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Outsourcing music, the unexportable: needing an artist, and calling on India

Drew Smith found himself in the same position as many independent musicians trying to make a living in the struggling music business. He had no record label, no publicity machine and not nearly enough money to make a music video. So he outsourced the video to India.

business Updated: Feb 17, 2012 23:28 IST

Drew Smith found himself in the same position as many independent musicians trying to make a living in the struggling music business. He had no record label, no publicity machine and not nearly enough money to make a music video. So he outsourced the video to India.

Last October, Smith contracted a dance school in Bangalore to make a video for his song Smoke and Mirrors featuring original Bollywood-style choreography and actors dressed as Hindu demigods.

The production values may be a little amateurish by MTV standards, but for $2,000 it cost a small fraction of the typical budget for a professional film. And Smith has attracted some of music’s most important currency: attention. Since being posted to YouTube on February 2 Smoke and Mirrors has been watched more than 179,000 times.

The video is one example of the breadth of outsourcing, which has come to include the kind of highly specialised skills — such as microchip design, which IBM contracted to an Indian company in 2005 — that were once considered unexportable.

Smith’s video shows the production technologies available to even the lowest-profile musicians, who stitch together recordings shuttled across the Net from home studios around the planet.

Smith said “the absurdity” of outsourcing his music video appealed to him, in addition to the reduced costs.

He did a quick Web search for virtual assistants — business intermediaries who will perform almost any task for a price — and was connected to Asha Sarella, a young assistant for hire who also teaches at a dance school in Bangalore.

Sarella gathered few friends and quoted Smith a price that would cover her basic expenses; part of the deal was that Smith would credit Sarella and help promote her work. The Smoke and Mirrors video was shot in three days and the completed film was in Smith’s inbox within three weeks.

As the play count on the video started to climb, the promotional effect was immediate. Within two days, the song had been downloaded 1,000 times.

“I live multiculturalism every day,” Smith said. “What is considered hip and cool is only defined by borders.”

Sarella said the project had already benefited her. The influx of potential new clients for her choreography allowed her to quit her job as a virtual assistant. “I just made a career change.

The New York Times