Technology is the real game changer. American hip-hop royalty, Jay-Z buys a music streaming service to counter Spotify, Neil Young is promising a new music player called Pono while U2’s album, Songs of Innocence was released via iTunes Store to all iTunes users for free.

In Pakistan though, things are a bit more complicated. It’s easy to find a song, an album or an artist online if you know what to look for.

Musicians today, self-aware and savvy in mainstream and indie, upload their content online via platforms like SoundCloud and Bandcamp. Some have websites; others update their Facebook page. It’s easy access if you follow your favourite artists on social media platforms. Ali Azmat, Red Blood Cat or Rushk — the same rules apply. You can buy records, but then again, not every artist is releasing a record via local labels.

Album releases have shifted online, not totally, but the trend is definitely rising. Often artists release their CDs themselves.

In April, Forever South (FXS), the indie online label from Karachi, founded by artists Rudoh (Bilal Nasir Khan) and Dynoman (Haamid Rahim) released their compilation album, FXS Collections Volume III (for Rs200) while hosting a show at Canvas Art Gallery.

Exploring the music streaming service that’s promising to change the music scene for good

Mekaal Hasan Band’s Indo-Pak revelry aka the band’s majestic album, Andholan, as well as other merchandise can be ordered online via their website or Facebook page.

If you think about it, can you actually find songs from all genres, both popular and marginalised, in one place? What about Pakistan’s glorious film era, those melodic, playful and iconic songs from Naheed Akhtar or Runa Laila? What about legendary voices like Tina Sani, Farida Khanum and Iqbal Bano? Can you find all of their material just as quickly? What if you don’t have the time or energy to sit down and search the entire World Wide Web?

Fortunately, you now no longer have to do so, thanks to Patari, a music streaming service akin to Spotify and Savvn, launched with the sole aim of providing musical goodies from Pakistan. Right now, Patari is available in its beta version; you can join once an invite is extended to you.

The content on Patari is split into three categories: Genres, Top Charts and Moods. This makes things pretty simple: you can explore labels like Bhangra Pop, Filmi Pop, Drama OSTs, Indie and find anything ranging from Waheed Murad songs to “the greatest bands you’ve never heard of” in Genres.

Top Charts will make you nostalgic as you explore labels like Best of 1980s, Best of 1990s, or Best of Music Channel Charts (MCC) while Moods contains categories like Baarish, Breakup and Gloomy among others. The division of music here is thoughtful. You’re not going to find Slowspin tucked in ghazals or vice versa.

Patari doesn’t have all of the songs yet but they’ve started building their collection and it’s looking very good with close to 20k songs already. In the coming months, that number will go higher, roughly to 100k tracks. Take that, evil record labels.

Here’s an example of why Patari matters: take the Urdu ghazal Mohabbat Karne Wale by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri. Produced by Saad Sultan, sung and uploaded on SoundCloud by Ali Sethi, it has received 167,868 plays so far.

On SoundCloud, you can stream it and listen, but its only when you arrive on Patari that you can find versions of the same ghazal by Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano and the Sabri Brothers in one place. All you have to do is type the song name in the search bar and see the tracks come up.

So far, Patari is shaping up to be a promising platform for the music community.

Launched just a few weeks ago, it has gone viral on Twitter. In four weeks, close to 15k people signed up, while 2,000 invites were sent out. By the time this article goes to print, Patari hopes to send out all 15k invites.

To know more about Patari’s birth and game plan, Images on Sunday (IoS) caught up with CEO Khalid Bajwa (KB) for an in-depth interview.

IoS: How did you get started? 

KB: The journey towards Patari is littered with sweat, blood, tears and failure. We were originally trying to do a Hulu for Pakistan, a portal for Pakistani drama serials. We thought up the idea about three years and after a four-month sprint of coding, with typical blue-eyed naivety, we pitched to television networks.

Two years later, we were still knocking our heads with television networks. Despite clear potential for the platform, most of them put up absurd money tags. However, during this time we met with Faisal Sherjan, Jang Group’s Chief Strategy Officer, and now a cofounder, who took a liking to us, and us to him, and from day one he urged us to do music instead.

For two years we didn’t listen, until the grind became impossible to bear. One day, when I had just gotten off the phone with a TV Channel executive and was feeling particularly frustrated, I finally called Faisal and told him that we were doing music instead. I drew up a plan to get things going, six months later, here we are. We realised we are far more passionate about Pakistani music then we ever were for Pakistani drama serials.

The content is split into three categories: Genres, Top Charts and Moods. This makes things pretty simple: you can explore labels like Bhangra Pop, Filmi Pop, Drama OSTs, Indie and find anything ranging from Waheed Murad songs to “the greatest bands you’ve never heard of” in Genres.

IoS: Let’s talk about the core team, who else is involved and in what capacity?

KB: We have managed to assemble a killer team. 

