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How Digital Age has revolutionised music

I received an e-mail at the weekend from my friend Soumitra Ranjan, a Microsoft executive-turned professional musician, with an attachment: his song, Fisherman’s Dream.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2009 22:21 IST
N Madhavan

I received an e-mail at the weekend from my friend Soumitra Ranjan, a Microsoft executive-turned professional musician, with an attachment: his song, Fisherman’s Dream. It set me wondering how much the business of music has changed over the past decade, thanks to digital technologies.

It is possible today to set up a studio with only a few lakhs of rupees to be able to produce some recordings of reasonable quality. There are even open-source based free software for audio editing and compression.

In distribution, apart from sharing songs and videos through e-mails and social sites like MySpace, Facebook or YouTube, there are also global sites like UK-based Last.fm and India’s own My Band (http://myband.co.in) that bring musicians and fans together. Sites like Last.fm and Jango.com enable users to create their own Internet radio stations. iLike.com helps social discovery of music, while its affiliate GarageBand.com promotes Indie (independent) music.

Apple’s digital music player iPod started the phenomenon of legal music downloads with iTunes, and now you can buy songs online one at a time, not necessarily whole albums. Apple is also planning digital albums complete with lyrics.

You can buy a 1 GB player that holds literally dozens of songs for less than the price of what it cost to buy a CD a decade ago.

Cheaper technologies are hastening the decline of monopolistic labels like Columbia, HMV and Music India. Independent start-up labels are bravely doing new stuff (like Dogmatone from Bangalore that publishes Indian rock).

Singers are also directly selling their songs on the Web.

Two decades ago, high-cost promotional concerts were subsidised by high-volume sales of albums. Now, I think low-cost downloads enable promotion of concerts by local musicians. If the stuff is good, it can be sold to anyone on the planet within seconds.

Last week, I posted on my Facebook page a rock version of a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan classic done by East India Company, a Delhi-based fusion band. When I discovered this on YouTube, I also stumbled on many versions of the same song, including a rare collaboration between Khan Saheb and Canadian guitar wizard Michael Brook.

Variety, affordability and innovation may take us to a new point. Instead of buying many songs by the same singer in an album, you could well end up buying the same song done by dozens of musicians in variations.

And oh, yes, I am not even talking about ringtones and caller tunes!