Wednesday, August 10, 2022



Melody scores over noisemakers – by Vinod Mirani

Caravan pre-recorded digital music player, marketed by Saregama (erstwhile HMV music label), reminiscent of your transistor radio from the 1960s and 70s, has hit the market like a storm. Saregama, a dormant company as far as the music scene goes, has not been active as in buying music rights or marketing them for a long time now. Yet, today, the company makes more money out of its old repertoire than other companies.

Caravan is now available in various combinations with models providing 2000 songs to 5000. And, none of these collections contain a recent song as in anything recorded in last couple of decades or more, may be.

So what makes Caravan tick, make it such a huge success? One explanation, and a very valid one is that this product marketed as a gift for elders in the family, is becoming as much popular with youth who gift it to parents. And, mainly, it is filling the vacuum created by cacophony and lack of melody in the present music scene.

There was this glamorous era of Long Play (LP) records along with Extended Play (EP; contained usually four songs from a film track) or Single Play (SP; two songs). The mere possession of these vinyl records gave one a high. Of course, you needed a music player. An LP cost as much as Rs 45 and that was some amount in those days! Not everybody could afford it. This cost consideration gave birth to homemade piracy as people took to transferring the music from records to Compact Cassettes which were introduced in the market by the mid-1960s.

HMV (Saregama) enjoyed a virtual monopoly on music marketing in India till the mid-1970s. But, then came the competition with Polydor India making an entry. It would have been tough to break the HMV monopoly since it was an established company with filmmakers not only dealing with the company film after film but also owing a sort of loyalty.

But, people behind Polydor India were not new to the film industry. The Patels (Ramesh and Sharad), the force behind the new venture, owned Filmcentre, the film processing laboratory which enjoyed a virtual monopoly processing over 80 per cent of the Hindi films produced in Mumbai. And, that was quite a leverage.

Polydor also changed the way business was done. While, HMV released the music on behalf of the filmmakers, Polydor did the same but introduced a carrot called Advances. It paid an advance sum against the expected sales of the music. In those days, for a producer who made a film and survived on borrowed money, every rupee mattered. But, the biggest competition and a boost to film music came with the entry of Gulshan Kumar’s T Series.

A small time music cassette retailer, blank as well as recorded, in Delhi, he had accumulated enough cash to enter the legit market. His trick was to concentrate on Compact Cassettes and he made sure he made them affordable. Also, he would buy film soundtracks only on outright basis. In that, he paid the producer a one-time lump sum and the rights were his on perpetual basis.

The idea worked and proved satisfactory to the advantage of both, T Series as well as the filmmakers. Having been a retailer and dealt with customers one to one, Gulshan Kumar had turned into a wizard of marketing. And, what is more, his was a one man show. The company’s music business thrived till the untimely demise of Gulshan Kumar from a goon’s bullet.

There were a couple of other companies like Venus Records and Tips, which could not last long despite some major hit soundtracks. Music moved from vinyl records to cassettes to CDs, personal computers and to storage devices like external hard disc to an easily manageable pen drive or a smart phone.

But, the golden era of music as we knew and relate it with our films was coming to an end. Is it not strange that while Saregama can compile as many as 5,000 songs and put them together on a music gadget, the film soundtracks now do not even merit a full-fledged cassette or a CD! So what alternatives have replaced the CDs and cassettes? Where do music companies generate the revenue from? Actually, there is only one active music company, T Series, with Zee, Junglee and Sony coming out with an occasional track.

Mobile ring/caller tones were one big source of revenue but that seems to be tapering off. FM radios are another source. However, the main and the most lucrative source are the music streaming portals like YouTube, Gaana, Saavn, Raaga etc besides the music companies’ own portals. (In fact, T Series’ music channel on YouTube has recently managed to reach the 100 million subscriber mark!). It took T Series eight years to reach the 100 crore mark on YouTube; Saregama did it in one stroke!

How did it work in the days of melody? The song recordings were always preceded by song sittings in which the music composer, a few of his musicians as well as the lyric writer who sat down to compose and tune a song. Then they proceeded next day to tape the song at a recording studio, a huge hall with a 100 or so musicians spread out around singer’s cubicle. A normal song recording needed a three-hour booking of a recording room.

Because, here too, the song was rehearsed with the horde of musicians as well as the singer/s. I was a witness to many such recordings. Once the actual recording started, you were closeted inside the studio with the rest. It needed pin dropping silence. But, they were great fun to watch, these live recordings.

Imagine, hundreds of musicians and singer/s in sync! Now, it is different. Music is made on machines, no live musicians! A singer or singers come one by one and render their pieces. The whiz kid finally puts all these together to come up with a song. All in a studio the size of a car garage. No elaborate studio halls! Mainly, no team work.

What comes out is not music, let alone melody!

However, it is not as if the music industry is bereft of revenue. Only, no one knows how much of it reaches the filmmaker! Now, a music company acquires soundtrack with a promise to promote it on various music channels with costs to the producer. The revenue stream is unknown to the makers. However, on an estimate, if a company has, say, 10 million subscribers with a major chunk of it into downloads, the commensurate revenue would be between Rs 100 crore to Rs 1200 crore!

Music companies like Saregama (9 million), Venus (10.5 m), T Series (100 m), and Tips (19 m) are available on various music portals (these figures are only for YouTube). But, still, all these amounts are little compared to Caravan’s old repertoire lying dormant for decades. (This gadget has revived the company, making its shares bounce back.) Because, the new description for melody or music is now cacophony. You know what are the most successful songs now? Not surprisingly, the remixed versions of old hits even if they are mutilated beyond repair! Nothing original about them.

@The Box Office
*Another Eid, a Salman Khan release with Bharat, and another disappointment. This is third Eid failing to live up to the audience expectations from Salman Khan following Race 3 and Tubelight. The film narrates the story of a young lad who migrates to India after the partition of the land. It is about his life juxtaposed with that of the country, India, over 70 years. On the way, he seems to be researching for another Discovery of India or was he emulating M.K. Gandhi embarking on tour of India? There is no inherent patriotism in the story and an attempt is made to force it in with the rendition of the National Anthem.

As far as the collection figures go, they remained suspect from day one, Wednesday, June 5, the Eid day as the film released mid-week.

Despite overwhelming negative public reports, figures tried to keep up with the previous Salman Khan hits. Usually, even a hit film drops collections a day or two after the release but Bharat did not. What was surprising was the figures on Sunday, June 9, the day India played South Africa in the World Cup. The figures seemed to have braved even that mighty opposition to post Rs 25 crore for the day!

The race seemed to be to reach the Rs 200 crore mark for the extended 10-day first week. However, come Monday, the collections showed a major drop finally finding its level and, as against an extended five-day weekend figures of 147 crore, it could add just another Rs 28 crore for the rest of the four days thus ending its 10-day opening week with Rs 175 crore.

*De De Pyar DE manages to sustain and put together bit by bit despite Bharat and, at the end of its fourth week, touches a total of Rs 91.5 crore.

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