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Tuning in to better times?

Statistics prove that the music industry is facing a slump. Will A.R. Rahman's "Boys" and Anu Malik's "Main Prem Ke Diwani Hoon" bring about a turn around? SAVITHA GAUTAM finds out.

"THE MUSIC industry is dying!"— a remark overheard at a music store recently set one thinking. Is it really so? Has there been such a dramatic slump in the sales of pre-recorded cassettes and CDs?

Walk into any of the bigger music stores in the city, and the scene tells one a different story. People are still seen browsing the racks, and picking up albums. New additions to the racks such as the Shankar-A.R. Rahman "Boys" in Tamil and Sooraj Barjatya's "Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon" are disappearing quickly, much to the delight of music companies and retail stores. But, these are exceptions. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Let's talk figures. Reports have it that the Indian music industry has witnessed a downslide, from a Rs. 1,200 crore industry in 1998 to over Rs. 400 crores in 2002. "The scene is absolutely bleak," rues Guhan of AVM Audio. "At music launches, the numbers have dropped steeply... from nearly 1.5 lakh cassettes a couple of years ago to about 45,000 this year."

"Yes, there has been a steep fall in the sales graph now compared to what it was two years ago," admits Jaishankar Subramanium of Landmark. Sentiments echoed by S.K. Chowdhury of Music World. "Whenever an A.R. Rahman album ("Jeans", for example) was released in the past, we would sell above 400 cassettes a week. But "Boys", the hottest selling album today, has sold just over 200 pieces in the same time span," says Chowdhury.

The same is the case with Hindi albums. While "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" sold nearly one crore units, "Devdas" sold only about 20 lakh units. "Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon" has picked up sales after the film was released, with an average of 10-15 pieces sold a day. But that's it!

Navin Daswani of Super Audio opines, "There has been a slump all right, but only in the film music section. Non-filmi cassettes and CDs, be it devotional, Indipop or classical, have been steadily selling."

The reasons attributed to the sad state of affairs are many. Some say it is thanks to the invasion of the small screen, others blame it on downloading from the Internet, burning CDs and the FM channels. Then there are some who feel it is because of the marked drop in quality of songs produced, in general.

"Can you listen to any new film song after two years?" asks a discerning listener. "But the melodies of the 1950s and 1960s are still fresh, be it Hindi, Tamil or English."

As Jaishankar puts it, "There is a general apathy towards listening to backlists. Techno and trance seem to be the order of the day. People today do not have time for serious music. Music is often part of the background... at discos, a party or while driving."

The biggest threat, however, to the music industry is rampant piracy. Pirated CDs are sold at half the cost of the original and what's more, the latest albums can be picked up from the pavements even before an album is officially released. In fact, about 33 per cent of the CDs and cassettes available in the market are pirated.

True, albums are churned out practically every minute and, most often than not, disappear as quickly from public memory. Moreover, most artistes are often `one-song wonders'; they simply lack staying power. Unlike in the past. Take Bruce Springsteen, for instance. He had three failed albums before he tasted success. But then, he had the backing of record companies. That is not the case today. "Everybody wants success at lightning speed. So artistes have neither the time nor the drive to mature musically. And music companies too are not willing to take risks," says Jaishankar. Of course, there are exceptions like Eminem, who has sold over 20 million records worldwide over the past couple of years. Coming to music downloads, according to reports, in the U.S, the sale of empty CDs overtook those of pre-recorded ones.

Though the trend of downloading albums has not caught on in such a big way as yet in India, it will do so eventually, what with better bandwidth and connectivity speed. While most downloads are done unofficially, thanks to software such as Napster, there are a few legal websites that offer downloads outside the U.S.

Rajkumar Rajamani, a sworn music buff, who downloads quite a lot from the legal website,, has this to say. "It is simpler to download music. At $15 a month, I can download as much music as I want. What's more, you can pick up records that you'll never find on the racks in India. Of course, I also walk into shops to pick up CDs."

Though music companies, in a desperate bid to woo consumers, dropped prices of cassettes and CDs some time ago, the cash registers have not been really ringing as expected. "Despite the price slash, cassette sales have dropped nearly eight per cent," says Chowdhury of Music World. However, CD sale has increased. That is true because the difference in price between a cassette and CD is marginal. According to Navin Daswani, however, low pricing has facilitated the sale of non-film music, especially Carnatic classical and Indipop.

"Blame it on the quality of music," says Prashant Menon, a music lover. "Hindi film music is at its lowest ebb, in terms of creativity. Somehow, one hardly feels like picking up any cassette. Also sneak previews on television spoil the fun."

On the positive side, the sale of music DVDs/VCDs has picked up. "Visual music sale is definitely booming", says Jaishankar. Chowdhury says, "What finally matters is how you package and market your product. The bottom line is value addition. Music companies have to lure the next generation and create a new customer base. That's what the success of "Kaante Laga" is all about. Take an old song, remix it with peppy beats, have a raunchy video to go with it (a controversy makes it even better) and you've got a hit on your hands!" Perhaps, Music Today is a pioneer in this direction. Remember the Raga series, which it launched a few years ago and the mantras and chants set to a contemporary beat brought out by another record company?

Music is an ever-changing phenomenon. Like a musical note, it has its ups and downs. But music can never `die'. As Chowdhury puts it succinctly, "When television invaded our living rooms, they cried radio is dead. Today radio is eating into TV viewing. The same applies to music too!"

"Music creates order out of chaos", said the legendary Yehudi Menuhin. And as long as there's chaos, music shall remain!

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