Having long suffered a slow decline, Pakistan’s music industry has all but died. Record labels languish, the ban on Youtube remains unrevoked, and live concerts are a rare occurrence. So where do music listeners turn?
When rummaging through their old collections of music cassettes and CDs amounts to nothing, they resort to the online streaming experience — only if they aren’t put off immediately by the poorly developed websites that offer the service.
However, a new arrival on the market may turn things around. While the US and UK have Spotify, and India has Saavn, Pakistan now has music streaming website Patari, which has recently gone viral on social media.
|A screenshot of the website. - via Facebook|
Currently running its beta version and only accessible through invites, Patari boasts an impressive collection of Pakistani music from over the decades.
Featuring musicians ranging from Muhammad Ali Shahki and Bunny to the Sabri Brothers and local indie musicians, Patari fills the gaping hole left by the industry's inability to connect fans and bands.
The website currently boasts a collection of 600 artists and 20,000 songs, which are expected to grow to 40,000 soon. By then, the website will be open for everyone to use.
So how did the Patari team achieve the tall task of creating a possible game changer?
"The journey towards Patari is littered with sweat, blood, tears and failure," Khalid Bajwa, one of the co-founders of Patari, told Dawn.com. Bajwa went on to explain that initially the plan was to create an online portal for Pakistani drama serials.
"We thought up the idea about three years ago during a caffeine induced discussion at Gloria Jeans, and a four-month sprint of coding later, we were pitching it to TV networks with blue-eyed naivety," he said.
|Not your ordinary geeks with Macbooks, this is the Patari team revolutionising Pakistani music - via Facebook|
Two years later, Bajwa and his team were still knocking their heads against TV networks but to no avail. "Most of them asked for absurd amounts of money," Bajwa explained. "During this time however, we met with Faisal Sherjan, Jang Group's Chief Strategy Officer, who took a liking to us, and we to him, and from day one he urged us to do music instead. 'Everyone and their phuppa is doing TV, think music! No one is doing that' he told us."
Still, Bajwa and his team weren't too quick to give up on the initial plan until the grind became impossible to bear. Eventually, he decided to give Faisal a call and the team decided to turn to music instead and Bajwa drew up a plan to get it going.
"Six months later, here we are... and I am happy we pivoted because we realised we are far more passionate about Pakistani music than we ever were about Pakistani drama serials," Bajwa revealed.
The people behind it all
|Patari core team - via Facebook|
As some of us are aware of the painstakingly tedious job that is coding and website development, the team has done a notable job with the design and music collection available on Patari.
"We've managed to assemble a killer team. We are currently a team of about eight people, each one is equally good at what they do," said Bajwa.
The team consists of Khalid Bajwa who is the CEO; Humayun Haroon, the front end programmer and CFO; Usama Tariq, also the front end programmer, Faisal Sherjan, the strategy director, Iqbal Talaat, the CTO; Ahmer Naqvi, the director of content and content managers Ebby Absar, Saad Arshad and Iman Shahid.
"Our content team, led by Ahmer, is the heart and soul of this enterprise. The kind of varied music taste and expertise combined with a breathtaking passion for Pakistani music this group brings to the table is absolutely phenomenal, and their work has been critical to Patari," Bajwa added.
The Patari ideology
As the team continued to delve deeper into Pakistan's music ecosystem, it occurred to them how acute a need for something like Patari was.
"Pakistani music is so wonderfully diverse, so brilliantly textured and it formed an integral part of those who lived through the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. Yet, except for the ever-vibrant indie scene, mainstream music had come to a standstill," Bajwa explained.
These days, musicians have few or no options for platforms to promote or monetise their music, and fans have no one place to find it all. Discovering new music was yet another issue.
"Most people had either started to forget the music they had grown up listening to or had been completely unexposed to begin with except for an occasional brush,” said Bajwa. "A thick coat of dust had fallen over music and our country's brilliant music was starting to fade away. The time had come to change that."
And that is the aim of Patari: to provide users with a one-stop-platform for all local music and enable them to discover new songs. With the help of the content team, music fans can explore various playlists and recommendations on the site. Musicians can also promote and monetise their songs on the website.
|A Patari invite for Bajwa himself - via Facebook|
The process to creating Patari began with a month of research about all existing music apps. While keeping the local audience in mind, the team picked and chose what they felt were the best features of the apps and adapted Patari's interface according to local users' behavior patterns.
"We spent a lot of time making sure it looked good,” explained Bajwa. "This was a site a user would be spending a lot of time on, so it needed to be minimal and easy on the eyes."
Once the team had the design and interface figured out, they went on a three-month coding spree.
"One particular aspect we are super proud of is our search engine, which is absolutely cutting edge and the best in the business," Bajwa revealed. "It can take into account spelling mistakes and non-exact matches. This is critical because when people write Urdu in English script, spellings always vary."
|Search options on the website - via Patari|
When it comes to music copyrights, the team experienced occasional push-backs but surprisingly more labels and artists were receptive.
"Rights in Pakistan are a tricky issue and that's a big problem," Bajwa explained. "Sometimes artists have rights (for some albums if not all), while sometimes labels have them, and most times no one is sure who has them."
The situation is further complicated when labels go out of business and the issue of who the rights are reverted to gets tricky to deal with. Still, the team has made commendable progress and are working on tackling such issues.
The team is also working on some new social networking features (see what your friends are listening to, follow them, follow artists) as well as a recommendation engine which will suggest new songs to listeners.
"Mobile apps are coming very soon and there are a lot of other cool features we have planned, and more artists to be signed on...we have only just begun," said Bajwa.
Obviously, when it comes to cool ventures such as Patari, money is as important as the idea itself. Patari is currently at a stage where it is being funded by the team itself and all the co-founders pooled in money. An initiative by the Punjab Government known as Plan9, which is an incubator for business start-ups and provides funding, office space and mentor networks, has been instrumental for Patari's development.
|Co-founder Khalid Bajwa and Humayun Haroon pitching Patari to Plan9 - via Facebook|
"We have multiple strategies that we will implement in a while for earning revenue, though for a while it’s only about growth," said Bajwa.
Eventually, the team will incorporate audio advertisements on the website after every three to four songs. The website will also enable premium subscriptions in the future, which will allow listeners to skip ads, access songs in higher quality or download them. Not only that, the team is currently looking at several strategic partnerships with a few corporate entities to help Patari achieve its goals.
Despite the months of hard-work the team put into Patari, they had no expectations of the website going viral in just a few days.
"We had budgeted for about 500 beta users over a course of 3 months, out of whom we thought maybe 200 would ever bother using the site," Bajwa revealed. "We crossed 600 invites in five days, and have a queue right now that's in the thousands."
The fact that Patari would hit a nerve with music lovers isn't surprising. What is refreshing is Patari's commitment to ensuring access to these precious songs.
"We honestly just kept our heads down and kept working on it. Just another day in the life of a start-up we thought, and the next thing we knew, it was everywhere," said Bajwa. "People were sharing screenshots, making memes, trading tips on how to get invites and reaching out to us to tell us how much they love Pakistani music and Patari."
Here's what a few people have been saying about Patari on Twitter: