AWAL expands into India, South Asia with OKListen acquisition

Photo courtesy of AWAL
OKListen Founder and CEO Vijay Basrur, pictured, is the new Head of India and South Asia for AWAL

Artist services company AWAL, now a part of Sony Music Group, is expanding into India and South Asia, the company announced Tuesday (June 26).

AWAL – known for its music deals structured to allow artists to retain ownership and control of their music – is making the move following its acquisition of OKListen, a Mumbai-headquartered digital music platform for indie labels and musicians.

As part of the acquisition, OKListen founder and CEO Vijay Basrur has been appointed AWAL’s Head of India and South Asia.

He will report to AWAL CEO Lonny Olinick, as well as to Vinit Thakkar, Managing Director, Sony Music India. (Thakkar recently returned to Sony after a ten-year stint at Universal Music India, where he was most recently COO.)

Though still a small market relative to its population of 1.4 billion, India’s music scene is expected to see strong growth in the coming years.

A PwC report from 2021 forecast that India’s music, radio and podcast businesses would grow an average of 19.1% annually in the coming years, making it into a INR 110.26 billion (USD $1.34 billion) industry by 2025.

Indeed, in a recent presentation to investors, Sony Music Group Chairman, Rob Stringer, highlighted India as a priority global territory for the company.

Stringer’s presentation cited IFPI data that showed India’s domestic recorded music market generated USD $319 million in 2022, a figure that was up 48% YoY (see below).

Discussing AWAL’s new expansion into Asia, Lonny Olinick said: “The independent music community across the region is full of potential.

“Together with Vijay, I look forward to AWAL becoming a true creative hub for India and South Asia’s independent artists, with resources dedicated to developing careers that are committed to creator integrity and global success.”

Vinit Thakkar said: “AWAL, alongside Sony Music, provides an exciting and comprehensive offering for artists at any stage of their career, putting the artist first and in control of their own future, and enabling more opportunities to showcase their music to fans around the world.”

Vijay Basrur added: “It’s a privilege to join AWAL and spearhead the next chapter for the company and its global roster in the region. AWAL is already well known in the region for helping artists at any stage of their career. I look forward to bringing AWAL’s expertise and global reach to our creators and developing the next phase in their careers.”

“The independent music community across the region is full of potential… Together with Vijay, I look forward to AWAL becoming a true creative hub for India and South Asia’s independent artists.”

Lonny Olinick, AWAL

AWAL is not alone in its South Asian expansion plans. Earlier this year, Warner Music India bought a majority stake in digital media and music company Divo.

Shortly thereafter, Sony Music Publishing signed a global publishing deal with India-headquartered music company Tips Music.

And last year, Universal Music India acquired a majority stake in music and entertainment company TM Ventures, a company formed by Indian entrepreneur Tarsame Mittal, and known for managing a roster of artists that includes rapper Badshah.

AWAL, which initially stood for Artists Without A Label, was formed in London in 1997 by music producers Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby.

Indie rights manager and music publisher Kobalt Group acquired the company in 2011, and sold it to Sony Music Entertainment for $430 million in 2021.

Prior to its expansion into India and South Asia, AWAL’s most recent move was into the Canadian market, with the opening of an office in Toronto in 2019.

In an interview with MBW last year, Mandar Thakur, COO of Times Music in India, said that Indian music has the potential for crossover appeal that could land it fans around the world, not unlike what K-pop and Latin music have achieved in recent times – although Indian music is not at that stage just yet.

“What we’re seeing [so far] is the sheer size of the populace accessing [YouTube] and that sheer uptake driving the numbers [of consumption] up. I’m very happy it’s happening,” he said.

“In my mind, crossing over [globally] is fundamentally what BTS has done. Or Latin music. Indian music [is] selling in foreign lands to Indians; [it] is not crossing over.

“I do believe that today we are in a place where we can cross over [but] I don’t think that is happening with any [major] Bollywood names.”Music Business Worldwide