Khalid Bajwa — That’s me, the CEO. (bats eyelashes)

Humayun Haroon — Mobile Developer and CFO-In-Making

Faisal Sherjan — Director Strategy

Iqbal Talaat — Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

Furqan Razzaq — Lead Developer

Usama Tariq — Developer 

Ahmer Naqvi — Director Of Content

Aymen Rizwan — Content Manager

Ebby Absar — Content Manager (Also the guy behind most of the playlists)

Saad Arshad — Content Manager

Imaan Shahid — Content Manager

Ayza Malik — Content Manager

Ayesha Siddiqui — Customer Engagement Manager

Maryam Raza — Customer Engagement Manager

Sarah Saifi — Customer Engagement Manager

Omer Gillani — Illustrator and Designer

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 to Patari. 

In addition, the three content engagement managers have been instrumental to Patari’s success. They are the ones who adapted and took forward in a brilliant fashion the personality we developed initially and which really caught people’s fascination. People have been raving about Patari’s customer support and these are the people who reach out to every single user and added that personal touch which has been critical to our success so far.

IoS: How do you deal with copyrights, especially given the monopoly enjoyed by certain record labels?

KB: We have about 80 labels onboard. They see potential in the revenue share model, there are a few we are still negotiating with, so it’s an ongoing process and it varies from label to label. It helps that we have the kind of traction we have had because it gives us a proof of concept to show labels that it can work, easing the process of getting them onboard.

IoS: Tell us about artist involvement, how is the response from within music circles? Are artists, indie and otherwise, receptive?

KB: It’s been almost universally positive. For too long artists in Pakistan have suffered. Television and radio give them no air time and online, there is little in way of promotion and discovery, let alone money. Therefore most artists have responded extremely positively to Patari.

At Lahore Music Meet and Storm in a Teacup, for example, we engaged with a lot of artists directly, and every single one of them told us they loved what we were doing. Every artist we have reached out to has been very enthusiastic.  Not only indie, but big mainstream artists too, who have seen the tech, government and music industry failing them. With live gigs dying out and taking away their only source of income, the music community has been very positive in reacting to Patari.

IoS: What’s the business model like and what about funding? 

KB: Currently we are funding it out of our own pockets. But, we have a three-pronged monetisation strategy:

  1. Audio ads: after every 3-4 songs you get to hear an ad. 

  2. Premium subscriptions: You pay a little money to save songs offline, get rid of ads and have access to music in higher quality. We are in the final stages of discussion with major telcos to get premium subscriptions going. It would entail the user paying a small amount of money to be able to stream Patari without any data charges (Free 4G/3G for Patari), ability to download songs and listen to it ad-free.

  3. Sponsored playlists: we get companies to sponsor playlists. For example, a coffee brand can sponsor a good morning playlist etc. 

IoS: How do exclusives figure in? 

KB: We have a very exciting lineup of exclusives lined up. We have already released a brilliant 21-track concept album called Bahadur Yaar Jang by E Sharp — an indie rock band from Karachi and have several exciting releases lined up. But we don’t ask for unlimited exclusivity.

Ultimately we want the artists to have more avenues to promote and monetise their music, not less. We only do time-based exclusivity (a few weeks at most), which allows us to dedicate resources to promote the album to our users. We have a very dedicated user base and we push new content to them actively. We plan on extending the extent of this promotion, beyond Patari itself, and are currently formulating a strategy, which will help us do this. Our whole aim is to promote new promising artists as much as we can, as fully as we can even beyond Patari. 

IoS: Will artists get paid? Are they being paid now?  

KB: Oh yes. Absolutely. We have a long-term vision here, and we believe nostalgia will only take us so far. For Patari’s long-term survival and indeed that of Pakistani music industry itself, new music needs to be produced and for that artists need to have a promotional and financial incentive. A percentage of whatever we make will go the artists when we launch our monetisation platforms. That’s the whole point really — we really have to enable the artists to promote and monetise their music.

IoS: What about corporate sponsorship?

KB: Whenever we are approached by a corporate entity, we say look guys, we don’t really need a lot of money to keep us going, we’ll make do, what we need however is, for someone to take ownership of moving Pakistani music forward. We need grassroots level corporate patronage of music. Scholarships, funding of new music, live gigs all leading up to reviving the eco-system. This then is the underlying philosophy we are adapting in talking to such entities. The Patari dream extends far beyond an app or a website, we want to enable the whole music ecosystem to stand again on its two feet, and every step we take, every deal we strike is a step in that direction. 

IoS: Tell us about the current number of songs in your collection? 

KB: We are approaching 20K and have enough content to swell to around a 100K in the coming months. 

IoS: Let’s talk about Patari’s cat theme …

KB: This, well just happened. At no point did we sit down and develop a marketing strategy or a carefully structured marketing plan. Most of the early marketing was done by my co-founder Humayun and myself, and it was very much a natural extension of our personalities.

We both love cats, and have a very similar nonsensical quirky sense of humor, and we just channelled it. We are both huge fans of ‘The Oatmeal’, who has used cats to great effect, and I guess some of that influence seeped through, albeit with a desi twist all our own. We found cats funny, and we just started using all that and people really responded to it because it was different and they started responding to it by drawing cat pictures and making cat memes to score invites and show their appreciation for Patari. The underlying aim was always to have fun, be playful and make the whole thing seem very human, very relatable, god bless kitties for letting us do exactly that. Meow!

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 17th, 2015

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