The economics of Teej songsWith dozens of new releases every year, Teej songs have solidified themselves as a lucrative genre.
The Nepali folk music scene has seen a flurry of new releases in the last few weeks. The majority of the songs have a common theme—Teej, a major Hindu festival during which Hindu women fast for their husband’s long life.
During the weeks leading up to the festival, Hindu women get together and dance. For years, this aspect of the Teej celebration has made it a norm for Nepali folk singers to release at least one Teej song a year.
Today, Teej songs have become a genre in their own right, and musicians start releasing their Teej songs as early as two months before the actual day of the festival. This year’s Teej falls on August 30, and so far, more than 100 Teej songs have already been released on YouTube, and more are slated to launch in the coming days.
In the past few years, Teej songs have evolved from featuring predominantly bitter-sweet lyrics where women vent their emotions to exploring themes like resilience and standing up to patriarchy. The dynamics involved in how Teej songs are produced, marketed, and released have also changed over the years.
Back when audio cassettes and CDs were the most popular mediums to listen to music, record labels would come up with their own Teej albums. These albums would feature multiple artists, and most artists would be paid a one-time fee for singing the songs.
“Under this arrangement with record companies, the artists were paid a small fee for singing. When the songs did well, all the profit went to the record labels, and the artists usually did not get any financial benefit from the songs’ success,” says Devi Gharti Magar, a prominent name in the Nepali folk music industry.
“And for many years, most artists had no choice but to collaborate with a record label under such agreements.”
But the popularity of YouTube completely transformed this, says folk singers the Post spoke to. The proliferation of the video-sharing platform has made it convenient for artists to produce their own Teej songs and release them on their personal YouTube channels. This has given artists complete ownership of the earnings from their songs.
Sunita Dulal, a folk singer who has been given the tag of Teej singer, has released Teej songs every year since 2008. For the last few years, Dulal has made it a point to release her Teej songs on her own YouTube channel.
“If I don’t release at least one Teej song a year, I don’t feel complete. I know that a demographic of my loyal listeners awaits my Teej song. If not for myself, I have to do it for them,” says the singer.
As one of the most sought-after names for Teej songs, Dulal gets swarmed with offers from music composers asking that she lend her voice to their songs.
“Every year, I get offered around 30 Teej songs, but I have to be very selective. I only choose songs that my voice can give justice to and match my personality,” adds Dulal.
Three weeks ago, Dulal released her most-recent Teej song, ‘Yo Ramailo Teejai Ma’, on her YouTube channel. The song has already amassed more than 2.3 million views. According to Dulal, the song had been in the works for months, with two weeks spent just to make the song’s music video.
Khem Century, famous for 2020’s hit Teej song ‘Soche Jhai Jindagi Rahinchha’ (more than 19 million views on YouTube), has already sung 15 Teej songs this year. Out of the 15 songs, two songs are Century’s own, and he owns their creative licence. Century only lent his voice to the remaining 13 songs.
“When you own the song’s creative licence, you are free to perform them at concerts and events. You also get to pocket whatever income the songs make on YouTube and other digital platforms,” says Century, who made his YouTube channel in 2018.
According to folk singers the Post spoke to, YouTube pays anywhere between Rs 100,000 to Rs 150,000 for every one million views.
With several of the last few years Teej music videos amassing millions of views on YouTube, most folk singers worth their salt, say people from the music industry, do not shy from investing money to produce their own Teej songs and music videos.
“How much you invest in a Teej song’s music video depends a lot on the quality of the video production you want. One can come up with a Teej song and an accompanying video for as little as Rs 200,000,” says Magar.
In July this year, Magar released her Teej song, ‘Oe Poi’, on her YouTube channel. She spent Rs 300,000 to produce the song’s music video, which has more than 1.3 million views.
But out of over 100 Teej songs released every year, only some of them become immensely popular and amass more than a million views.
“A song may or may not work, and when artists put in their own money to make a Teej song and its video, they are taking a gamble,” says Bhagirath Chalaune, who has been singing folk music for the past 12 years.
To produce the video for his most-recent Teej song, ‘Dhulo Uraigo’, Chalaune invested Rs 250,000. The song was released in late July on his YouTube channel.
When the song first went live, Chalaune admits being worried whether he would even recoup his investment. Fortunately for him, the song crossed one million views just a few days after its release. With Dhulo Uraigo’s music video already amassing more than 1.6 million, Chalaune is hopeful of recouping his investment soon.
“I am delighted with the response ‘Dhulo Uraigo’ has received,” says Chalaune, who started his YouTube Channel back in 2017. “But not every song gets the same love, and when a Teej song fails, which happens often, artists don’t even get their investment back, let alone make a profit.”
However, when a Teej song does very well on YouTube, it opens the singer to other income-generating opportunities. Artists with the most popular Teej songs of the year often get invited to perform at Teej events.
“On the basis of how popular our song becomes on YouTube or Tik Tok, we get invitations to do Teej programmes/concerts in Nepal and abroad,” says Chalaune. “Concerts and performances allow us to sustain ourselves as artists.”
With several hit Teej songs to his name this year, Chalaune has already gotten 15 offers to perform at this year’s Teej concerts. Singers like Dulal, Gharti, and Century have already left the country to perform at Teej concerts abroad.
“Over the years, Teej celebrations in Nepal have gotten bigger, and this has made it important for folk singers to work harder to come up with Teej songs for people to enjoy during this festive season,” says Chalaune. “As an artist, if you can deliver a hit Teej song, you will surely be very busy.”