It was a social experiment, rather an online activism experiment. In the wake of student agitation caused by the anti-reservation bill in 2005, Pentagram released a single, Voice. Since the Internet was the war-zone, Vishal Dadlani made sure he got heard on the webspace. He got fans to send in videos for the free song.
“Legitimate piracy,” he called it. Dadlani scoured through thousands of reels to clock in his final three minute short. Fan activism yes, but Vijay Nair of Only Much Louder, who manages Pentagram, has a different take.“The fact that we let people know it’s okay to download, gave it an almost legal signature saying we’re all for your rip-burn-share procedure.”
Half a decade since, the ever-growing tribe of Indian indie (independent) artistes, is finding its ‘voice’ through the free download option available on social networking sites. This, inspite of fledgling independent record labels shutting shop, CD sales hitting an all-time low, and the global music industry looking for novel ways to sustain artiste rosters.
Three-year-old metal act from Mumbai, Scribe released its debut album Confect for free on Myspace.com. Within months, their downloads (which pretty much equals CD shelf sales) amounted to 16,000 hits. Post that, they got gigs worldwide, including their last headbang at the 10th anniversary of the Inferno Music Festival in Norway.
Says lead singer Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, “I’m all for piracy. The free download button gave us the power to reach out worldwide without going a local distribution channel.”
Says Rohit Periera, frontman and bassist of Khiladi, “I don’t know about the whole album, because I don’t earn that much, but free downloads are a major boon for us.” Periera was earlier part of Mumbai metal act Pin Drop Violence, with whom he successfully released two albums and sold around 2,000 copies.
CDs still sold, though the reach was much lesser in those days of limited download. “We didn’t make any money on it, but yeah, we did cut production costs. But Indie artistes don’t make music to be sold. We play to be heard and if free music is helping us, why not?” says Periera.
While indie labels like Counter Culture, that previously released Zero, PDV and Pentagram have folded, the scope for free online popularity is still strong. Explains Neysa Mendes, who ran Counter Culture, “People don’t buy music, not because they don’t want to, but because they aren’t aware.”