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   Nidhi Taparia


How did Indian rock band Pentagram discover the power of the Internet? By reaching the top of the Asian charts at Mp3.com within three weeks.

They are now restructuring their site while getting ready for the release of their next album, and plan to upload clips and get feedback from fans about their new sound. Talking about the Mp3.com achievement, lead singer Vishal Dadlani says, "It went ballistic within a day and promotion didnít cost us a thing. Downloads were free and while that hasnít translated into sales it means more people are listening to our work." Thanks to the exposure, Pentagram was invited to play in Germany this year and is to play at US college festivals next year.

Theyíre not the only musicians who owe good fortune to the Internet. Daler Mehendiís biggest show in South East Asia this year happened thanks to enquiries at his site. The popular Punjabi singer went online three years ago and says the fan mail has been close to 50,000 every month: "The number of people listening to clips and the emails I get makes me feel good." He also plans to post information about future albums online. "Though I canít sell my music through my site because of licenses with different companies, I think it manages to reach out to my target audience."

Similarly, entrants in the arena of classical singing, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangsh, sons of sarod exponent Amjad Ali Khan, make optimum use of their site. "We have a museum called Sarod Ghar in Gwalior -- one of its kind -- which has information and instruments of legendary sarod players. This runs on a government grant and we use the site to promote it and garner additional funds." They also plan to launch an online teaching school in a few months where students can log in for lectures.

The duo has performed at over 60 concerts abroad, inquiries for all of come through the site. "We have been invited to places like Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and Australia, which surprises us because we didnít know those places had musically-inclined communities. So, yes, the Internet provides us with an audience."

Indipop singer Anaida likes cyberspace too. She had fans create a club for her, where discussions range from the weather to spirituality and her stage shows. "I received a message from a fan who requested me to become the co-founder for the e-group. I did and itís been great fun. Though fan mail via post is still larger, online fan mail is a lot more personal," she says. "A member of the chat room also contributed to the building of my site."

For Indipop star Mehnaz the Internet was a way reach her fans in a more personal way. "I had photographs shot specifically for the site to help visitors get a feel of the person I am, my songs and my music, which one cannot do on the inlay of a cassette or CD. And the hits justify the number of fans I have managed to reach around the world.íí

Singer Suneeta Rao is also glad to have her own site, and has definitive views about file sharing, "I donít want to try anything illegal. Artists should get paid for their work."

Music makers are also beginning to get Net savvy. Audio clips at Sony Music register a large number of hits. The company is currently working on plans to sample and test audience reactions to new albums online. "According to research, seven per cent of a surferís time online is spent downloading music. We use our site to reach out to those who want to listen before buying," says Upamanyu Bhattacharya, Manager, New Technologies, Sony Music.

Dhadkan.com uploaded clips off Grammy Award winner Vishwa Mohan Bhattís latest album at Yahoo! . "As a promotional research exercise this worked very well. While it didnít result into any online sales, it may have translated into sales offline," says Siddharth Taparia, CEO, Dhadkan.com. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is pleased with the effort too. His own site attracts not just praise but also students from around the world keen on learning from the maestro. "I am not very Net-savvy, but it helps me keep in touch with a generation of music lovers who would not otherwise have heard my music."

Not everyone has had a positive experience online though. Shubha Mudgal shut her classical forum Raag Sangeet after a period of two years. "It was a niche site which provided authentic information on Indian classical music and acted as a forum for musicians to come together. But I couldnít support it alone. Shutting it down was heart breaking."

The last word goes to Vishal of Pentagram who says, "As a musician, one should try everything. Especially online -- newsletters, web rings, even Napster. Anything helps!"



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