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What's wrong with India's music industry?
Abhilasha Ojha in New Delhi | September 05, 2005
On the surface, the Indian music industry seems peaceful enough, steeped in glamour, and a perfect blend of melodies. Look closer though and you'll see the rifts -- little faultlines that indicate a strain in the relationship between artistes and music companies.
And this strain has come to a head with the registration, last month, of the Singers' Association of India, which aims to tackle the "problems faced by the industry today."
Problems? Isn't this the industry everyone wants to be part of -- an industry that has given us our Indian Idol Abhijeet Sawant, our desi crooner Rabbi Shergill, and that is increasingly attracting global voices such as Trickbaby, Juggy D and Raghav, to name just a few?
It's also the industry where Pakistani artistes Junoon, Strings, Fuzon and, more recently, Jal and Ali Zafar, are finding a firm foothold as they release albums to an increasing fan following. A place for artistes to co-exist happily in, to live and let live?
This industry, which in the 1990s boasted of a turnover of Rs 1,150 crore (Rs 11.50 billion), now stands abysmally low at Rs 450 crore (Rs 4.50 billion). What's more, the notes and melodies are shaky, out of tune and discordant as the industry is plagued with controversies, discontent and a growing unrest between music companies on the one hand, and music composers, lyricists and singers on the other.
In other words, strip the music industry of its sheen and one finds a range of issues that need urgent attention. As well-known playback singer and television anchor Shaan says, "It's easy to highlight the trends of the music industry, but that's the glamorous part." A brief pause and he adds, "Let's discuss the real story."
But what is the real story? Different versions rest with different parties. While music directors, singers and lyricists take a break from strumming their instruments to point fingers at music companies for mistreating them, the latter have their own ripostes. But whatever the disagreement, both sides agree that the issue of piracy that has eaten into the music industry and left it hollow.
Palash Sen, lead singer of New Delhi-based group Euphoria, says, "Technology has advanced considerably and expanded the listeners' base, what with people downloading music at a low cost. Music is easily heard on radio channels, music videos are shown on television and people are happily listening to innumerable songs on their MP3 players. However, this is precisely what has led to a considerable decrease in the sales of the music albums."
Nobody, says Sen, wants to buy music cassettes or CDs any more "because they're happily downloading music off the Net." Savio D'Souza, secretary general, Indian Music Industry (IMI) agrees, citing this as one of the prime reasons why the industry has bled profusely in the past few years. "The industry has lost nearly Rs 450 crore to piracy," he confirms.
But this is where the duet between IMI and musicians ends, with both parties opting for a solo track thereafter.
Take Singers' Association of India (SAI), the association started by playback singer Sonu Nigam along with colleagues Alka Yagnik and Suresh Wadekar that, in the singer's own words, "is aimed at tapping the real issues that music companies fail to address."
What could possibly prompt Nigam, one of India's busiest playback singers, to make such a statement? "If you hear the hit song 'Kajrare' from the film Bunty aur Babli, it's called the Aishwarya-Amitabh-Abhishek song. No one calls it the Shankar Mahadevan-Alisha Chinai-Jaaved Ali song. It's such a wrong attitude, and that's what we want to change," he says firmly.
He feels music companies need to aggressively market singers, encourage the non-film music market, give them their fair share of royalty and, essentially, "give singers due respect." His colleague Kunal Ganjawalla, also a member of SAI, puts it simply, "You can't mix the Grammy awards with the Oscars."
"As long as the issue of royalty remains unsettled," he says, "musicians will continue to be insecure." Music companies, he feels, need to have faith in their artistes, and the industry on the whole needs to be structured properly and give artistes their rightful share of money.
The controversies regarding royalty seem to be on the minds of almost everyone in the industry. What's more, with technology advancing so rapidly, musicians want a share of the pie on not just cassettes and CDs but also from radio and television channels that air their songs, from sites that allow people to download music, and from ringtones that are being downloaded at a rapid pace.
