Seated in an open café at a 5-star hotel near Mumbai’s Sahar airport, the gentleman in conversation with ragatorock.com looks more like a physical instructor – after all, he is wearing a half-sleeve shirt, short pants, has an obvious six-pack, and massive arm muscles to complete his persona – but, in reality, he heads one of the fastest growing independent labels in the world. Meet Lee Parsons, the co-founder and CEO of UK-based Ditto Music, which commenced operations in 2006.
Lee has arrived in Mumbai, his first stop on his debut visit to India, for just over a day ago, but is already getting accustomed to the unorganised vehicular traffic, not realising that it is actually more organised in Mumbai than most parts of the country. While his brief jaunt will have him cover Chennai, New Delhi, and Agra, where Lee will obtain a reality check, but what is certain about his presence now is that he is here to do what he does best: support, promote, and market independent music. While it is a far cry from the days when he concentrated on a career cleaning windows and a career as a musician too, Lee is still in the presence of cleansing; however, this time around it is the global music industry instead by providing independent artistes an opportunity of not only retaining what is or should be theirs, such as recording and publishing rights, but Ditto Music’s policy of transparency ensures that every amount that the artiste should be entitled to earn is provided to them.
“Artistes are moving away from major labels towards [their] independence,” says Lee, “because companies like Ditto Music provide them better terms and more revenue.” Using the same policy across the world, Lee has, since Ditto Music’s genesis 12 years ago, set up over 20 offices across Europe, Australia, North and Latin America, and his focus – along with that of Ditto Music co-founder and brother Matt’s – is now in South Asia, with India as its headquarters.
The India office commenced operations in October 2017 with industry stalwart Gautam Sarkar being roped into to helm the business. For those not aware, Gautam is a global veteran having three decades of work experience spread across the fields of music, hospitality, and technology, leading the India piece by having worked with majors in India and abroad.
In a very strategic manner, Gautam has decided to have Ditto Music stay away from major Bollywood music for the moment, leading the Indian initiative to a more focused approach in the regional market business and in overseas distribution of Indian content. By the time Lee returns to England, the company would have concluded major label deals for distribution outside India, including managing Indian publishing business with Ditto Music’s superior knowledge and understanding of artiste minds and their requirements through Matt and Lee’s experience as independent artistes themselves. Ditto Music’s global roster – over 150,000 artistes – has expectedly begun to overflow, as people are looking at being associated with Ditto Music as a platform through which they can share their music to the large diaspora globally through high quality streaming audio, and by supporting monetization of copyright royalties. Indian languages focused on include Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Gujarati, Rajasthani, and Bhojpuri, with a combined catalogue strength of 300,000 audio tracks and music videos.
CEO Lee’s affinity with Indians and the Indian diaspora has a lot to do with his growing up in Birmingham, which is also the place of birth behind such international acts such as UB40, E.L.O., Moody Blues, and Traffic. “Birmingham has a huge Indian community,” Lee reminisces, “where I used to record in a studio which Dr Zeus (real name: Baljit Singh Padam) also used. At that time, he had already sold massive quantities of his content.” Indeed, especially with Zeus’ “Kangna” being his break out song in 2003. Other Indian connects for Lee include his band being managed by the same person managing Apache Indian. In fact, Lee vividly recalls all the songs of the one-time Steven Kapur, including “Boom Shack-A-Lak”, a song that made it into several Hollywood films, including ‘Dumb And Dumber’, its sequel, and ‘Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed’ although, for the trivia-minded, “Boom” appears to be strongly influenced by the Folkes Brothers’ “Oh Carolina”, a song popularised by Shaggy.
Founded by musicians for musicians, Ditto Music provides distribution, music videos, and promotion and label services, offering both 100% royalty and commission-based deals. Ditto Music is also responsible for an innovative product known as Record Label In A Box, which provides all the tools that budding music entrepreneurs need to start and run a successful label, and has helped establish thousands of new independent labels worldwide.
Ditto Music currently works with the next generation of rising artistes and, in 2018, has already released Top 40 albums and singles for artistes such as Dodie, Dave, AJ Tracey, Yxng Bane, and several more. "We are thinking of running a search for artistes in India too,” announces Lee proudly, “so that we can pick such artistes and push them globally.” Although ripe for a takeover from the majors and venture capitalists, Lee is certain that he would like Ditto Music to remain independent, which is precisely the vision with which brother Matt and Lee commenced operations. Nevertheless, Lee is also certain about future technologies and is taking more than a keen interest in blockchain technology – that was originally invented by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 to serve as a public ledger for cryptocurrency bitcoin – through which, Lee believes, transparency will only get further magnified. In placing monies where his comments are, Ditto Music has invested in blockchain start-ups in South East Asia as well as India to fulfil Lee’s mission.
If Lee Parsons has signed on or discovered artistes that are now global music superstars such as Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, it appears only a matter of time before Ditto Music helps support the “traffic” of Indian artistes diversifying from being just local musicians into the international mainstream.
- Parag Kamani