July 04, 2020
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Making Music Like Ne'er Before

The music industry has changed to the tune of Rs 750 crore

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Making Music Like Ne'er Before

IMAGINE this Rs 750-crore industry. Several agile players have shaken the foundation of a 90-year monopoly; a new and successful product is born every day; new advertising options are demolishing traditional marketing assumptions; and the market just keeps on growing, faster and faster.

Exciting? Welcome to the Indian music industry, circa 1996.

Monopoly, Move Over: In the organised sector, HMV dominates in most musical categories but competition keeps the company on its toes. In the Hindi film music category, which has a 70 per cent share of the total market, upstarts like Tips, Venus and Time and a rejuvenated Polygram spring surprises with astonishing regularity.

In non-film music (around 20 per cent market share), HMV’s products are frequently edged out by BMG Crescendo and Magnasound. In international music (10 per cent share), Polygram and BMG Crescendo, with an impressive ensemble of old favourites and new stars, can hog the limelight just as easily.

Tracking Sound: Tips, Venus, Time...where were they just a few years ago? According to market sources, the Rangeela soundtrack from Time sold around one crore copies; Venus’ Akele Hum Akele Tum touched around 20 lakh, while Mohra sold an estimated 70 lakh; Tips’ Coolie No 1 did around 35 lakh copies. And of course, there’s T Series, whose run of bad luck ended with Bewafa Sanam, which has reportedly sold around one crore copies. If in the 1980s HMV’s principal competition came from cut-price pirates, the 1990s spell aggressive organised sector rivalry from often unexpected quarters.

The newest entrants in the music sweepstakes are Zee Music and Plus Music, both offshoots of television software companies. Zee scored a big hit with Yaraana, and Plus Music’s western popular range has hit the market at Rs 50, which is Rs 25 less than the average price for such cassettes. "Newcomers have to emerge," says Dextryl Ferrao, international product manager at Polygram. "The scene is reallyhotting up, and if a company like Plus Music hits the market, one can only say, join the bandwagon. More competition is always better because bad music gets eliminated from the market."

While one must wait and see whether the low-price strategy works in western popular music, Plus Music’s Hindi catalogue has already hit paydirt with Papa Kahte Hain.

After staying out of the high-stakes race for film music rights for a few years, HMV began the ’90s with a soundtrack signing spree. And with the return of melody in Hindi film music, the company has managed some huge hits. Darr, market sources say, sold around 45 lakh copies; Gentleman sold nearly 40 lakh and 1942: A Love Story sold around 50 lakh. Hum Aapke Hain Koun reportedly hit the magic figure of one crore as did Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. And for 1997, HMV is banking on the Bobby Deol-Aishwarya Rai starrer Aur Pyar Ho Gaya with music by the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. "The fact that film music sells the most shall remain unchanged in the years to come," says Pavan Malhotra, HMV’s manager, product development.

The Ascent of Desi Pop: In non-film popular music, there’s a riot. Says Suresh Thomas, managing director, BMG Crescendo: "We believe in the philosophy of promoting our artistes through the success of whom the company can gain recognition." This attitude has made BMG Crescendo a significant player in the Hindi pop segment. A new name like Anaida has sold around 1.5 lakh copies; Sukhbir and Piyush Soni managed impressive figures of 80,000 copies each. And Magnasound, the other big player in this area, has enjoyed unexpected succeswith Daler Mehndi, whose debut album has crossed the four-lakh figure.

Following the rapid-fire creation of sleekly-packaged young stars, many old names have been compelled to retire before time. But a few continue to rake it in. Alisha’s Made in India from Magnasound has touched a phenomenal 16 lakh copies; Baba Sehgal’s Indian Romyo sold around a lakh; Malkit Singh’s latest has registered a sales figure of around 1.10 lakh copies already. 

Jackson’s History: Every day, satellite channels expose the western pop music listener to new sounds and names. In this most unpredictable of segments where old names can turn turtle at the drop of a note, HMV, Polygram and BMG Crescendo have around 25 per cent marketshare each, Magnasound has around 15 per cent, and Sony around 10 per cent. Clearly, the race is close, with market equations changing every month.

For, surprises abound. A new group like Ace of Base suddenly goes double platinum. And who could have imagined that an Algerian singing in an incomprehensible language could sell two and a half lakh cas-settes in India? Or a man in a strange haircut would rap-ragga-bhangra all the way to the bank? In the BMG Crescendo catalogue, an unexpected hit—90,000 copies—has been a long-haired Greek classical pianist performing at the Acropolis. HMV has the unusually named Michael Learns to Rock which has sold approximately 60,000 copies; Whigfield and Shaggy which have sold a similar number each; and 2 Unlimited which has managed over 40,000 copies.

No More a Dinosaur: Hindustani classical music was just a loss-making add-on essential for evolving a company’s corporate profile. Or, so one thought till Music Today’s classy products hit the market. 

Today, the segment’s potential is estimated at Rs 25 crore and HMV and Music Today are the two major players. HMV has recently launched the Marga series of classical music cassettes to take on Music Today head-on. Asserts HMV’s Malhotra: "While HMV has no competition as far as repertoire is concerned, Music Today’s high-profile marketing makes it a very serious competitor." The accent here is on careful selection ofpieces—Music Today has shown that arranging the collections around particular themes is a powerful way of finding a place on the customer’s music racks. As is premium packaging with extensive sleeve notes that explain the meaning and importance of the pieces to the lay listener.

Copy Right: Pirates continue to capitalise on the insufficient vigilance of the Indian Music Industry (IMI) and the loopholes in the Copyright Act. Fake soundtracks crowd the market in small towns and quite easily sell as much as original music, if not more. In a market where not many care for quality, cheap pricing does the trick.

HMV has been trying to battle the pirates by leveraging its huge repertoire into carefully created compilation cassettes—from Asha Bhonsle-Kishore Kumar duets to songs from Dev Anand films. In the business for nine decades, the company can boast of a base volume of two million cassettes every month from their old repertoire which is more than the 1.5 million cassettes coming from the new film segment.

The other strategy is to sell quality, and sell upmarket. HMV has come up with the Sheer Magic range of cassettes, priced at Rs 100 each. Says Malhotra: "HMV’s concept of releasing such branded music is aimed at bringing about a change in the way music is retailed all over the country." Sheer Magic is expected to contribute a tenth of the company’s sales in the long run.

While the battles rage on, the combatants face a slew of questions. Is it with insertions on FM that unknown artistes sell, or are music videos more potent? Do sponsored concerts do the trick when the singer is new? Beyond anti-piracy raids, what can keep the pirates in check? Just how can one manipulate the old repertoire in the best way possible? Can a premium range of cassettes create a niche market when cheap ‘version’ alternatives are available?

These questions will need to be answered, and pretty soon. Says Ferrao: "The music industry is dynamic and vibrant unlike ever before. The changes are just too obvious." Too true. Indeed, change is the only certainty as the Indian music industry sets about redefining itself.

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