What you didn’t know about Bollywood music

While much discussion around Bollywood focuses on its $3 billion a year film industry, this is not the whole story behind India’s entertainment juggernaut. Another equally valuable and influential (if not more so) element is the sprawling Bollywood music industry.

Based out of a few major studios and labels in Mumbai, the Bollywood music industry is responsible for more than 80% of India’s music output – not bad for a country of 1.3 billion people. The industry’s main fare is, of course, movie soundtracks. However, these themselves often come to dominate the charts and launch the careers of the artists behind them. Here’s what you didn’t know about Bollywood’s booming music industry.

A hit machine

If you look at Indian music charts over the years, you’ll find that the majority of the biggest hits are Bollywood songs, usually recorded for a specific musical film release. Not only this, but nearly all of the best-selling albums in the history of India and of Hindi music (the general language of Bollywood) are, in fact, musical OSTs. These include the Aashiqui soundtrack (20 million sold), the Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge soundtrack (20 million sold), and, of course, A.R Rahman’s delicious soundtrack for Bombay (15 million sold).

Sprawling careers

While fame might be fickle for most of those in the industry, Bollywood offers its leading lights a real shot at longevity. Many of the most prolific music artists in India, if not the world, have built their careers in Bollywood. To list one particularly impressive example, the female artist Lata Mangeshkar currently holds the Guinness World Record for Most Recorded Artist in history, with a whopping 50,000 songs under her belt.

This is what makes a song “Bollywood”

It’s also worth noting that a Bollywood song, while more diverse in terms of style than in days gone by, is still quite formulaic. The theme for pretty much any

Bollywood hit is, you guessed it, love. The lyrics usually revolve around discovery, yearning, separation, and finally consummation. The instrumentals tend to be a combination of Indian and Western sounds, while the on-set orchestra will often contain more than 50 different musicians, in order to create that dramatic, all-encompassing sound.

A big market with few players

You can’t understand how things work in Bollywood without understanding the industry. Despite its mammoth size and unfathomably large output, the industry is dominated by a very small coterie of elite labels. Nearly all of the market is taken up by just three companies – T Series, Sony India, and Zee Music. These labels sign all of the biggest artists, produce all of the most high-profile soundtracks and generally set the themes and cultural direction of Indian music more generally.

Money, money, money

Speaking of the industry, it goes without saying that the business of Bollywood music is big, big money. Hundreds of millions of dollars pass through the recording studios every year, with labels and artists going the extra mile in their quest to curate the next big hit. It is not uncommon for music studios to spend over $1 million for the soundtrack rights to promising musicals, a huge sum when compared to the wider Indian entertainment industry. Meanwhile, the most in-demand singers can expect recording contracts worth tens of millions of rupees, putting them at the top of the earnings leagues.

Where streaming dominates

While the Bollywood music industry is big on tradition, it’s also embracing new tech in a way that few other music markets around the world are doing today. While destined for the silver screen, the majority of Bollywood hits are now consumed almost entirely on streaming platforms and video sites such as YouTube. With music streaming growing in popularity, some 216 million Indians regularly use music streaming services, while many of the most-watched music videos on YouTube today are Bollywood hits, some of which have more than one billion views.

Multimedia playback

As Bollywood extends its cultural reach across the globe, listeners can enjoy the Bollywood sound in new locales. For example, video games such as Dying Light, Tides of War, and Pinball FX2 all make use of the Bollywood musical style in their OSTs. Looking even further afield, Bollywood sounds are making their way to the west in even more surprising ways. One example is in the online gambling industry, where livestream versions of Indian games such as Andar Bahar on platforms such as the Betway live casino are becoming more popular. In these games, you can hear the sort of instrumentals in the background that might be familiar if you’re a fan of the Bollywood sound.

The playback singer

Absolutely pivotal to the Bollywood music industry is the role of the “playback singer.” These are the artists who record the tracks for the big musicals, often with the actors lip-synching their vocals for the actual scene. Some contracts go one step further, with the actor being the “face” of a hit song and appearing as the singer in the official music video. Because of this, playback singers were largely unknown in India, even when they had produced some of the most well-known and beloved tracks in the country. However, a few decades ago the law was amended to require film companies to credit playback singers, and some have gone on to become household names.

Bollywood music is a genre all of its own. As the industry grows and continues to find new audiences outside of India, you can expect to hear more of it in the future, wherever you are.

Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email: info@themusicuniverse.com