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ROCK ON: Face the music

September 06, 2008

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It wouldn`t be unfair or inaccurate to suggest that the socio-political affairs of the country have a direct impact on the music industry.

Most of 2006, which anticipated the release of albums by acts such as Fuzon, Kaavish, Zeb & Haniya among others, was marred by the Lal Masjid crisis, imposition of emergency, overthrowing of the judiciary and the cherry on top being the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Not withstanding the precedence socio-political issues take over all other matters, the end result was perhaps the bleakest year in the Pakistani pop music scene ever since the new media boom.

In 2006, hardly any albums were released. Concerts which had begun to pick up pace the year before died down after all, who wants to go to a concert when the politics of the country is more entertaining and has more drama than any entertainment channel any day. Forget about constructing reality television stars, our politicians are the real stars. But now, I begin to digress.

The more you suppress something, the stronger the force with which it will try to break free. Picking up from where 2005 left off, 2007 is the year in which the music industry has literally come out with all its guns blazing. Some of the bands that released their albums this year — which had previously been gathering dust, waiting for an opportune time to be released — included Atif Aslam`s Meri Kahani, Jal`s Boondh, Fuzon`s Journey, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan`s Charkha, Zeb & Haniya`s Chup, Strings` Koi Aney Wala Hai, Ali Azmat`s Klashnifolk and finally, the much-publicised Shahzad Roy album, Qismet Apney Haath Mein. These are just some of the more high-profile names, visit any local music store and there are posters advertising the launch of even more albums by even more obscure artistes.

Talk about album launches and the topic naturally shifts towards record labels. Where in the early nineties, a record label in Pakistan was just perhaps a little more than just a mere distributor of albums while the rest of the work — making music videos, doing the album cover art, marketing the album and representation of the artiste — was all handled by the artiste itself. Add rampant piracy to that and many record labels were forced to cut their operations short and shut down.

Come the 2002 media boom and the popularity of Indus Music, which was a major factor in perpetuating a whole new pop culture amongst the youth; coupled with the potential music had, as a developing industry, record labels were bound to spring up. The only problem was that in order to make them work, record labels needed to get their act together in terms of distribution, marketing and promotion and so on.

Out of all the record labels that started in the past couple of years, which included Super Records (clientele included Annie Princess, Omar Inayat and the now-defunct Rungg), BMN records (clientele included Josh), EMI (clientele included Sajid & Zeeshan), The Musik Records (clientele included Haroon, Aaroh and the likes) and Fire Records — The Music Records and Fire Records are still very much a part of the game, with the rest quietly bowing out from the game. There is a vast difference in the portfolio of artistes that each record label has. The only high-profile release from The Musik Records this year has been the launch of the new Fuzon album, which has yet to prove its mettle in the market. Fire Records on the other hand, has had the rest of the big releases Zeb & Haniya, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam, Jal, Strings and now Ali Azmat and Shahzad Roy. Save for Strings, and the latter two releases (its too early to say for them), the rest of the albums did well in terms of the sales around the time of the launch but cooled down considerably after the hype surrounding them died down.

As prominent record labels in Pakistan, what are they offering artistes who sign up with them? Since both are also a part of two very large media organizations, their artistes receive their promotion through their media channels and related partners, guaranteeing a certain amount of visibility and airtime. They also have their distribution networks laid out to ensure availability of the album throughout the country. Having said that, how`re they now approaching the issue of piracy which is even more pertinent in today`s internet-download world?

Before its official launch, The Musik Records performed a small crackdown on all factories that were producing counterfeit music/albums. Fire Records (rumour has it) has been looking to enforce copyright laws and certificates wherever any music by their artistes is used. Yes, it`s true, from now on if you want any one of your songs to be a part of a commercial jingle, you will have to produce a copyright certificate. Also in some cases, we`ve come to know that Fire Records has also been involved in supporting the production of an artiste`s album as well as overlooking its impending release. As one member of the music industry recently pointed out “I see the future of music with Fire.”

However, things are still not as stable as they were back in 2005. Album launches are normally followed by album launch concerts and, considering the lack of venues available to the artistes`; by a large margin album launch tours as well. Most of our artists now tour abroad while staying in the country simply to endorse more products. As much as we might like to think of them as nothing but pure and simple evil out to get their brands on everything good, currently the funding that corporations contribute to the entertainment industry is what is still keeping it afloat. With a dearth of concerts from which to generate revenue, artistes` have no choice but to go with the next available option which is product endorsements. At some point, it stops revolving around art for art`s sake and becomes more about simply surviving.

Having said that, the face (and pace) of the industry is changing. The question is are we ready for it? n