Fame ≠ fortune: Pakistani musicians in the post-CD age

The bright lights of fame obscure financial challenges musicians face when consumers no longer need to pay for music. —Creative commons

I've always been fascinated by the tendency to conflate fame with wealth. The hackneyed phrase, ‘fame and fortune’ seems to imply that they're one and the same thing, or more confusingly, that they go together.

In some ways, there's never been a clearer route to becoming famous as a musician in Pakistan.

Talent hunt competitions are a feature of prime time TV and 24-hour music channels are watched in most homes. The slickly produced videos and widespread publicity that Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement generate also means that there is glamour associated with the life of a musician.

But after speaking to a number of people in the industry, I realised that my understanding of the music business was based on a number of shaky assumptions.

Fame ≠ fortune

I used to think that the fact that someone's work was being broadcast meant they were popular and hence 'successful'. But the problem is that the bright lights of fame tend to obscure the grim financial challenges that musicians face in an age where consumers don't pay for music.

The reality is that if one pays too much attention to the recognition that many artistes enjoy, you'll miss the more important story of the uncertainty facing musicians due to the upheaval in the global music industry.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the size of the music industry was $15 billion in 2003, with CDs accounting for just under 95 per cent of revenues. Ten years later, the industry's revenues have more than halved to $7 billion, with CDs only representing 35 per cent of total sales. Why is this so?

To understand this, I think, it would be useful to look at things in a more practical way: let's take a super-hit song.

Think of Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi's Alif Allah Chambey Di Booth (aka Juggni) from Coke Studio's third season. You'd hear the song on the radio, 24-hour music channels, advertisements and even during prime time news — no consumer would have to pay directly to listen to the song.

As a matter of fact, you no longer have to buy any song at all. You can just download it or stream it at home at no cost.

The bright lights of fame obscure financial challenges musicians face when consumers no longer need to pay for music. —Creative commons

I've always been fascinated by the tendency to conflate fame with wealth. The hackneyed phrase, ‘fame and fortune’ seems to imply that they're one and the same thing, or more confusingly, that they go together.

In some ways, there's never been a clearer route to becoming famous as a musician in Pakistan.

Talent hunt competitions are a feature of prime time TV and 24-hour music channels are watched in most homes. The slickly produced videos and widespread publicity that Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement generate also means that there is glamour associated with the life of a musician.

But after speaking to a number of people in the industry, I realised that my understanding of the music business was based on a number of shaky assumptions.

Fame ≠ fortune

I used to think that the fact that someone's work was being broadcast meant they were popular and hence 'successful'. But the problem is that the bright lights of fame tend to obscure the grim financial challenges that musicians face in an age where consumers don't pay for music.

The reality is that if one pays too much attention to the recognition that many artistes enjoy, you'll miss the more important story of the uncertainty facing musicians due to the upheaval in the global music industry.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the size of the music industry was $15 billion in 2003, with CDs accounting for just under 95 per cent of revenues. Ten years later, the industry's revenues have more than halved to $7 billion, with CDs only representing 35 per cent of total sales. Why is this so?

To understand this, I think, it would be useful to look at things in a more practical way: let's take a super-hit song.

Think of Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi's Alif Allah Chambey Di Booth (aka Juggni) from Coke Studio's third season. You'd hear the song on the radio, 24-hour music channels, advertisements and even during prime time news — no consumer would have to pay directly to listen to the song.

As a matter of fact, you no longer have to buy any song at all. You can just download it or stream it at home at no cost.

This easy availability of free music has completely disrupted the career path for musicians because it has made the intermediary, the record company, almost irrelevant.

Also read: 6LA8: A dream come true

In the past, where CDs and cassettes were the only way to consume music, artistes would treat a recording contract as their big break. Their career would revolve around this key financial relationship as the recording firm would provide them with all the facilities needed to make an album and also manage its marketing.

This void means that musicians now have to handle the business side of the industry that a record company used to take charge of, and to take on more entrepreneurial activities.

I found it hard to believe how drastic this change was until I spoke to former Awaz singer, Haroon. In the past, popular Pakistani artistes have managed to sell a single album to record companies for advance sums as high as Rs10 million. Haroon himself said that he earned Rs3 million from the sale of his solo album Lagaan.

The new reality for the music industry is characterised by the absence of an established path to earn a living and by the lack of easy access to infrastructure and marketing channels. When I spoke to music producer, Kashan Admani and renowned composer, Arshad Mahmud, I got a sense that musicians can no longer just confine themselves to their instruments.

Unlikely entrepreneurs

Signing a deal with a record company is not a viable option anymore and so, musicians now need to be more aware of the business aspects of industry and to be equipped with a wider array of skills that are traditionally associated with entrepreneurship; such as arranging finances for their ventures, hiring other artistes to produce songs and finally, marketing their work.

