Reelification of the Indian music industry - The good, bad & ugly

Karuna Sharma
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The advent of Instagram Reels has altered the course of the Indian music industry - how it is produced, shared, marketed, and consumed. This has forced creators and music labels to rethink the power of social media. We speak to agencies and music creators to find out how Instagram Reelification has changed the tunes of the industry.

If you have been introduced to a new song through Instagram, chances are that you won't be able to remember the song’s entire lyrics. Be it Aise Kyun, Rangi Saari, Chand Baliya, Manike Mage, Pasoori, or any other song that rose to popularity because of Instagram Reels -- you might break into its hook step on the drop of a hat and hum the catchiest part of the song, but the entire song? Yeah, it might be a blur - that is the impact of Instagram Reels on the music industry.

Gone are the days when you would be exposed to a new song through television, and hear it on a loop on your streaming platform until you grow sick of it. Now, after incessantly scrolling through Instagram reels, we barely remember a stanza of a song but it would linger in our head for a long time. Music composers are catching on too and saving themselves the trouble of composing 2-3 minute long songs. These efforts are now directed at making the hook line ‘reel-worthy.’ 

In the west, this TikTokification happened a year ago. As the attention span reduces, in India too, Bollywood is catching up with the trend. Songs are shorter, snackier, and catchier which pleases the algorithm. Whether it is Manike or Kesariya, more songs now have a catchy beat that have the potential to start a trend on Instagram or become an earworm.

The success of a song is not only measured by the number of listens or views on Spotify or YouTube, it is also measured by the number of reels that it generates on Instagram. 

Reelification - Impact of Instagram Reels on Music

“Musicians are now becoming conscious and aware of elements that may increase the possibility of making the music trend. There is a genuine focus on creating at least one hook or one element that is very attractive in the song which they know will work well. Another focus is also to make at least 30-45 seconds of the song nice. Basically, ‘ear worming’ a particular song will make musicians sorted,” said Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO, and co-founder, TheSmallBigIdea.

Pillai refers to Srivali, which he believes traveled more because of its hook step than the song itself. 

Mitesh Kothari, Co-Founder and CCO, White Rivers Media shared ways in which artists have started adapting to the new ways.

"As social media is getting 'Reelified', artists have started adopting ways to make their music better suitable for trends, like introducing the 'hook' earlier in the songs. People's attention span has reduced from minutes to seconds, so creators are leveraging social media features like reels to grab audiences' attention. However, we have seen time and time again that if a song is unique, people will love it despite everything. In a way, the 'Reelification' of music benefits all, as many young and small artists are getting the required exposure, producing fresh tunes that inspire more artists."

GenZ R&B Artist and Digital Content Creator, Dev Raiyani admits that he creates music by keeping Instagram in mind but points out that the end result matters more. 

“While making music I think about popularity too, but then I think about my inspirations and all they do is not care about that stuff. So, I’m just doing my thing. Still, with music, it’s best not to judge, any music can sound amazing and who cares about the motive behind it,” said Raiyani. 

Advertisers and marketers often flock to where the consumers are. Composers and creators are also observing closely what their consumers are ‘heart-ing’ on Instagram. 

Singer and content creator Aksh Baghla said, “I think people fail to realise that the market decides what works and what doesn't. It’s just like demand and supply. If the market wants tunes to dance and vibe on, the industry has to deliver. It's just like any other industry. So yes, the composers do make the songs in accordance with the new culture.”

As a result, Instagram has altered music consumption patterns and it is also an artist discovery platform now. 

Also Read: Mid-funnel intent is the USP of Audio OTT advertising: Arjun Kolady, Spotify

Democratising creation & crossing borders: The good side

When Pillai’s agency was working on its marketing strategy for the Bollywood movie Runway 34, the agency roped in digital creator Yashraj Mukhate who is known for creating many viral songs.  

“Jalaya Toh Nahin Na’ was a hook step that climbed from the movie, which we got as part of the song, and Yashraj composed the music while Ajay Devgn rapped with it. We did not think of a music director, instead, we thought of collaborating with an internet creator,” shared Pillai. 

This, in turn, has given creators a chance to be discovered in an industry that has been infamous for nepotism. 

It is because of Instagram that Yohani’s Manike Mage Hithe, a Sri Lankan Sinhala song, got visibility in India. While we didn’t understand what it was exactly, it crossed borders and tugged at our hearts. So, did Pakistani Coke Studio’s Pasoori. 

After seeing Manike’s popularity, creator Yohani was roped in by Indian producers for the Bollywood movie Thank God. So far, Manike from Thank God has seen 1.1 million reels. 

