Palash Sen, the lead vocalist for the Indian music band Euphoria made a very startling revelation on Cell Guru today. According to him, inspite of having delivered four albums, the band has not got a SINGLE RUPEE in the form of royalty from the music companies. Savio D’Souza, the IMI representative, could not challenge him. He then went on to say that concerts are the only source of revenue for the band and as far as he was concerned, he only cared about his music getting popular because that would mean more concerts and more ticket sales. He landed the final punch when he said that the music companies were responsible for the state of affairs because they had a near monopoly on all channels of publicity – radio, television etc. And he called them the Mafioso. I was not surprised when I heard this because I have been following reports on this field for some time now, primarily through Ars Technica. I don’t think many people know what the fuss is all about. So let me try to clarify things, as I understand them.
Indian music (the saleable kind) is primarily divided into two broad categories – film and non-film. In the case of film music, the producer holds the rights to the music. He employs the music director, lyricist, singers etc and pays them a lump sum for their work. After that, the music is completely in his control. He then sells the rights to the music company that pays him the most (rights for every country can be sold separately). That is the end of it. Now, every time you buy a cd or ring tone, it is the music company that gets the money. And everytime a song is played on the radio or tv, the revenue flows to the music company. And this will continue till eternity or till the copyright on it expires, whichever comes first!
Now consider the second category – non-film music. This includes everything from pop music to ghazals to devotional songs to instrumental albums – basically everything that is not film music. Here, its a question of royalties. The music company has a contract with the artist which specifies the financial parameters – how the royalty will be paid, what expenses will be deducted etc. etc. So, more often than not, even when the records and ring tones sell like anything, because the artist and the music company do not enjoy the same bargaining powers, the artist gets screwed royally. I don’t know what artists like Hariharan or Jagjit Singh have to say about this. But I suspect that even they must be facing a similar problem.
Take the case of A.R.Rahman. He is the undisputed king of not one but two markets – the Hindi film industry and the Tamil film industry. Now, he was supposed to do the music for Om Shanti Om. But he wanted a royalty agreement instead of the lumpsum contract that film producers usually sign. And so he had to leave the film (because of T-Series, not SRK) and Vishal-Shekhar replaced him.
The IMI, PPL, IPRS etc seem to think that piracy and nonpayment of performing rights royalties (note that it is always the music companies that are very particular about this. T-Series, in fact, handles its own rights – check the back side of every T-Series audio cd – and is not, as far as I have skimmed the above sites, part of any industry organization) is the only problem that the industry faces, and if they make every listener pay, things will be great. But if the law is so unclear and if the people who really create the stuff (lyricist, composer, singer in that order) get a raw deal, isn’t this something equally big? I am sure there are many people who would like to see someone like Rahman get what is rightfully his. When I pay anywhere between 100-300 rupees for a music cd, why should the artists not get at least 50% of that sum? But as things stand today, I think no one is sure of what is going on, and probably no one cares. In sharp contrast, stands the US copyright law and US attitude (I have serious problems with things like DRM, but here I am only referring to the payout part). Follow these links to know more about it –
How Music Royalties Work
How Music Licensing Works
Unfortunately, while artists are treated much better over there, the problem, essentially remains the same. Its a question of bargaining power and lobbying and artists are not the ones who win in this contest. Rediff did a great article on this issue three years back. But things have not changed.
Music companies need to remember one thing – Rahman is an artist and can compose and sing his own songs, and has alternative revenue sources like concerts. Setting up a website and giving out their music for free and selling tickets side by side is something artists can do with ease. A music company is just the man in the middle – the one who takes the artist to the consumer through sheer marketing muscle. But this is the digital age, and the middle man might no longer be needed.
Listen to Rahman –
I won’t run to music companies in Mumbai for the rights for my songs every time I want to perform them at the concerts.
“Music companies must recognise the changing ground reality. Today the conventional outlets for music sales are drying up. Soon all music will be free while the performers and performances will be paid for.”
An ominous warning, that.