"If we compose a tune and it is played in pubs, discos or even live shows, we should rightfully be earning royalties on the music," says music director Ehsaan Noorani, who says that "The ringtones issue is the latest controversy that needs to be urgently addressed by the music fraternity."
It turns out that music directors, singers and lyricists are demanding an equitable share of revenue for their music that ends up as ringtone downloads.
Currently, music companies end up cornering what, according to musicians, should be rightfully theirs. Though there are no reports to suggest how big the ringtone market is in India, Rakesh Nigam, general manager, Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS), confirms that nearly 200,000 ringtones are downloaded in India everyday.
With film and popular song downloads becoming increasingly popular, the telecom companies are charging anywhere between Rs 7 and Rs 12 per ringtone download. IPRS's Nigam adds that of the Rs 7 for a single ringtone download, the lion's share -- nearly 60 per cent -- goes to the mobile service provider, while 25 per cent rests with the copyright owners (usually music companies which, in turn, are expected to pay the artistes) and 15 per cent is given to the government. But writers and composers gripe that they are barely paid 12 paise of this Rs 7, if at all.
D'Souza, however, makes a point, "The business of ringtones," he says, "contributes merely Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million) of the music industry's total revenue."
He feels musicians blaming music companies for having wronged them and robbed them of their rightful royalty should understand that a majority of music companies are in the red due to issues plaguing the industry: "We're losing money to piracy."
He feels that the division of revenue, not just for ringtones but also for music albums, is based on individual contracts signed with the composers and singers. "If the contract gives the copyright of a music album to the company then obviously it (the company) has every right on the music."
While most musicians admit the issue of royalty has invariably hit the wrong chords with music companies, some musicians willingly offer an explanation.
Music director Anu Malik, for instance, asks, "Can I refuse a Shah Rukh Khan film on a royalty issue? I don't think so." He strongly feels musicians too need to adapt and accept changes in technology. "You can't stop iPods from coming into the market, or for that matter ringtones from getting downloaded."
Musicians say it's precisely for this reason that they've now increasingly started airing their views. "If technology is changing rapidly, we have even more reasons to be informed of our rights."
He argues, "As musicians we're not greedy, we're just becoming aware." Call it awareness or the need to keep in step with the changing times or even a fight for their rights, the issues regarding royalty are clearly stepping up the tempo for musicians.
Though most of the music fraternity is tight-lipped about forming an organisation, sources admit that musicians like Lalit Pandit (Jatin-Lalit), Aadesh Srivastava and Javed Akhtar are garnering a lot of goodwill and support from their colleagues.
"Javed Sa'ab has been going to Kolkata quite often since the past one year with regards to a court case that involves IMI and musicians on a particular royalty issue," admits this source who adds, "Funds are being collected invariably for this cause and I'm told nearly Rs 2 lakh is spent every month on this case alone."
D'Souza refuses to comment on the issue, saying the matter is still sub judice. However, he feels musicians are missing the core issue. "We should be tackling the issue of piracy, we should be worried about recovering the losses that are to the tune of anywhere between Rs 450-500 crore (Rs 4.5-5 billion)," he feels.
Musicians, however, argue that it's not just a recent trend; music companies have robbed them of their righful dues for a long time.
Music director Aadesh Srivastava explains, "Our seniors haven't been given justice at all. Till date, senior composers like Khyaam Sa'ab and Pyarelalji (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal) are waiting for royalties from some of their films." "Music companies," says Srivastava rather sternly, "create plastic boxes; it's ultimately our music that's helping them sell those boxes."
Not always, feels D'Souza. "When the film Murder was released, HMV Saregama paid more royalty to the concerned parties. The music was such a hit and sold tremendously, which is why the company didn't hesitate to give them their due," he argues.
Shamir Tandon, general manager, Virgin Records (India) and music director, stresses further, "Invariably, artistes end up signing rotten deals with companies and regret it later."
