model, Twaang has ventured into the offline events space. Till now it has done two such events in 2013 and 2014 with an intention to drive app downloads and creating a new channel for revenue.“With both the events we were able to drive few thousand downloads over a day or two after the event ended and even on the day itself. Primarily it is a marketing tool for us to generate buzz while it generates cash flow for the business,” shared Vishnu.

Definitely subscription is where the money is for quality content but that brings up the challenge faced by most startups – the payment infrastructure in the country. Vishnu realises the problem specially with Indian users who are not comfortable with credit card operation. “One of the ways we can think of is tying up with large operators but for us we are not sure if chasing an operator will work at this point of time,” he added while informing that Twaang tackles this by working with individual entities to sell the subscriptions. “Our goal is to make the subscription for Twaang possible offline as you walk into any mall or store. Just as you do for a recharge voucher by walking into a local store.”

To execute this on ground activity Twaang is working with stores in Mumbai and Bangalore. “We are doing such activities only in India as the international audience is quite comfortable with the credit card operation.”

As it is said, music knows no boundary. The same holds true for Twaang which is now garnering keen interest from European artists and musicians who want to publish their music on its platform. Vishnu informs that in the coming future we would witness global music on Twaang.

By 2015 Twaang wants to hit 2 million downloads with a sizable amount of users converting into paid customers. “Our vision is to build the best Indian music along with a global footprint in the near future. We want to keep our heads down and keep our focus in doing what we have done so far,” he summed up before winding the conversation.