As a classical music fan, how many times have you been asked to believe that it’s on the verge of decline? With the young generation developing genres on the run and launching and forgetting songs with the same speed, it might have seemed believable at one point as well.
But classical music has proven to be the old stone building that stands for centuries only becoming more refreshing over time and that’s where Faraan Irfan saw the potential of a classical music streaming app.
How Saarey Music Was Born
One looks at the track record of Irfan, and wonders how a person from telecom and consulting, ends up founding something like Saarey Music but when you realize that his family has been patrons of classical music for more than six decades through All Pakistan Music Conference, it all makes perfect sense.
“I have grown up listening to Pakistani classical music believed that not just it’s incredible music and an integral part of South Asian culture & heritage but also the global music culture & heritage,” commented Faraan Irfan, Founder Saarey Music talking exclusively to ProPakistani.
He added that his journey to Saarey Music’s creation began during his MBA when he identified a gap in access to quality classical music content online. Motivated by the staggering targeted market of 125 million enthusiasts globally without adequate access, Irfan, along with his co-founder, embarked on the journey to birth Saarey Music.
The catalysts included influential figures like Ustad Ashraf Sharif Khan and Ustad Shahbaz Hussain, who urged Irfan to take on the responsibility of preserving and promoting classical music, fearing its potential decline.
But accessing, digitizing, and licensing the classical music records of Pakistan and curating a streaming service out of it was not an easy endeavor. It took them a whole year before they could do anything about it.
While all records have been digitized, they are still in the process of remastering some of it and preparing them for public release. They have also secured worldwide rights 85-90 percent for all of Pakistan’s Classical Music and interestingly with a slightly different business model from other streaming services.
They also went to Lok Virsa Heritage Museum since they have some treasure as well and thought they should start sharing it with the world.
“We found that only 10 percent of their records are digitized, and the rest is still in cassettes and reels which we stand to lose as the medium is inherently vulnerable to decay. We had offered to digitize it for them, but bureaucratic hurdles came in between,” added Irfan.
The Return of Classical Music
It does not take a genius to figure out that classical music especially the qawwalis has been revitalized across and beyond the sub-continent in recent years whether we give its credit to Coke Studio or the fact that with hyperactive lifestyles, listeners are demanding a deeper connection through music and no other genre can tap the human psyche so powerfully.
Spotify noted in a report published in September 2022 that over the last two years, India’s classical music consumption on Spotify witnessed a staggering growth of nearly 500 percent. It also found that more than 45 percent of classical music listeners in India are under the age of 25, challenging the perception that classical music is exclusive to older audiences.
But the most important contributor has been none other than the Pandemic where people found comfort in the beauty and familiarity of classical music during a stressful and cynical time. That’s how classical music became the fastest-growing genre used by content creators clocking a 90 percent growth in 2022 as per Epidemic Sound.
The downloads of classical music tracks also recorded a 64 percent increase across Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and the United States.
There have been nearly half a dozen studies by organizations including the Royal Philanthropic Orchestra and BBC in the last two years that documented the return of classical music as a major and popular if not the top genre in recent times.
“It was never about music, but it was always about access,” added Irfan noting that the Indian market is huge and growing and Saarey Music is building the digital ecosystem for South Asian classical music to provide easy access to exclusive content that you cannot find anywhere else, and it’s designed per the nuances of the genre.
State Of Steaming Industry and Where Saarey Music Stands?
Saarey Music is creating waves at a time when the conventional streaming industry is on the verge of major structural change as noted by Goldman Sachs in their 2023 Music in the Air report.
World’s Leading Investment Bank projects global music revenue to double by 2023 to $131 billion with recorded music and streaming services accounting for the major share. It also stated that new payment solutions and new business models with recognition of intellectual property rights are setting the stage for the growth of streaming in emerging markets as well.
But it also noted that with revenue per stream and average revenue per use felling by 20 percent and 40 percent respectively, streaming platforms have raised their prices for the first time in a decade only to realize that had negligible impacts on churn, indicating a potential for recurring price increases, especially in an environment of higher inflation.
It also suggested streaming services to tap the ‘superfans’ segmentation the current flat monthly fee model fails to recognize different levels of engagement users have with the platform, a specific artist or a song. Monetizing superfans can contribute $2 billion of incremental revenue for streaming platforms by 2027 and $4 billion by 2030, representing a 16 percent boost to paid streaming revenues.
Saarey works on an annual licensing fee structure different from other streaming services since it can operate without the top record labels, unlike other leading streaming services. They had kind of a ‘Last Mover’ advantage as they learned from previous business models so while Spotify’s Gross Margins are 30 percent, their gross margins are 91 percent.
Interestingly, in India, people are paying Saarey four or five times more than Spotify, since they don’t force charge anything and people can pay anything they want.
Their cost per install is half of the industry benchmark and conversion to sign up is 60 percent while the industry benchmark is at 20 percent. Total users have crossed 600,000 this month and the average revenue per use is around £3 but it’s to be noted that not all users are not paid but their real impact cannot be described in numbers.
Noor Zehra Kazim is the only one in the world who plays Sagar Veena which is the only Pakistani instrument ever made (the father made it for her) and it may be one of the few instruments that have been developed in the living memory and she only used to come to these select gatherings to perform.
Saarey put her music on their platform, and she was trending number one in the world in 2020 and 2021 and we have been downloaded in 119 countries. This is also the case of Ustad Naseeruddin Saami who a lot of people listened to through Saarey Music and now documentaries are being made on him.
Beyond Saarey, Irfan has also launched an initiative titled ‘Save The Sagar Veena’ in a personal capacity since Noor Zehra is the only one who plays it, the instrument would be lost without her.
“We will be looking for 10 apprentices to learn to play the instrument and 10 more would learn to make the instrument. These apprentices would be paid to work alongside her for five years and after that they can perform internationally”, Irfan described the initiative.
That’s something for the government to do but they have been a little busy on some other ‘important matters, I guess.
What Are the Future Plans?
Winner of prestigious awards and accolades, including the Columbia Venture Competition and recent recognition from Forbes India as among the Top 200 Companies in the world, Saarey Music is gearing up for a 5-million-pound raise. But they are also planning new features to support the artists’ community and further ease access and connectivity.
“We will also be introducing the feature of in-app nazrana, the tribute offered in the form of money to artists during live performances and you will also be able to set it up as a recurring feature and forget about it,” added Irfan.
He added that in this way, Saarey will not only be giving visibility to classical music artists which they never had before but will also be supporting them.
One more plan is to enable the listeners to book the artists for live events and update the local community of listeners if any of their loved artists are visiting their area and have free time so they can arrange live events. Booking them for lessons and ordering instruments, all of which are still difficult, Saarey plans to explore in the coming years.