With all the sound and fury surrounding social media as the platform for introducing new talent to the Pakistani music world, for music as an industry, is the phenomenon boon or bane? The Herald invited three industry insiders to debate the issue: Zeeshan Parwez, band member with Sajid and Zeeshan, has performed on Coke Studio (fusion music platform) and has toured with the band noori; Zoe Viccaji who released her debut single earlier this year, has also performed on Coke Studio; and Talha Wynne, vocalist and guitarist of the underground band //orangenoise in Karachi, has attracted attention mostly through using social media to promote his music. They were joined by readers who posed questions.
Herald. Is social media killing Pakistan’s music industry?
Zoe Viccaji. Can we start by clarifying if by the music industry we mean the entity that makes money off music? Do all musicians come under this umbrella, including underground artists, experimental musicians and non-mainstream people? Or are we just talking about formal record labels and commercial artists selling CDs?
Talha Wynne. Let’s consider it mainstream music.
Zeeshan Parwez. I think it would apply to the commercial or formal side of the equation much more, but let’s assume musicians are in it as well.
Viccaji. Social media platforms have changed the dynamics of the industry. Previously it existed as a group of artists with music on CDs, television channels, the radio. Now it seems that the music industry – or rather the breadth and kinds of music – has increased in the last ten years.
Parwez. There are pros and cons to social media usage with respect to music. You have to understand the added convenience of obtaining music on a daily basis from an audience perspective. For the musician, it gets a
Viccaji. I agree. But for the sake of making it interesting, I’m going to say that social media is making the music industry more alive.
Parwez. Given the security situation and the current objective of the industry that promotes only mainstream artists, social media definitely becomes useful. This is a time when all kinds of experimentation in music is happening, and when musicians are showcased through social media, and because that has never been done here before, you witness new and exciting bands making their entry.
Viccaji. At first I found the idea of approaching a label and preparing an entire album daunting. Social media allowed me that personal break into the industry, rather than having to be shaped by whoever deemed me fit or unfit to enter the industry.
Parwez. Because of the laidback structure attributed to social media, the commercial aspect of the business gets somewhat distorted. It works heavily in favour of those who believe in the promotional approach. Commercially, it will only work if record labels decide to integrate their operations with the internet. Another problem is the meagre number of internet users.
Viccaji. So you feel using social media platforms is a more laidback approach?
Parwez. We don’t take it as seriously as we should, because we take its potential for granted sometimes. Adding a merchant account to our website can work out for us, but we choose not to do that.
Viccaji. I think it’s getting serious. I receive several emails a month from vendors trying to sell me their services on Facebook and Twitter.
Trupti. Is being tech-savvy, as in knowing how to use the correct tags helpful in promoting your music through social media?
Parwez. It definitely helps.
Wynne. By using software and some production techniques, we managed to scratch the scene for paying to record an album. In the digital field, you have to be friendly with machines. There’s no other way out.
Viccaji. The tech-savvy man wins in the end. Through social media artists have way more control over what gets out there, everyone is heard, and, of course, those who are better get heard more. But then you have those who are way more tech-savvy, and they might not even be as talented, but because of their expertise at marketing and internet skills, they spread further.
Wynne. SoundCloud alone has changed the musicians’ game. You can maintain a portfolio of tracks online, share it with people and make all of it feel legitimate at the same time.
Zooropa. What is the ideal formula? Making a single and releasing it online? Following its success by signing up with a record label? And making a video and then doing shows?
Viccaji. That is the model I depend on. The last single I released got an okay amount of hits, but the real thing that allowed me to make more music was the fact that I was able to pick up corporate organisations who wanted me to make a jingle based on the song.
Parwez. I will say that there was a formula once, which also works to some extent now. An artist comes up with two to three songs, records them in a studio and makes a video for the one that he or she thinks will be a hit. After it has been broadcast, the artist becomes known and further promotes him or herself via a manager who makes him or her known in corporate circles. Gigs and other below-the-line marketing activities follow from there. The circle continues, and eventually an album is released.
KS. So if the Pakistani music industry is outdated and not keeping up with the times, isn’t it a good thing that social media is ‘killing’ it?
Parwez. You could say that social media enhances it further.
Wynne. The music industry of Pakistan is very fragile. There’s only a group of us who keep it alive. The internet has opened up a path for young musicians.
Do you think social media is killing Pakistan’s music industry?*
*The above question was posed to online readers during the two-hour live discussion
Arsalan. If all music is now sold on social media platforms, what will happen to record labels and distribution companies?
Parwez. Record labels can design a model that supports musicians on a social media basis, give them their due promotion – the kind that also projects the artist internationally, and does not merely subject him to morning shows on television – and integrate all their services through social media.
Viccaji. Record labels and distribution companies have to change their tune.
Parwez. For them, it’s a business being done in a country with a lot of problems already. To some extent, it’s also because they don’t really believe in the music they’re investing in. They think of it only from a commercial angle. They don’t realise that if they pick up some of the music being done in Pakistan, and introduce it internationally, they’ll be helping the artist or band, as well as the country itself.
