Jan 26, 2010 Future
Posted by pmgandhi
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 last.fm 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?