Social media and the right Reel marketing strategy, ergo, give a chance to every artist to be discovered and those with a real knack for it can reach millions. Its democratizing, freewheeling nature allows smaller or independent artists to build their audiences. 

If you happened to look at the songs featured on Instagram’s popular songs section and compare them with Today’s Top 10 Charts, you would find significant similarities between the two. 

Instagram even has the ability to revive old songs. Kalank’s title song by Arijit Singh became popular on Instagram a few months ago. Its catchiest part ‘Main Tera’ has generated 182K reels so far. 

Kitsch art: The Bad Side

In the pursuit of going viral on Instagram, creators might put the quality and narrative of their art on the back burner. With this, a social media app dictates the course of the music industry and creators’ careers. Numbers overtake authenticity and quality. 

The popular song Raangi Saari, which was an Instagram baby and later created by Bollywood, only has five lines in a 3-minute-long song. 

Tabla player and Digital Content Creator, Nikhil Paralikar a.k.a The Table Guy said, “Instagram has led to a massive decrease in attention span which again affects consumption patterns across all audiences in India. I personally feel that the new concept of having songs shorter than how they were originally at a given point in time, or almost five years earlier, an average song length was about 4-5 minutes, which is now reduced to 2-3 minutes. I think the overall creativity factor because of that reduction has gone down.”

Paralikar said that from a musician’s point of view, he sees both positive and negative sides to these changes in consumption patterns.

Rashid Ahmed- Digital Head, Infectious Advertising said, “One of the downsides, however, could be the fueling of fast-content consumption behaviour, that doesn’t necessarily have enough depth of meaningful information. Also, since platforms tend to custom serve content that users naturally tend to like, there is a potential for users to get hooked to a never-ending stream of content, specifically curated for them.”

The aforementioned social media addiction created due to the algorithms sharing more of what consumers see, has been pointed out time and again.

Amit Shankar, Co-founder and CCO, Hashtag Orange said that while the good part of reelification is that music trends are becoming catchy, he also pointed out the bad and ugly sides of it. 

“The bad part is people are following the reels trend left-right center without giving much thought to it. The ugly part is that this trend will be cluttered in the next six to the one-year time span,” said Shankar. 

If a song doesn’t sell on Instagram, the mental health of musicians and composers can suffer. Reelification has increased competition, which has forced quality to take a backseat. Globally, artists have also begun speaking out against the pressures they feel to put more time and effort into marketing than the original content. Successful artists such as Halsley have also been judged by their Instagram presence and followers. 

Manufactured Virality: The Ugly Side

Social media is changing the entire music industry, pushing music composers to adapt to a marketing model that excites Instagrammers. Unlike Spotify, you cannot choose what you want to see on Instagram, the algorithm decides it for you. 

Internationally, labels have been blamed for 'manufacturing viral campaigns'. For example, pop star The Kid Laroi staged a feud with his ex-manager Scooter Braun in order to promote his new song. 

TheSmallBigIdea’s Pillai, ergo, reminds us to use marketing wisely. 

“When it comes to marketing, I do not think Indians are behind. Everybody pulls a gig here and there. But we must understand that the audience is much smarter. Gigs are understood by the audience, so you can’t make a fool out of them. The best thing to do with the audience is to stay honest and create great content and they will kind of have your back,” he said. 

The Future

Good, bad, or ugly, Instagram Reels do have an impact on the music industry. The future, experts say, will see shorter songs and catchier tunes. 

Most people do not watch a video for more than 30 seconds, until and unless it is something that keeps them engaged throughout said Arushi Gupta- Business Head of

"For Bollywood music, the future lies in ensuring that their songs have solid hooks/choruses that stick in the mind of people. A catchy hook or chorus is normally not more than 20-30 seconds and when this is used in a video at the back of a trend, it tends to stick in the minds of the people. But then again, that doesn't mean that the person creating the music concentrates solely on the hook as that could affect the other parts of a song as well," she added.

Sharing what the future of music would look like after the advent of Reels, Ahmed of Infectious Advertising said, “While user attention for most content might be limited, the very best of content always tends to keep audiences engaged and coming back for more. This would apply to nearly all forms of content including Bollywood music. If the music appeals to its intended audiences, listeners will want more and the popularity of that music would gain traction. The future of most music would be to deliver freshness, but meeting the tastes of genre audiences.”

Creator Dev Raiyani is excited about the community that’s been born on Instagram. 

“We’re in an age where creators and musicians are coming together in such an amazing way honestly, love the community that’s shaping up.”

The ‘Reelification’ of the music industry indicates how Instagram controls the music that the current generation consumes. The music industry’s future, therefore, will be largely set by Instagram. 

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