KASTURBA ROAD: It has been a hectic time for Timbre Media and co-founder and content head, Seetal R Iyer is so busy shuttling from one studio to the next in the Kasturba Road office, that it is nearly impossible to sit her down for a chat. She is however not complaining. “I love it”, she says, having just wrapped up recording voiceovers for an app that Timbre Media is providing exclusive editorial content to.
“We have always been like this at Timbre. Call it WorldSpace legacy. The variety in what we do is what keeps it challenging and fresh,” says she.
Timbre Media is now a five-year-old sound and audio company started by erstwhile WorldSpace employees that has pioneered the concept of in-house radio for major corporations and commercial establishments; Internet radio; radio for DTH services among others.
WorldSpace was, of course, the satellite radio platform offering more than 40 stations with curated, ad-free content in over 15 languages and in genres as diverse as Carnatic music and Jazz & Blues and Spirituality. Unfortunately, WorldSpace shut shop in 2010.
Timbre was co-founded by Iyer with Mathewkutty Sebastian and Hemant Motipalle, both of WorldSpace stock.
The pioneering work in providing in-house radio for major corporate clients has been a gamechanger in many ways as it is a service that incorporates vital internal corporate communication, otherwise dry and formal, into a bespoke radio format that retains the freshness and appeal of an FM station.
This idea of customised sound has had successful implementation in commercial establishments and even publishing houses as Timbre has produced successful audiobooks for Trivandrum-based DC Books.
Seetal Iyer makes time for City Express to look back and ahead. Excerpts from a chat:
The abrupt curtain call
It was a shock to us too. WorldSpace was a unique space in terms of content deployment. There was freedom to focus on good music. The audio quality was pristine, it was ad-free, and we had the opportunity to go deep into the content we were playing unlike on an FM station which is bound by its own commercial paradigms.
Then we woke up one day in December 2009 to find WorldSpace, our beloved company, gone. And it was almost as if someone else had immediately said, “Gosh, let’s start another then.” Timbre Media was born out of the need for continuity. We couldn’t believe something people had loved could just die because a group of people had failed. They just had to try again. And so we are.
The difficult times
Despite some passionate paddling, we managed to steer ourselves into the uncertain waters of business realities. For a while we did ask ourselves if we had been in denial and had just bought ourselves some very expensive time to get over the heartbreak of WorldSpace shutting down. And then came the first small success. Then another one, followed by a harrowing miss, and then a few more small joys. That’s how we’ve come this far with the happy realisation that we’ve lost nothing of value.
Five years and we have a lot of work to show in the area of radio, music and audio content, from providing in-store music for retail, audio books, remote managing an FM station in the Middle East (a first if I were to hazard a guess), to list some here. But we’ve always looked at our radio solutions for corporate India as our best innovation. The idea of corporate radio was born of that one quality that we possess as a team - resourcefulness. We knew a reinvention was in order considering we’d woken up to a new reality in the music business, the way people were consuming content and our own need to run a tight ship and make every penny count.
We’d already built well-loved radio stations for people united by a language or music preference. We now build radio stations for the workforce of various companies. Simply put, this is radio for the purpose of entertaining and communicating with employees, with music as a strong backbone.
We’re still a company about the people. We are all shapeshifters who can morph into the need of the hour. Sebastian, our CEO, is an engineer from IIT and is ex-ISRO.
Hemant, our head of technology also doubles as finance and HR lead.
Giridhar Gowda, our head of programming operations, does a mean voice over and is a Walking Dead and Hannibal fan.
Supriya Jambunathan is our corporate radio expert and can sound like a Tamil TV serial wife and a Chinese martial artiste in a jiffy.
International music expert Avinash is a bass guitarist with a metal band.
Harish, an erstwhile journalist, is the wellness, fusion and world music expert.
Savitha is our Kannada expert who now finds herself wading through a devotional Hindi library. Dushyant does everything from sound design to photographing the team and birdwatching. Padmaja is a counsellor and also our radio software expert, Telugu and classical music person.
Producer, voice talent, classical and ghazal programmer Chandan is the soundtrack of Timbre Media. Rakesh is a Rhodes scholar (neuroscience), singer, the resident expert in all things concerning Lata Mangeshkar, English grammar, medicine, and Indian classical music.
There are so many more, including Kanchanamma who will offer you beverages when you come visiting. She was part of the WorldSpace team too and integral to our sense of home at work.
These are the people who make Timbre Media but there were others too who’ve added to who we are today, before they left us.
We’ve doubtless driven our people to question the wisdom of throwing in their lot with us on occasion. As individuals, we’ve slowed the whole down, as we broke in our new shoes as members of a start-up who should’ve ideally ‘hit the road running.’
The way things are
I rarely read interviews by entrepreneurs - mostly because I am scared to spot things in there that would make me question our ways at Timbre.
Until now those ways have brought us here, not a bad place at all. Considering a bad place is where it all started.
On just such a September day in 2009, a WorldSpace colleague walked into my room to ask if I thought we’d make it as a company - there was worry in the air. I told him we would - the goodwill of our listeners had to mean something. Three months later, our employer shut down its India operations. Did we make it? I’d say we did.