Shubha Mudgal writes: India's music industry leaves its most vital stakeholders out in the cold, musicians themselves

It is now time for artistes to demand that they be given priority as stakeholders by all working in the sector, in conjunction with the music companies, publishers, policy makers, bureaucrats and other stakeholders, or else, the arts may perish and with it those who make art.

Shubha Mudgal August 13, 2020 14:30:32 IST
Shubha Mudgal writes: India's music industry leaves its most vital stakeholders out in the cold, musicians themselves

This is a complicated argument for me to present because I could easily be accused of taking a hugely one-sided view of the issue under discussion — namely, the inexplicable lack of adequate representation of musicians in most discussions and decision-making activities related to the music industry, or for that matter even in the promotion of music and the arts by private or government organisations. And yet, this uncomfortable truth as well as several other discomfiting facts about the world of music and the business of music in India stare us in the face unabashedly, making it virtually impossible for anyone to claim that due care is taken to involve musicians in reaching decisions that deeply impact their livelihoods and their future.

The two main power centres that make most decisions related to music in India consist of the music industry on the one hand, and ministries like the Ministry of Culture and their affiliated organisations and sundry bodies that are termed ‘autonomous’ but are usually funded by the state exchequer. When the purse strings are controlled by the state, autonomy is easily dumped out of the first open window in order to please the hands that control the purse strings . Within both power centres there is a crying need to be more inclusive by involving more musicians and artistes and by creating more transparency.

The music industry in India is controlled and manipulated by companies and organisations that deal largely with mainstream popular music, a huge chunk of which focuses on film music. Quite simply, that’s where the big money lies, and as a result record labels, publishers, collecting societies and other organisations within the industry maintain a stranglehold on all decision making. The Indian Music Industry website declares proudly on its landing page that it represents music companies in India, and it is left to a proliferation of other organisations and associations to represent the interests of different groups of musicians ranging from singers to sessions musicians, composers and lyricists.  However, the membership of these organisations does not reflect the diversity of Indian music and music makers, as a bulk of their members are musicians who specialise in film music and mainstream popular music. It would be naive on my part not to acknowledge the fact that an industry by definition is based on economic activity, but if the music industry in India is only going to focus on a few mainstream genres, then it may be more appropriate to call it the Indian film music or cine music industry, rather than accord it a pan Indian nomenclature.

On the other hand, government organisations and departments focus largely on what they consider heritage arts like classical music and folk music, ignoring popular music almost entirely in their consideration. Musicians are nominated to the committees and boards of many of these organisations, but a majority of these artiste members specialise in classical music, with the odd exception now and again from the world of folk music. Mainstream music receives little or no attention from these bodies. As a result many forms and genres of music do not find adequate representation. Neither do specialists and ancillary professionals like instrument makers.

Also read: Indian Performing Rights Society responds to row over tariff plan, says working towards fixing revised licence fee rates

What we have then are two power centres, one which makes the music market and music business the focus of its attention, the other which focuses only on traditional music, and both remain virtually disconnected from the each other. The former is controlled largely by record companies, publishers and music business bigwigs; the latter by public servants, bureaucrats, state appointed members and a handful of artistes whose nominations have often been controversial or questionable. The latter makes an attempt to include representatives from all states, but not all forms and genres of music find due representation. The music business makes no attempt to be inclusive and lets the big players rule the roost. IPRS (Indian Performing Right Society), which represents authors/lyricists and composers has a board of directors that currently seems tilted more towards record companies playing the role of publishers, than towards the musicians and lyricists it is mandated to serve. Undoubtedly the Board of Directors includes some eminent lyricists and music directors, all of them specialising in film music. Interestingly, representatives of other genres of music are not on the Board. It is to be noted that four of the same big music business brands who are on the Board of Directors of IPRS are also on the Board of IMI (Indian Music Industry), which restricts its membership only to music companies in the first place.

Shubha Mudgal writes Indias music industry leaves its most vital stakeholders out in the cold musicians themselves

I believe it is important to also examine the disparities between these two power centres. The music industry lobby deals in large sums of money. For example, IPRS received license fee worth Rs 1,66,10,42,887 in the year 2018-19 as per its annual report. ISRA (Indian Singers’ Rights Association) reports its revenue from operations in 2018-19 to be an amount of Rs 2,54,09,844.69, and in its budget estimates for the year 2019-20 that it places before members for approval are the following amounts:

Rs 1,20,00,000 towards salaries; Rs 80,00,000 towards legal and professional fees; Rs 50,00,000 towards travel expenses; and Rs 20,00,000 towards Meeting Expenses. On the other hand, while the bulk of its funds are provided by the public exchequer, for grants, events and several other activities, compare this with the amount of Rs 233,929 which forms the income of Sangeet Natak Akademi from royalty and publications for the year ending March 2019. Notably, SNA does not include any representative from the film and popular music genre, even though it is for all purposes, possibly the most popular genre of music in India. Had they included representatives from the industry, they could possibly have learned a trick or two about increasing revenues from royalties.

Neither power centre bothers to ask the most important stakeholders in the field, namely musicians what they would want for a brighter, more artiste friendly future. In the process the COVID dance of disease, death and destruction wreaks havoc all around, but neither of these power groups bother to consult musicians. IPRS consults event management companies on its licensing tariffs, but doesn’t think of a consultation with musicians. Some welfare schemes for musicians have been initiated, but what about the general welfare of musicians? As online concerts and classes remain the only possible way of generating revenues for most musicians, prices of audio-video and live streaming equipment rocket skywards without regulation. A webcam that cost Rs 7,200 just a while back now sells for Rs 21,028. That does not seem to be a matter of concern for either of the power towers. With their might and resources, they could have done a lot to help provide medical insurance and treatment specifically for COVID afflicted artistes, arrange for loans for hire and purchase of audio-video equipment, put licensing on hold till the situation improves for artistes. It is now time for artistes to demand that they be given priority as stakeholders by all working in the sector, in conjunction with the music companies, publishers, policy makers, bureaucrats and other stakeholders, or else, the arts may perish and with it those who make art.

Shubha Mudgal is among India's renowned musicians and a Padma Shri awardee.

— Photo of Shubha Mudgal courtesy Raghav Pasricha

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