The diminished role of record companies in the industry has also resulted in a new development in the industry: artistes releasing albums in Pakistan independently.

This involves a musician assuming responsibility for every step of a daunting project — everything from the making of the song to supervising the production of CDs and then arranging for sales and marketing.

Take a look: Soundcheck: Day of the Dead

Undeterred by the challenge of effectively transforming into a one-person recording company, two female artistes have recently released their debut alums in Pakistan on an independent basis:

In 2013, Aliya Chinoy put out an all-English album, Almost Dawn, and in September 2014, Zoe Viccaji released Dareeche.

Naturally, this has led to another notable trend: 'musician-entrepreneurs' investing in their own studios.

 Aliya Chinoy released her all-English album, 'Almost Dawn' in 2013.

The bright lights of fame obscure financial challenges musicians face when consumers no longer need to pay for music. —Creative commons

I've always been fascinated by the tendency to conflate fame with wealth. The hackneyed phrase, ‘fame and fortune’ seems to imply that they're one and the same thing, or more confusingly, that they go together.

In some ways, there's never been a clearer route to becoming famous as a musician in Pakistan.

Talent hunt competitions are a feature of prime time TV and 24-hour music channels are watched in most homes. The slickly produced videos and widespread publicity that Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement generate also means that there is glamour associated with the life of a musician.

But after speaking to a number of people in the industry, I realised that my understanding of the music business was based on a number of shaky assumptions.

Fame ≠ fortune

I used to think that the fact that someone's work was being broadcast meant they were popular and hence 'successful'. But the problem is that the bright lights of fame tend to obscure the grim financial challenges that musicians face in an age where consumers don't pay for music.

The reality is that if one pays too much attention to the recognition that many artistes enjoy, you'll miss the more important story of the uncertainty facing musicians due to the upheaval in the global music industry.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the size of the music industry was $15 billion in 2003, with CDs accounting for just under 95 per cent of revenues. Ten years later, the industry's revenues have more than halved to $7 billion, with CDs only representing 35 per cent of total sales. Why is this so?

To understand this, I think, it would be useful to look at things in a more practical way: let's take a super-hit song.

Think of Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi's Alif Allah Chambey Di Booth (aka Juggni) from Coke Studio's third season. You'd hear the song on the radio, 24-hour music channels, advertisements and even during prime time news — no consumer would have to pay directly to listen to the song.

As a matter of fact, you no longer have to buy any song at all. You can just download it or stream it at home at no cost.

This easy availability of free music has completely disrupted the career path for musicians because it has made the intermediary, the record company, almost irrelevant.

Also read: 6LA8: A dream come true

In the past, where CDs and cassettes were the only way to consume music, artistes would treat a recording contract as their big break. Their career would revolve around this key financial relationship as the recording firm would provide them with all the facilities needed to make an album and also manage its marketing.

This void means that musicians now have to handle the business side of the industry that a record company used to take charge of, and to take on more entrepreneurial activities.

I found it hard to believe how drastic this change was until I spoke to former Awaz singer, Haroon. In the past, popular Pakistani artistes have managed to sell a single album to record companies for advance sums as high as Rs10 million. Haroon himself said that he earned Rs3 million from the sale of his solo album Lagaan.

The new reality for the music industry is characterised by the absence of an established path to earn a living and by the lack of easy access to infrastructure and marketing channels. When I spoke to music producer, Kashan Admani and renowned composer, Arshad Mahmud, I got a sense that musicians can no longer just confine themselves to their instruments.

Unlikely entrepreneurs

Signing a deal with a record company is not a viable option anymore and so, musicians now need to be more aware of the business aspects of industry and to be equipped with a wider array of skills that are traditionally associated with entrepreneurship; such as arranging finances for their ventures, hiring other artistes to produce songs and finally, marketing their work.

The diminished role of record companies in the industry has also resulted in a new development in the industry: artistes releasing albums in Pakistan independently.

This involves a musician assuming responsibility for every step of a daunting project — everything from the making of the song to supervising the production of CDs and then arranging for sales and marketing.

Take a look: Soundcheck: Day of the Dead

Undeterred by the challenge of effectively transforming into a one-person recording company, two female artistes have recently released their debut alums in Pakistan on an independent basis:

In 2013, Aliya Chinoy put out an all-English album, Almost Dawn, and in September 2014, Zoe Viccaji released Dareeche.

Naturally, this has led to another notable trend: 'musician-entrepreneurs' investing in their own studios.

Aliya Chinoy released her all-English album, 'Almost Dawn' in 2013.

Interestingly, the disruptive impact of technology works in the artiste's favour here as most musicians can now produce basic songs with just an Apple laptop and a microphone. This system represents a nominal investment of Rs150,000, according to Saad Hayat, the founder of Karachi-based music studio Chota Setup Bara Sound.

