TECH TALK: Leisure and Entertainment: Music (Part 2)

Besides music distribution, the impact of technology is also being felt on music listening. Personal devices like MP3 players make it easy to listen to music anywhere. The recently introduced iPoD by Apple is being dubbed by Steve Jobs as the 21st century Walkman. The gorgeously designed device allows 600 songs to be downloaded from a Macintosh to itself in six minutes. Writes Stewart Alsop in Fortune (December 10, 2001):

iPod solves today’s music-listening problem: I’ll soon have all of my music on one very portable device to listen to whenever and wherever I want to.

When I get in my car, I will plug the cassette adapter I got at Radio Shack into the iPod so I can listen to the music through my car’s stereo system. When I get home to finish working on this column, I’ll change to the big headphones that let me work at the computer without being distracted. In other words, the device is so portable and self-contained that it solves the lifetime problem I (and every other person who listens to music) have, which is that the music I want to listen to is always somewhere else: The CD is in the house when I’m in the car, and so on. Now, with iPod, the music I want is always in my pocket.

The Indian music distribution and listening scenario has remained largely free from technology. Napster and its cousins have made only a marginal difference in India due to the limited penetration of the Internet. India has had its own Napster industry for many years in the form of piracy! MP3 players are still too expensive and sparsely available.

India is unique in the sense that most of the best-selling music albums are film-based. So, in some sense, the concept of “music videos” in India is as old as the film industry itself! While there are some classical and pop brands, their sales are dwarfed by the hit film albums. Most of the sales still come from cassettes priced at Rs 50-60 (USD 1-1.20). A recent hit (and there have been only a handful this year) like “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” has sold over 3 million cassettes already, prior to the movie’s release.

Music rights for Hindi movies had recently touched record highs – the music of Yaadein fetched nearly Rs 9 crores (USD 1.8 million). What changed in the past few years has been the increasing use of mainstream television to promote music. Prices for rights have recently started falling as the returns haven’t been forthcoming. A big challenge in India remains piracy of cassettes with the rip-offs being sold at half the price, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas.

The last word from Moby, an American star, writing in the Economist’s “The World in 2002”:

One thing is certain. And that is that people have been in love with music for the length of human history regardless of how it is created and distributed. And I cannot see humanity’s love of music disappearing just because the technology changes. But things are going to be lot different musically from a commercial standpoint as the technology gets better and faster. Music and musicians, audiences and appreciation will remain. All else will change beyond recognition.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.