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Re-mix and match

Soumik Sen | May 17, 2003

It's a top-selling tune that's available in all the best music shops. But Return of the Daddy Mix isn't a Lata Mangeshkar number and it isn't from the latest Bollywood blockbuster. It's a catchy old Hindi film hit that has been tarted up and turned into a 21st century hit.

Welcome to the world of the remix. Return of the Daddy Mix isn't the only tune that's being dug out of the archives and turned into a 2003 hit. The entire industry is swinging to the beat of numbers like Dance Masti from Sony and 440 Volts from Times Music.

"It's an emerging trend but remix albums are clearly here to stay," says Vijay Lazarus, chairman Universal Music. Lazarus is also president of the Indian Music Industry.

For those who haven't had their ear to the ground, remixes are the new trend sweeping the music industry. Officially everyone deplores it but in actual practice everyone is racing into the studios and putting together their own remix albums. The result is numbers like Aur Ek Haseena Thi from T-series and Trend No. 1 from Virgin.

Certainly remixes have caught on quickly in an industry that has been battered by the failure of the Hindi movie industry to produce a good hit.

That shows in places like MusicWorld in Delhi's Ansal Plaza. Here Return of the Daddy Mix is reckoned to be one of the week's bestsellers. And according to a list brought out by one music store, seven out of the top ten numbers in the Indipop category are remix albums.

This week's topseller in the Indipop category, according to the music store is Aur Ek Hasina Thi which is selling around 400 copies a week.

How much is the remix segment of the music industry worth? It's still a tiny fraction of the Rs 620-crore (Rs 6.2 billion) legitimate music industry. Some industry sources say it's worth about Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million).

But that figure doesn't include the vast amount of pirated remix albums that are floating about in shops around the country. Of the Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion) plus illegitimate or pirated music market, remixes account for as much as Rs 125 crore (Rs 1.25 billion).

Says one music industry executive: "In a situation, where film music is not delivering the kind of success it used to, and no inspiring new creatives are being produced, remixes seem to be the new and easy option."

There's another key factor that makes remixes even more attractive. It is reckoned that remixes have an extraordinarily high 25 per cent to 30 per cent hit rate. That's compared to about 10 per cent in other categories.

The advantages and the attractions of remixes are obvious even to the layman. Music industry executives don't have to deal with prima donna singers who want fat cheques every time they hit a high note.

Here all that has to be done is to subtly doctor an old number, give it a bit of 21st century oomph and bounce, and then sit back and wait for the cash registers to start singing. All that's needed is a music arranger, audio software that can add new sounds and a recording studio.

Music industry executives say it isn't that simple. The bigger companies like Sony Music tend to spend heavily to cut a remix album.

The recording can cost around Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) and another Rs 10 lakh must be spent on the music video. On top of all that, marketing expenses for a big album could be around Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million). Smaller companies, inevitably, do it on the cheap.

How did the remix industry come into existence? At the root is Article 52 (1)(j) of the Copyright Act. According to the IMI, the section allows labels to identify a composition which is more than two years old and inform the parent recording company.

There's no need to take permission and the payment is 5 per cent royalty on the retail price of every cassette sold. Says Lazarus, "Section 52(1)(j) has unjustly reduced the 60-year protection of original works to a mere two years."

Inevitably, there have been problems. Most executives say that under-recording means that the right royalties aren't paid. What's more, it's almost impossible to check how many albums are being sold.

Says Sony Music managing director Shridhar Subramanyam: "Some companies don't declare the right volume of sales and consequently don't pay the right amount as royalty."

That isn't the only loophole or problem faced by the companies. Many of the fly-by-night operators are impossible to trace.

Says Abhik Mitra, managing director, Saregama India: "A lot of these companies that inform us of remix recordings have untraceable contact details."

Nevertheless, even the biggest players have been turning out remixes. Saregama, which owned a huge number of rights to older albums, used to be plagued by problems with remix albums.

Today it has also entered the segment. And Sony Music had a successful hit with  Dance Masti. The well-reproduced old Hindi film music album became quite a rage.

Still, industry executives admit to guilt about the segment. Says Shameer Tandon of Virgin: "Music recording companies are in the creative business and remix is not the way the industry should move forward. We don't approve of it, but we can't help it."

So does it mean that the remix industry is all bad? Not really, feel some. "Remixes are the way that we can ensure that timeless great music doesn't get lost," says Subramanyam.

Other executives insist that record companies abroad also follow similar practices. Says Times Music head Ravi Bhatnagar, "Version recordings is a standard practice in Western markets. In the United States there is a mandated practice of compulsory licensing. So long as you provide information and pay royalties, it is legal -- that's the long and short of it."

Most members of the music fraternity feel that Section 52.(1)(j) should be abolished. The only exception is T-Series, the only major music company, which has chosen to stay out of the IMI fold.

"We will definitely obey whatever the copyright board rules, but I feel people are unnecessarily creating a ruckus, " says T-Series vice president Pradeep Gangal.

There are many who believe that remixes show that the industry has run out of ideas. As Bhatnagar sums up, "It is more likely that the current failure of the mainstream business has led to an inordinate focus on the remix category. The real issues for the industry are a focus on creativity and a focus on costs."

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