It all started on a summer day in 2014 as a conversation between two friends in the Chhinga Veng locality of Aizawl. Eight years on, the same house in Chhinga Veng is where the team of Darbu, Mizoram’s first music streaming application, holds their meetings and plans their upcoming projects.
“We wanted to create a platform for the musicians. We were discussing the lack of platforms for singers and musicians. There were zero applications or websites in Mizoram where artists could sell music. Before, people used to buy songs on CDs and cassettes. Now, all that the singers have is YouTube. And with the small population in Mizoram, few artists accumulate enough views to earn a living out of their profession,” Lalrinnunga, the CEO of Darbu, told EastMojo.
But let us return to 2014 for now. While the two friends had a heartening discussion, they had their doubts and scepticism. There were many questions on their mind, such as the non-availability of quick payment platforms such as Google Pay which was not as popular back in 2014. While the conversation was encouraging, they took a rather tough decision: the timing was just not right.
Then came 2020. The world was facing a lockdown. People across all professions suffered from the pandemic, including the music industry. With people looking for alternative ways to sustain their art, application-based movie streaming platforms were introduced in Mizoram. This encouraged the friends to return to their dream project.
The first official meeting of the Darbu team was held towards the end of 2020 via Zoom, possibly the most famous pandemic-promoted platform. The team initially consisted of three friends with a shared love for music, who were later joined by four technical experts. They held over twenty meetings to discuss how they would launch. After discussing the nature of the application they would introduce, towards the beginning of January 2022, they started developing the application, and ‘Darbu’ was launched on May 20, 2022.
“We are not looking at/to profit. We love music, and we are doing this for music,” said Lalrinnunga. A fan of Blues, he started a band in college and continues to spend time with his favourite tunes in his free time. He works as the Project Coordinator at the Entrepreneurship Development Centre in Mizoram.
“Professional singers are now hesitant to even produce albums due to the lack of platforms and profit-generating options, and this hurts us as fans of music. Mizoram artists see little profit from singing live and from releasing their songs on YouTube. Only around 10% of our artists accumulate enough views to profit from their YouTube videos. Our objective is to create an additional platform for them without disrupting the path they are already on,” he said.
The founders of Darbu not only plan to introduce new and hip music to the current generation, but they are also taking on projects to remaster the oldies and classics of Mizo tunes, which were released before digital platforms came into purview.
Their love for Mizoram history is visible in their name too: Darbu refers to a Mizo musical instrument consisting of three brass gongs used in traditional dances. The music-streaming application has one focus and one objective: to help singers earn their due. In the application, listeners can buy a song for Rs 15 and an album for Rs 150. The songs released must, however, be Darbu exclusive releases. While an artist would get around Rs 30,000 for a million views on Instagram, the artist could sell their album on Darbu and earn the same if 200 people buy the album.
This approach to ensuring a fair valuation for musicians has not gone unnoticed among musicians both young and old. C Dinthanga is a magazine editor and a composer with over 100 songs to his name. He has been belting out tunes from the 80s and believes in Darbu’s potential, saying, “I have been dreaming about something like this for a long time, but I never thought it would become a possibility. The era of the cassette tapes passed us, then the time of disc players passed us, now songs are just shared through a pen drive. I find it splendid that an initiative with great meaning has been taken up. This will be a new chapter for artists. Even I contributed some songs, and now I will have income from those songs. We speak of YouTube and other platforms, but Darbu will be able to take an initiative more systematically.”
“This will be a platform that can be shared and accessed by Mizos from all over the world, it is a step towards progress for us as a people of the state. People who listen to Mizo songs from any part of the world can listen through Darbu. I wished this kind of platform was introduced before. But now my dream has come true,” he added.
When asked if he thinks the era of the cassette tapes or the era of technology such as Darbu will be more influential, Dinthanga told EastMojo, “I think it will depend on the song. If there is a very good song released exclusively through Darbu, it will be influential and profitable for the singer. Darbu will be a great blessing for singers.”
About 90% of the revenue will go to the artists, while 10% will go to the app creators. “Initially, we planned to ensure 100% profit to the artists but realised that we would need 10% minimum to sustain ourselves. We are not focused on profits, we are focused on the artist,” said Lalrinnunga.
The app will also have the artist’s merchandise, such as keychains, mugs and T-shirts for sale. Currently, Darbu has a collection of around 1412 tunes from over 275 Mizo artists. Three exclusive albums and a single have been released through the application.
“We have much more users than we anticipated, the artists are also showing interest in the app and contacting us,” said the founders.
One of the co-founders, who is also the creatives in charge, William Lalrindika is, like Lalrinnunga, a music fanatic. “I started listening to songs when I was around twelve years old, and I have not stopped. I started listening to songs that our uncles used to listen to such as Guns and Roses, and then I started developing my taste in music across different genres. Ever since I can remember, I have listened to music for around 4 to 5 hours a day. It is my fuel, and it gives me a sense of peace and purpose,” he told EastMojo.
“Our shared love for music has greatly contributed to our coordinated efforts and enthusiasm towards creating this application. It is our shared passion that has been our strongest motivator. That we as friends are working together on this project is already a huge measure of success for us,” said the founder friends.
Rpa Ralte, a famous singer, composer and music producer in Mizoram who has produced the majority of the past year’s top songs said of the app, “If this application is taken up as planned, it will be one of the biggest progressive landmarks for the Mizo artist. It will be remembered in history. But if it does not go as planned, the hype may go silent with time.”
He also commented on how Darbu will give new life to artists, saying, “I have a lot of hope in Darbu. Nowadays, technology is developing at a fast rate and artists have to find ways to earn their hard work worth through such technologies. I am very happy to see that there are now ways for the Mizo artist to earn a livelihood through music. Ever since we entered the digital age and it started becoming easy to share data in seconds across different devices, our artists have had no platform to earn a livelihood. That is why artists have become disrespected. Some people refer to artists as ‘famous people with no income.’ This is true in some aspects. Fame doesn’t bring financial gain. But if there is a platform to showcase and sell our work, people will come to know that we are getting income and this may instil respect for the artists in people’s minds.”
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