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|September 8, 1999||
The Rediff Business Interview/Shashi Gopal
'600 megastores will open soon. The music market is growing bigger. New stars will emerge every week'
He launched the Indipop revolution and his outfit remains one of the few true blue Indian companies in the music business. With a catalogue that is the envy of his peers. Featuring the best of Baba Sehgal, Alisha Chinai, Remo Fernandes, Shweta Shetty, the Colonial Cousins, Daler Mehndi and Sonu Nigam, This year Shashi Gopal completes 25 years in the music business and his company Magnasound celebrates its first decade. Gopal spoke with Pritish Nandy. Excerpts from an interview.
It's difficult to choose but I would say the Colonial Cousins. It came right from the heart. I got this call at 7 in the evening, on a day I was completely tired out. Hari asked me to come to the studio. I went. Lezz was strumming his guitar. Hari sat by his side. And they were doing this raga with a western beat -- Krishna. Remember the song? That's what I heard for the first time. The sound was so natural and yet so strange and wonderful that I asked them: 'Hey, what's this?' They said: 'That's why we called you. We want to discuss this project.'
We sat there till 11.30 at night and finalised the whole idea of the Colonial Cousins. How they would record. When they would go. Where they would go. Everything was worked out and yet, when the product was ready, it lay in the cupboard for over a year because we simply did not know how to promote it.
How does one market two middle-aged guys who were not exactly known in that sense? It was not an Indian product. Nor was it Western. So we did not know which market to go to. Finally, we started having dealer conferences in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras.
We spoke to them, explained the whole idea. We used every single line of media we could find. Print, television, video. The idea was to give it this strong Indian look (the achkans helped!) and try to make a marketing breakthrough for a remarkably unusual product.
What were the launch numbers?
About 10,000 cassettes. Then, we watched the sales go up and up and up, beyond our wildest expectations.
To how much?
About 800,000. It was a great feeling, to scale those heights and then to see the two of them win all those awards. The MTV Award. The Channel [V] Award. The Billboard Award. It was great three-way marketing. Between the artistes, ourselves, the media. It was an exercise I will never forget and will always be proud of.
What do you see as your single biggest success story in terms of business?
The decision to not go with films. To create an alternative independent genre of music in a scene which was controlled by films. We broadened the legitimacy of the business. We enhanced its respectability. We showed people that music had the potential to become a full-time vocation.
Today, parents tell their kids, 'go and sing'. There's nothing wrong with it any more. It's no less a vocation than being a doctor or an engineer or a chartered accountant. We are responsible for this. It is a major, major breakthrough. After all, when you talk of increasing your business, increasing your repertoire, increasing your catalogue, the most important thing is talent. You cannot get anywhere with just two or three artistes.
My success today lies in the fact that talent is no longer a problem. We have created the right environment for it to grow and flourish.
Why did you give up the best jobs to strike out on your own? Wasn't it risky?
My tenure in HMV came to an abrupt ending when a new managing director came in from the UK for a three-month assignment. He tried to make my life difficult but I thank him today. He made some rude remarks about Indians and I just walked out of the office and never went back.
I had no idea how to start a business. I did not know where the resources would come from. It was just anger that gave me the courage to do my own thing.
What was the first music album you brought out?
An album of Pandit Jasraj, which till today remains one of our best-selling items on the catalogue.
Why doesn't catalogue music no longer sell? Certainly not as well as new releases.
Because the shops are very small and they do not have enough space to keep music other than new releases.
The way things are going we will have 600 megastores all over India in the next two years. That will certainly change things. The catalogues' sales will rise. So will all music sales.
Which album of yours has sold the most?
Alisha's Made in India.
Over 3.8 million cassettes.
Why did your relationship with Alisha sour?
Handling success is not easy. There are many people who try to disturb a successful relationship. It is not just Alisha. Every successful artiste is a victim of this. Wrong advisers come and build a huge wall between the partners who have created the success. They are the spoilers. Music is something that needs a lot of healthy interaction, a lot of pleasantry. It needs genuine creativity which can only happen when two hearts vibe well. You can't do that with suspicions, doubts, lurking thoughts at the back of your mind.
Why did you stop publishing angrezi music?
We realised earlier than everyone else that India was rapidly Indianising. Just like Germany was. Or Japan or France. We realised that the Baba Sehgals, the Stylebhais, the Alishas and the Colonial Cousins were pushing back frontiers and if we invested the amount of effort that we were investing in Western music in Indian pop, we would get infinitely higher returns. History shows that we took the right steps at the right time.
Why does the relationship between a recording company and its star artistes always end up in ugly brawls?
It has something to do with the stage of infancy of this business in India. We are about to see the start of the music industry in India today. It is only Rs 12 billion in size. It will grow much bigger, much faster now.
But because the business is in a stage of infancy, people do not know how to cope with differences of opinion. Be it in the areas of advertising, promotions, sales figures, reporting, royalties. And if you are a successful star and you tend to get angry easily, it is easy to rush off to the press and shout to the world that you have been cheated by your music company.
The press unfortunately does not know enough about the industry to make a correct assessment of the charge and so it carries whatever is told to it.
All this will change, Pritish, as we go up the evolutionary ladder. As the music scene matures, so does the market.
Interestingly, we have not lost out because of this. For every two or three artistes who fight and leave us, seven or eight new artistes come in. Some, such as Hariharan, have come back to us. Important artistes such as Kavita Krishnamurti and Suresh Wadkar have come to us. On an exclusive basis.
The market is growing bigger and bigger and things are changing every day. A time will soon come when new music stars will emerge every week and there will be enough to go around. No one will complain then.
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