He may have a point because controversies echo not just in the film music fraternity but also in the non-film albums category that make up nearly Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) of the total music market in India.
Back in the '90s, when the music industry was beginning to open up to an increasing number of Indi-pop acts, companies didn't hesitate to invest in promoting artistes. The norm at the time was to approach music companies with a good demo (usually of three songs or more) after which the companies decided to invest accordingly.
Today, music bands and Indi-pop artistes have to invest their own money to bring out an album. "Music companies continued to encourage half-baked products and subsequently declined," says a source.
A majority of Indian artistes feel that it's this attitude of the Indian music companies that has encouraged international artistes like Trickbaby, Juggy D and Raghav to capture the Indian market. Usually, the cost of bringing out a non-film music album is anywhere between Rs 35 lakh (Rs 3.5 million) and Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million).
A majority of artistes feel that music companies are not willing to shell out that kind of money on their artistes and would prefer the artistes to give them the finished product.
This means that the artiste records the album, complete with mixing and mastering, and also shells out the money for the music videos. The role of music companies, feel musicians, has been relegated to giving the album the required publicity and bringing it out on the music shelves (cost: approximately Rs 15 lakh -- or Rs 1.5 million).
Music director Shantanu Moitra feels the non-film music category should be encouraged to grow. He says, "Folk music in particular needs to be encouraged as it's a limited resource."
Like a majority of his colleagues, Moitra feels "self-sponsored albums and remixes have resulted in the gradual death of the music industry in India." He adds, "Even as we're talking of royalties and copyright issues, Fashion TV is blaring 90 per cent of the sound bytes from different Rajasthani folk songs and tunes."
The situation, according to musicians, is getting bleaker, especially as a new trend arises. This time it's a loaning facility wherein a particular music company loans an amount to an artiste for bringing out an album.
The artiste, in turn, is expected to pay it back at the end of a certain period. Though music companies remain tight-lipped on this issue and artistes prefer not to talk about it in the open, the status is obvious. A majority of established artistes are finding it increasingly tough to convince music companies to invest money in their projects.
"As a band, Euphoria," says Sen, "is fighting a lonely battle. Even if we venture into film music, ultimately this (non-film music) is our forte. This is what we want to give to our fans and this is what they expect to hear."
He feels, besides other reasons, it's the dearth of Artistes & Repertoire (A&R) managers in music companies that has led to a downfall of the non-film market and the poor marketing of artistes' albums. The poor marketing of albums and artistes by companies is also reason why the non-film album category is faring so poorly.
"Look at the way Sony BMG and Sony television marketed Abhijeet Sawant. That's the kind of marketing we need," says Nigam. Shaan also calls it a valid trend and says, "Television and media are creating the stars today."
Perhaps that explains why Abhijeet Sawant's debut album has sold nearly 900,000 copies already -- a fantastic figure by industry standards where a film album (that makes up for Rs 400 crore -- Rs 4 billion -- of the total music market in India) doesn't sell more than 500,000 copies in today's scenario.
Sony BMG is said to have invested nearly Rs 60 lakh (Rs 6 million) on Sawant's album. "I received a cheque of Rs 5 lakh (Rs 500,000) as advance for the album," Sawant says. He also negates the issue of royalty and adds, "I've not had any problem so far and regularly get cheques of Rs 2,000-3,000 as royalty from the first Indian Idol album that all the contestants has recorded earlier."
The only other artiste to have come so far has been Rabbi who sold a whopping 60,000 copies within a month of its release in March 2004.
Anand Surapur, the man behind Rabbi and founder, Phatphish records, says, "I was passionate about thealbum and invested nearly Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) on this project." Moitra feels, "Rabbi's success lay in the fact that he came out with a fresh sound at a time when the market had nothing new to offer."
The industry orchestra isn't likely to serve up too many winners though if the current status quo between key members of the industry isn't sorted out some time soon.
Maybe the Singers Association will help mend the differences; maybe it'll fuel it further. Either way, making music isn't going to be fun for some more time to come.