Furthermore, the internet has made it much easier to learn about the technical aspects of the craft through free tutorials and the availability of sample sounds (parts of songs that can be used by other musicians).

These represent a quick fix to the expensive process of employing other musicians to produce a song. But for a full fledged studio, I learned that the investment can be much more significant. To put in place infrastructure that is able to record music of professional standards, Mr Hayat says that one needs to invest at least Rs 1.5 million.

One can get around the cost of investing in one's own studio by approaching producers who own studios. But you still have to meet the cost of making an album. I spoke to Kashan Admani, who has run Dreamstation Productions since 2003, on the cost of producing an album. He estimated that an artiste needs to spend at least Rs 1 million to record a 10-song album.

The considerable cost of creating an album means that most musicians have taken a more practical approach of releasing singles.

This means lesser funds have to be raised for each song and more importantly, the piecemeal approach enables them to focus on promoting their work. Once the song is made, the important marketing step of making a video follows which has also seen musicians forced to innovate and solve problems like entrepreneurs are required to do.

Rapper Ali Gul Pir, whose satirical music videos have over 10 million views on social media, states that videos are significantly more likely to be shared than just songs. Even though it costs at least Rs300,000 to create a video, a video also enables work to be marketed on television. While this is a significant expense, I noticed a number of novel solutions being used to financing one's work.

One such alternative to financing the entire production of the video on one's own is product placement. For example, Ali Gul Pir approached a toothpaste brand to finance the cost of his video in exchange for featuring shots of the product. Importantly, this helped finance the video without having to compromise on the song's content, which is a major concern for those in the arts.  Ali Gul Pir had a toothpaste brand   finance his video.

The bright lights of fame obscure financial challenges musicians face when consumers no longer need to pay for music. —Creative commons

I've always been fascinated by the tendency to conflate fame with wealth. The hackneyed phrase, ‘fame and fortune’ seems to imply that they're one and the same thing, or more confusingly, that they go together.

In some ways, there's never been a clearer route to becoming famous as a musician in Pakistan.

Talent hunt competitions are a feature of prime time TV and 24-hour music channels are watched in most homes. The slickly produced videos and widespread publicity that Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement generate also means that there is glamour associated with the life of a musician.

But after speaking to a number of people in the industry, I realised that my understanding of the music business was based on a number of shaky assumptions.

Fame ≠ fortune

I used to think that the fact that someone's work was being broadcast meant they were popular and hence 'successful'. But the problem is that the bright lights of fame tend to obscure the grim financial challenges that musicians face in an age where consumers don't pay for music.

The reality is that if one pays too much attention to the recognition that many artistes enjoy, you'll miss the more important story of the uncertainty facing musicians due to the upheaval in the global music industry.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the size of the music industry was $15 billion in 2003, with CDs accounting for just under 95 per cent of revenues. Ten years later, the industry's revenues have more than halved to $7 billion, with CDs only representing 35 per cent of total sales. Why is this so?

To understand this, I think, it would be useful to look at things in a more practical way: let's take a super-hit song.

Think of Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi's Alif Allah Chambey Di Booth (aka Juggni) from Coke Studio's third season. You'd hear the song on the radio, 24-hour music channels, advertisements and even during prime time news — no consumer would have to pay directly to listen to the song.

As a matter of fact, you no longer have to buy any song at all. You can just download it or stream it at home at no cost.

This easy availability of free music has completely disrupted the career path for musicians because it has made the intermediary, the record company, almost irrelevant.

Also read: 6LA8: A dream come true

In the past, where CDs and cassettes were the only way to consume music, artistes would treat a recording contract as their big break. Their career would revolve around this key financial relationship as the recording firm would provide them with all the facilities needed to make an album and also manage its marketing.

This void means that musicians now have to handle the business side of the industry that a record company used to take charge of, and to take on more entrepreneurial activities.

I found it hard to believe how drastic this change was until I spoke to former Awaz singer, Haroon. In the past, popular Pakistani artistes have managed to sell a single album to record companies for advance sums as high as Rs10 million. Haroon himself said that he earned Rs3 million from the sale of his solo album Lagaan.

The new reality for the music industry is characterised by the absence of an established path to earn a living and by the lack of easy access to infrastructure and marketing channels. When I spoke to music producer, Kashan Admani and renowned composer, Arshad Mahmud, I got a sense that musicians can no longer just confine themselves to their instruments.

Unlikely entrepreneurs

Signing a deal with a record company is not a viable option anymore and so, musicians now need to be more aware of the business aspects of industry and to be equipped with a wider array of skills that are traditionally associated with entrepreneurship; such as arranging finances for their ventures, hiring other artistes to produce songs and finally, marketing their work.

