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Music is arguably larger today as an art and as an industry than it has ever been. With innovations in sound and electrical experiments, music has expanded far beyond the limited genres, and contemporary music boasts of amazing variety: a wide spectrum, from pop to industrial, and now even music that refuses to confine itself to a genre. Such expansion in the music industry and development in sound has broadly divided the music scene into two categories: mainstream and independent. The advent of music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music has further provided equitable access to audiences of both backgrounds. But there still are some grave concerns that exist, especially those that pose hurdles for musical artists to showcase their art.

In the United States (and many other countries), the music industry exists on its own apart from other entertainment industries, such as Cinema. The music industry in India has, until very recently, been dominated by powerhouses of Cinema or their subsidiaries. The independent music scene in India existed in metropolitan clubs and online forums (such as Insignia), while mainstream music was easily accessible to the Indian diaspora – through radio, film and TV. Even YouTube was dominated by such songs. This has changed to some extent over the past few years, with the creation of independent music labels that promote a myriad of sounds. The entry of Spotify and other such platforms has also aided this process to a large extent.

However, to say the Independent scene has influence and power would be an exaggeration. Recently, one of the finest artists from India’s independent scene – Ritviz, accused the makers of the film “Pati, Patni Aur Woh” of plagiarizing his popular song “Udd Gaye”: the tune, the hook and even the name. Big music corporates have been able to get away with such acts with impunity for quite some time. Seedhe Maut’s song, Kranti, cannot be listed on Spotify, since Sa Re Ga Ma Pa music owns the rights to the title “Kranti” and has refused to allow any deal, even though there is no similarity between the two tracks except for the name. An encouraging development, however, is that artists have come out in support of other artists and pushed various forms forward. Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” is regarded as one of the main reasons Hip-Hop became widely accepted in the mainstream and gained massive following across the country. Ranveer Singh, who played the protagonist in the film, also started the InkInc Records Label to help bring independent artists forward and provide them exposure. As Indian musicians have begun foraying into playlists more frequently, the control that major music corporates have can hopefully decrease in the coming years.

The global music scene still may not be all that conducive to newer artists. For example, Sampling is the re-use of a portion (or sample) of a sound recording in another recording. Such reuse helps create better music, but is often disallowed – the typical case being labels not allowing smaller artists to use their sounds, and claim “100% royalty” of the entire track, which means that the labels receive all the profits the song makes. To avoid this, artists must buy the rights to the song, or personally approach the music label or any representative in question. Smaller artists simply may not have the resources or the connections to do either. A lot of objections have been raised against such rules, while some artists push the envelope even here. Death Groups, an experimental hip-hop group based out of Sacramento, released all the stems and files for some of their projects, exclusively so that other artists could use these samples without any problems.

What about the streaming services? In light of all the problematic aspects discussed above, Spotify seems to suddenly look rather decent and good – but even Spotify has faced heavy criticism. The payment model of Spotify dictates that artists receive payments based on their market share. An artist’s market share is the number of times their songs have been streamed as a percentage of the total number of streams on the application. This goes completely left-field of the price-per-unit method, and pits artists against each other. Such rules also have led to artists making smaller songs to increase their total streams. Also, record labels and/or distribution partners get the lion’s share of the Spotify payment. Artists such as Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Taylor Swift have been very vocal about their criticism of Spotify.

Artistry and music are born out of creative talents and instincts. However, to succeed in these spheres professionally, one must know finances, technicalities, and the craft of business. This makes it difficult for independent artists to come up and get recognition; they are caught unaware in a world where their revenue gets cut through royalty and market-share payment models, and they face the risk of being plagiarized and copied. It is very important that such artists are given a better, more conducive environment to produce their music, which the world claims to enjoy so much.

By Abhijay Pandita


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