Wynne. Recorded music has been around for a while in Pakistan, and it is where it is today because that’s how things work out here. Does the internet and social media affect this established industry? I don’t think so.
Parwez. Well, we don’t and never have had a functioning music industry that supports the arts in Pakistan.
Viccaji. Where do you think we would be without the social media phenomenon?
Wynne. We’d be pushing CDs after concerts.
Viccaji. I agree that social media has made me what I am today … well, at least, made me happier with where I am.
Herald. But there are no concerts happening either, Talha.
Wynne. That’s the thing, before we can establish a music industry; we need to establish an audience. People whose idea of going out means attending a concert, rather than hitting up the closest restaurant. We don’t have venues where people can go and expect to see a live band play.
Aalia. Does Pakistan lack an audience for concerts?
Wynne. We need festivals, brand promoters and financiers to explore this side of things. Someone should really look into opening up a few clubs in Pakistan.
Herald. There used to be a fair number of concerts up until 2005, but they have been dwindling since then. Security issues could be the reason. What else?
Parwez. Besides security, content on all media platforms did not develop the way it should have. In the first few years with the media boom, we saw interesting things happen, and then it started to stagnate.
Herald. So we have an audience for music now on social media?
Viccaji. I think we do. Look at the number of people on Facebook. In fact, many say social media has killed the industry, because people no longer
Parwez. Most of the CDs in the market are pirated anyway. It would be wiser for record labels to integrate audio sales through social media or telecommunication companies, which is doable.
Herald. But what do artists do for money if there are no albums or shows or concerts, with people downloading free music?
Parwez. The world over, revenue models are now based on two things: shows and merchandise. Royalty track downs are not working out as such.
Viccaji. The big problem is that Pakistanis do not have the ability to buy online. No one can buy from iTunes, even if they wanted to. I have lots of kids writing in, saying they would buy my music and support it if they could use iTunes and they can’t because they don’t have credit cards. So even if I do put my stuff up for sale…
Parwez. Also, if you’re looking at the masses, it doesn’t work, because many people just don’t have access to the internet.
Wynne. If you look at the masses, the only thing that’s worth getting out there is a tape.
Zooropa. All three of you and most other underground bands, follow select genres. What about folk or traditional music?
Wynne. That music is still alive in the area where it is being played. And that’s the beauty of it: I would go on an adventure to the interior of Sindh to find that one guy who plays the bansuri so well that it hypnotises you.
Parwez. In all fairness, classical musicians also need to realise that everyone is looking out for themselves these days. I’ve heard many such musicians complain that things are bad. But at the same time, I think the approach to business needs to change. Studio sounds need to change. This goes for every musician in the country.
Mazhar. For that matter, is it okay for the youth of Rahimyar Khan not to know who //orangenoise is or Viccaji?
Viccaji. I think I’d only get to the shops, once I am in the masses. I don’t think my music is masses music.
Wynne. The music we make finds its way to the listener. If someone from Rahimyar Khan seeks out sounds like us, he’ll find it.
Herald. People go to the theatre and to the cinema. They want entertainment. Are concerts the way to go forward?
Wynne. Shows are the thing to do. Recorded music is just a little snapshot of it all.
Viccaji. I make all my money back from shows. I spent close to 1.5 million rupees on my album this year. I know I shouldn’t give figures, but I think it’s good to give people a picture of real amounts. I recovered that money through shows and commercial work. And funnily enough, social media acted as my marketing tool.
Parwez. A musician (I won’t take his name) recently said that one way to make money is to bring all your fans together for a show that is not generally for the public, and then give them access to exclusive material.
Wynne. We launched an album in September. It was an online release, set as ‘name-your-price’ on Bandcamp, which is a wonderful feature for independent musicians.
Viccaji. And what are the results?
Wynne. We had some generous people buying the album online Out of the total over 1600 downloads for the album, we managed to sell around 30-35 copies, all at varying prices.
Astaghfar Khan. Do you believe in ‘clean’, immaculate production, or do you believe that even those who make low quality stuff should put it out?
Wynne. We do what we can do and what we’re able to do. And there’s no harm in hoping for some ‘record uncle’ to come and shower you with money.
Parwez. The vocals of our song King of Self were recorded in a bathroom No studio at that time.
Viccaji. I believe that social media affords everyone the opportunity of putting their stuff out there for some one to listen to.
Herald’s Music picks for 2012
Waderay Ka Baita
Ali Gul Pir
Ishq Aap Bhi Awalla
Chakwal Group ft. Meesha Shafi on Coke Studio, Season 5
Call Me Maybe
Carly Rae Jepsen
Born to Die
Lana Del Ray
Live at The Rock Musicarium
Mumford & Sons
Rolling Stones celebrate their 50th anniversary by launching a book to mark the occasion as well playing five concerts in UK and USA.