Getting India singing with Smule
Nothing substitutes for a good story. Smule, the world’s leading social-singing and karaoke app, is one such product with a delightful origin story - globally and in India - with its dedication to make music-creation accessible to all. What has further powered its business in India is an unwavering focus on community development, an array of partnerships with music industry stakeholders, and thoughtful localisations for the market.
So, how did a social singing app go on to build an Indian audience that spends an average of 70 minutes per day on the app? India is amongst Smule’s top 3 global markets today, and its success can be decoded by studying its evolution in the market.
Authenticity and Purpose
Smule’s founder Jeffrey Christopher Smith is a music enthusiast with a PhD in music from Stanford University. He wanted to bring back participatory consumption of media – take users away from being sole consumers, but become creators in equal parts. The app's studio experience puts the user at the center. It brings back the age-old participative and communal nature of singing. His authenticity also plays out in his strategy, particularly when thinking of expansions. "We couldn’t drop in a couple of expats to figure it out,” he says when he talks of Smule’s growth in India. “A critical partnership was forged locally.” It was through the local insights that Smule was able to navigate this rich, ethnomusical landscape as well as a burgeoning mobile-first audience’s insatiable appetite for creator-centric apps and eventually, fame.
Smule’s Playbook in India
Almost half of India’s urban youth speak more than one language. Overall, one in five Indians is bilingual. The concept of native language – a language spoken at home – and one spoken outside and professionally is common. Smule figured out early enough that native languages make India tick - an insight evidenced by the boom in regional language content consumption. As a result, Smule, today, lets its Indian users experience the app in seven local languages.
Smule tapped into untapped, emotional territories. Promoting singing in regional languages, collaborating with artists who may not always have big labels backing them but certainly have big fanbases, Smule understood which genres appealed to the next half a billion users. They also brought together a network of nationally popular artists, making it an inclusive platform across musical genres and tastes. All these aspects of local relevance have been wrapped in an India-specific pricing strategy to drive subscriptions for the premium offering. Acknowledging the value-conscious nature and vastly different spending appetite of different consumer segments in India, Smule’s subscription bundles straddle the entire range of the pricing band with different offerings for India’s Android and iOS users.
As a global first, Smule also developed a localized brand voice that was resonant. Smule created a cultural connect with Indian users by deploying a repeatable playbook that encompasses languages, festivals, cricket and popular cultures of different regions of the country and tailored it to fit their themes. As a result, it has been among the top revenue-grossing music apps of India since 2019. A big chunk of Smule’s global monthly active users is constituted by Smule India and its India user base is among the fastest-growing for the platform in the world.
Community and Partnerships
Smule built market relevance and user engagement by thoughtfully associating with and co-creating marquee national and regional intellectual properties including Mirchi Music Awards (Grammys equivalent of India), the largest radio-led musical talent hunt of India, and the first-ever digital reality show of India. It partnered with established media houses, IPs and labels, amongst them local giants like Dharma Productions and Indian Idol and global ones like Sony Music and Universal Music. It took the familiar - regional languages, old classics, resonant formats - and also got the users hooked to the emergent - global trends including K-pop that are on the rise in India.
An average Indian Smule user spends market-beating ~8 hours a week on the app. Smule offers partners/brands the opportunity to tap a deeply committed user base in immersive ways. Users have found love, solace, friendships and connection on Smule. Today, almost all the major cities of India have local community chapters that are co-nurtured by Smule and the users themselves. Users belonging to these city-wise chapters engage in various offline meetups and on-app group activities. Unsurprisingly, they use the metaphor of a ‘family’ for their community!
To sum it up, Smule built familiarity and user engagement through meaningful local collaborations and product localisation. However, it was its emphasis on the nuance that led to its success. For a brand, forging connections is essential. Through authenticity, purpose, and familiarity with the cultural landscape, the product is now a part of the social fabric of a diverse nation. It is not for nothing that brands focus on a strong alignment with India’s zeitgeist - it’s the only way to crack this rather difficult market!