The diminished role of record companies in the industry has also resulted in a new development in the industry: artistes releasing albums in Pakistan independently.

This involves a musician assuming responsibility for every step of a daunting project — everything from the making of the song to supervising the production of CDs and then arranging for sales and marketing.

Take a look: Soundcheck: Day of the Dead

Undeterred by the challenge of effectively transforming into a one-person recording company, two female artistes have recently released their debut alums in Pakistan on an independent basis:

In 2013, Aliya Chinoy put out an all-English album, Almost Dawn, and in September 2014, Zoe Viccaji released Dareeche.

Naturally, this has led to another notable trend: 'musician-entrepreneurs' investing in their own studios.

Aliya Chinoy released her all-English album, 'Almost Dawn' in 2013.

Interestingly, the disruptive impact of technology works in the artiste's favour here as most musicians can now produce basic songs with just an Apple laptop and a microphone. This system represents a nominal investment of Rs150,000, according to Saad Hayat, the founder of Karachi-based music studio Chota Setup Bara Sound.

Furthermore, the internet has made it much easier to learn about the technical aspects of the craft through free tutorials and the availability of sample sounds (parts of songs that can be used by other musicians).

These represent a quick fix to the expensive process of employing other musicians to produce a song. But for a full fledged studio, I learned that the investment can be much more significant. To put in place infrastructure that is able to record music of professional standards, Mr Hayat says that one needs to invest at least Rs 1.5 million.

One can get around the cost of investing in one's own studio by approaching producers who own studios. But you still have to meet the cost of making an album. I spoke to Kashan Admani, who has run Dreamstation Productions since 2003, on the cost of producing an album. He estimated that an artiste needs to spend at least Rs 1 million to record a 10-song album.

The considerable cost of creating an album means that most musicians have taken a more practical approach of releasing singles.

This means lesser funds have to be raised for each song and more importantly, the piecemeal approach enables them to focus on promoting their work. Once the song is made, the important marketing step of making a video follows which has also seen musicians forced to innovate and solve problems like entrepreneurs are required to do.

Rapper Ali Gul Pir, whose satirical music videos have over 10 million views on social media, states that videos are significantly more likely to be shared than just songs. Even though it costs at least Rs300,000 to create a video, a video also enables work to be marketed on television. While this is a significant expense, I noticed a number of novel solutions being used to financing one's work.

One such alternative to financing the entire production of the video on one's own is product placement. For example, Ali Gul Pir approached a toothpaste brand to finance the cost of his video in exchange for featuring shots of the product. Importantly, this helped finance the video without having to compromise on the song's content, which is a major concern for those in the arts.

Ali Gul Pir had a toothpaste brand finance his video.

As one builds a portfolio of work, marketing one's work becomes the focus. Corporate functions can represent a viable means of making a living for established musicians but one needs to be entertaining and a good salesman in order to secure such work and finance future songs.

A number of industry figures told me that while marketing remained a challenge, the major missing portion in the chain is how musicians can sustainably pay for the process of creating music.

A tough sell

This brings us to a particularly concerning feature of the Pakistani music industry: the absence of royalties.

Royalties, which are payments made to an artiste every time their music is played on television or radio, are non-existent. Elsewhere, those responsible for penning the tune and lyrics earn a small payment every time their work is used, resulting in musicians still receiving money for previously released work.

No such system is present in Pakistan which means that artistes lack this stream of revenue and hence often need to take up part-time work or focus on corporate events in order to fund future songs. This is a common complaint in the industry and Awaz singer Haroon is particularly critical of this practice calling it a form of institutional piracy.

Also read: Where did all the music go?

In an environment where neither the record company, media nor the final consumer is willing to pay for songs, selling one's work remains the major hurdle. Finding a way for the public to pay for music, away from live shows, represents a major missing link in the infrastructure – a gap that is slowly being plugged through online sources.

One recent option involves making CDs available through virtual stores. For her album Dareeche, Zoe Viccaji used a web-based, cash-on-delivery service, Bluekart, to transport CDs directly to buyers' doorsteps. Furthermore, a new website, Taazi.com, enables consumers to purchase songs through one's mobile phone balance for between five and 10 rupees.

Importantly, 70 per cent of the sale prices of songs bought through the portal goes to the musician: a sum that is considerably higher than the typical 18 per cent cut that a musician would earn under a deal with a record company.

Despite these new developments, a number of musicians told me that it will take a few years for the industry to figure out how to sell music.

Fortunately for the public, passionate musicians cannot help but create music. But it merits mentioning that much talent can go undiscovered or be restricted to one-hit wonders, unless musicians acquire skills such as fundraising, marketing savvy and the business acumen to adapt to an age where consumers no longer have to pay for music.

Share on Google Plus

About hi

.
    Blogger Comment
    Facebook Comment

0 comments:

Post a Comment