Shreyas Kulkarni

A peek into Gunjan Arya’s Only Much Louder

The CEO speaks on the company’s main money minters, how data shapes its decisions, the changing destination of platforms’ investments, and more.

Nestled sweetly in between the post-Myspace and Orkut social media age and before the advent of today’s social media companies is Only Much Louder or OML which has silently fuelled the country’s artist and creator universe.

A cursory glance at the company’s website tells you it handles the crème de la crème of India’s artists and creators. Think of all the founders of All India Bakchod (AIB), Kaneez Surka, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kanan Gill, and Kenny Sebastian, among others.

These names have been in the business for over a decade and still command a certain premium over newer and perhaps more popular creators or artists because “they've continued to evolve and can charge the price points they do because of the audience interest they represent,” says Gunjan Arya, CEO, OML.

Initially, digital forward-funded brands worked with OML because it was an immediate fit but “if you look at what's happening with marketing now, the "old world" brands, the CPG brands will have to adapt to digital.”

A trip back in time

The foremost avatar of OML, which started in 2001, worked with indie artists. The company convinced many artists to upload their music on YouTube and then sign a deal with a record label.

Media by nature will keep evolving and as content creators, you can't be restricted to a certain format.

OML told the artists people would watch their videos online and then pay ticket money to watch them perform live. The bet paid off and the first set of talent OML managed was music artists. It then went on to manage stand-up comedians and then all kinds of digital celebrities.

OML’s second stint was making content. The team started with music videos and moved to build original shows for OTT platforms. The third was the live events team which started with artists’ tours and ended up building properties like Levi's 501 Friday and Red Bull Tour Bus.

Then came Insider. OML thought artists today do not have access to data, they do not know who is buying their tickets, they do not know how to mount their shows, they do not know which cities to build their tours and they will not know till they have access to their data. Paytm acquired a majority stake in Insider in 2017.

Then the company started the brand solution business. Brands were looking to spend on culture marketing programs and OML worked on how it can include artists in these activities.

Today talent management, making shows for OTT platforms, and brand solutions are the primary money minters for OML.

One of OML’s most memorable works where it mingled artists and brands is Levi’s 501 Friday.

On the last Friday of every month, the biggest clubs in the city across Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore would have a free night (no ticketing at door), independent musicians take the stage, dressed in Levi's gear, and would perform for fans who want to come and watch them. These are clubs which will have a chance to see a full house so it's a win-win situation for all of them.

Artists may lie at the heart of OML but data is what electrifies the brain of the company.

The Hypothesis

The company has been studying how social media content behaves, and what indicators can it look at to predict success, and it has been able to build its social media prediction tool Hypothesis on the back of studying over 10,000 creators, and content pieces, across the world.

A peek into Gunjan Arya’s Only Much Louder

OML uses the tool to deliver cutting-edge work in more than 20 countries across the world. For instance, whiskey brand Dewars, got a stand-up comedian to walk the streets of Lebanon’s Beirut asking people if they’d listen to his material. A success? Yes, and it led to a late-night comedy show on TV too. 

Hypothesis is not meant only for the brands. It holds equal importance for the creators too. If you can use data to tell a brand which kind of content can help it engage and find relevance with the correct target group, it is equally important for the creators looking to widen their social footprint.

If you can understand what their audiences are watching, the creators they are following, and on which platforms they are spending most of their time, “it will take away a lot of the trial and error creators do online…”

Everybody is an influencer marketing agency

There are influencer marketing agencies and influencer marketing agencies. This is the latter. This is the growing list of advertising and digital marketing agencies opening influencer marketing wings. Two prominent names include Ogilvy and Schbang.

The list keeps growing and almost all agencies want to have an exclusive roster of talent to tout. Arya is unfazed because she knows “being in the services business” the competition is heating up.

She says there are only two ways to win this battle. Start doing more like “creative agencies adding influencer marketing to their repertoire or become so expensive that you start commanding the premium and you choose the clients you want to work with. There is no other way to grow.”

OML, she confesses, considers its talent as its north star and holds that as its guiding light. Every business has been built on the back of it.

The rebel of the creators

Algorithms are to creators what paparazzi are to celebrities — an on-off relationship which can sometimes work in their favour. Recently, the creators have wanted to do nothing but dump the lines of code.

Rohan Joshi, an OML talent and founding member of AIB had taken to Instagram to vent against the ever changing algorithms and that he would not let it influence what and when he posts content.

Snack brand The Whole Truth said it was taking a break from Instagram because the algorithm overlords preferred short-video and not the long-form content the brand preferred; the brand was ruing the lack of visibility. The Whole Truth returned to the gram soon after its self-imposed exile.

The question of embracing or rebelling against this hydraesque digital creator has and is a burning issue in the creator-verse but Arya feels it is nothing but the natural changing of a media landscape. “Media by nature will keep evolving and as content creators, you can't be restricted to a certain format.”

She emphasises with creators who have switched from IGTV to Reels and now maybe something else and that one should focus on making content which makes the wave than riding on one.

The platforms’ mood swings

Creators may fret about the ever changing preferences of algorithms but platforms too are no different. OML works with many platforms some of them being Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Arya says, when asked about OML’s talks with platforms and what is on their mind, there has been a shift.

“Platforms tried everything. They courted Bollywood, courted creators, courted arthouse cinema... and they are trying to figure out what works.”

She says the platforms are “sitting on so much data if you don't use it who is the fool?’” and adds that if “the platforms are now changing `where they put their investments’, why are we crying foul? It is okay. It is a good thing. They have many kinds of data because so many of us turned to these platforms in the last two years and we were locked in.”

While some of those viewers might have pulled back, OML seems to be in no hurry to stop making new scripted and unscripted content for its clients.

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