Business of Music in India

…exploring the future…

Musicians – Help me discover you

My current favourite song is “The Long road” by Eddie Vedder and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Eddie Vedder is the lead vocalist for hard rock band Pearl Jam and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was the famous Sufi ghazal artist. The song itself is a melodious tune that combines the hard edged voice of Vedder with a background of tablas, sitar and Nusrat’s majestic voice. Why do I like it? I don’t know – I just love this kind of fusion music and consequently I am always on the lookout for artistes / groups that cater to my particular taste in music.

My other favourite is “Gurupaduka stotram”, an age old mantra sung with modern background music. I discovered it on Spotify after listening to another favourite of mine “Sri Rudram” by Tantrica. It helped me discover Stephen Devassy, an artist I had never heard before, but now I have most of his music in my Itunes.

How did I discover them? Well, it’s nothing short of magical. Music has been codified to such an extent that I can specify the artist or song that I like on and it would, in effect, create a personalized radio station for me. I can listen to and vote on the music recommended through this stream. The recommendation engine factors in my votes to suggest more such music. The next logical step for me is to search for the same in Itunes and buy it for my Ipod. The cost of buying a single is a meagre 79p which is half the cost of a cup of coffee. It’s cheap, easy and convenient.

Contrast that with the cost of music discovery just a decade or two earlier. Back then my discoveries were limited to what the local cassette shops had in stock and from the older siblings of my friends. Consequently, I (and I am sure many others) treaded along the well worn path of listening to the Madonnas, the Michael Jacksons and Whams.

College days were only marginally better as I could now get inputs from a wider group – but again I fell into the trap of Guns n Roses, Metallica and Queen rather than any exotic stuff. The cost of acquisition for their music still remained considerably high. I used to spend hours in Rhythm house browsing through titles just to familiarise myself with names.

It was an awkward place to be in those days as there was no easy way to discover music unless you borrowed or bought. The latter was not really an option as a single tape in those days cost Rs. 45 upwards, which would cause a significant dent in my pocket money.  This lack of choice only benefitted the few stars who had made a name for themselves at possibly the expense of others.  I, for one, am thankful for all the revolutionary changes that have happened to the industry since then.

I know there are lots of artistes who shy away from digitizing their song arguing that it would be pirated if available in digital format. I think there are a couple of serious flaws in their argument. It’s very easy for anyone possessing a legitimate CD of the artiste to create the digital version of it using software like Itunes. So the fact that the artiste desists from digitizing the song will not stop the pirated version going up on P2P networks. Also, the fact that the song might be available free on the P2P networks doesn’t mean that everyone will download it. There are millions of songs out there available for free ( albeit illegitimately) – so unless your song is special, music lovers will not be spending their precious time over it.

Yes there is a lot of piracy and yes there will be what one might term “lost” revenues. Is it any different than what people did earlier i.e. make custom tapes after borrowing from someone or burning a CD? I cannot understand why one version is considered piracy and other one not? It’s only the format that has changed nothing more.

I suggest that the industry needs to adapt to this changing landscape and instead of fighting it, leverage it for their own benefit. Here are some of the upsides for the musicians.

1. Proliferation of song is a good thing even if it results in some perceived lost revenues. Open source software or Flickr photos with creative commons license proves the point in the respective industries. As a musician,you are creating a brand for yourself and for your work.

2. You are no longer constrained to produce as dictated by the music companies’ execs – you can focus on producing what you are doing best. The likes of MTV and Radio Mirchi no longer dictate what music lovers can and cannot listen to. It is absolutely a liberating idea. So bring on all your quirkiness and your innovative ideas and pour your heart into it

3. This is no longer the age of information economy – it is the age of experience economy. So focus your attention more on live performances, selling memorabilia, and concert recordings. Those are your cash cows now – the music track is just the enabler.

4. Engage with your fans. They have long suffered the ills of music companies’ greed. Think about all the marketing ploys like releasing an extra track into your album 6 months after the initial release. Guess who suffers because of this? It’s the early adopters – the fans who love your music and are crazy enough to hold on to two copies just for the extra track. Now is your chance to engage and foster a community spirit around your music.

5. Engage with a global audience. With Itunes, Spotify and Rebeat, your song is available to anyone in the world. You’d be surprised to see how popular your music is in obscure parts of the world.

6. Honest feedback. You will know what is liked and what is disliked. There is no hiding behind any shoddy work any more.

The question you need to ask yourself is – Can you afford not to discover your fans?

At his own pace: LUCKY ALI.

In an informal chat with this singer/composer, we share with you information about his latest online release, and also about what he feels about the online music business. Read on…

[Aditya Mehta] Congratulations Lucky, on the launch of your music album “Xsuie”, exclusively on the Internet.
Lucky Ali's latest music album
[AM] What does “Xsuie” mean?
[Lucky Ali] xsuie is an adaptation of the hindustani word “ik soi”, which generally means doing things at one’s own pace.

[AM]  Please tell us something more about this album.
[LA] All the tracks on this compilation have been in process for a while now, some of the tracks go back to early composition years like ‘sea of life’.

[AM] Where were the songs recorded?

[LA] As is our habit, a track isn’t completed until it is released. We are sticklers for change and keep correcting and tweaking our stuff until we release it, the tracks were recorded during our travels, some in New Zealand, Mauritius, Bangalore, Chennai, Bombay and the UK. mike and i like to travel with our studio and we constantly put down ideas wherever and whenever possible.

[AM] Where is Xsuie available?

[LA] This album being an online release, we have distributed our music through <>,, itunes, amazon, rhapsody, emusic, cd freedom etc. There will be more indian portals as we go along.

[AM] Why did you choose to release this album “online” only?

[LA] We realised a few years ago that music companies were struggling to keep their heads above water, we were paying for their overheads, and not really getting anywhere in terms of creativity etc. So, we decided to stay put until it passed over and worked on an out of the box release when the time was right…and The Time is NOW.

We have our solutions in place and apart from releasing this music, we are encouraging other musicians to follow suit and experience the direct to fan space which is how any musician/ artist would like to see their work expressed and appreciated.

[AM]  Not many of your fans will have access to the Net. So they may not even know about this album. How do you plan to let them know?

[LA] This is an uphill task. We are aware that not all our listeners have access to the internet, but they have phones which are excellent mp3 players. So they will download the track that they like onto their phones.

Physical sales are history, the general vibe is why should i go out and buy something outside when it can be delivered to me directly in the comfort of my own space. and yes publicity and marketing are paramount.

[AM]  Just being a good musician / composer is not enough in today’s tech-savvy world. What do you feel?

[LA] Being true to your work is enough; all else follows regardless.

It helps to know the direction of your journey so you keep your mind eyes and ears open and deal with the obstacles as they surface.

[AM]  Do you feel that commercialisation affects creativity in music?

[LA] Commercialisation does affect creativity and greed doesn’t help karma. One has to accomplish a balance within in order to differentiate between the wheat and the chaff.

[AM] What is your advice to youngsters today who wish to build a career in the music industry?

[LA] Its a crazy world out there and artists are sensitive by nature. So my advise would be to take small steps, and be aware of the environment you intend to express yourself in.

[AM] Besides online videos, what other ways are you adopting to promote your new album?

[LA] I’ll just keep on writing music, and in this way if the music is good, the listeners will promote it. Its very simple.

[AM] Thank you Lucky. Best wishes, Aditya –