Music Was The Winner This Past Week
By VINOD MIRANI
MUMBAI – The Indian music scene, as in its composers, crooners, and writers, has never got its due; the companies meant to exploit their work have in most cases just exploited them.
Indians are music-minded and love songs that are easy on their ears. India also has a great tradition of classical music and musicians. Over the years, many of our renowned musicians have been internationally applauded. Where else would you find the Ragas and the gharana system of identifying classical musicians!
The simpler form, which has had a greater following than classical music, is film music. And the composers of film music found their inspiration in traditional Ragas. No wonder they came up with melody after melody, so much so that a film’s musical score was the only promotion a film needed and played a major part in its box-office success.
People watched a film more than once for its songs; people threw coins at the screen when a song played, and people also came out into the aisles to dance. In smaller towns, there were shouts of ‘Once More’ and the cinema operator was often compelled to re-screen a particular song!
They say people were glued to their television sets when the serials ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’ were telecast; the streets used to be empty when they were on air. Film music weaved the same magic in the era of the radio. Yes, people made it a point to reach home every Wednesday in time to catch the 8 p.m. slot on Radio Ceylon so as not to miss the film-song-based program, Binaca Geet Mala.
The Geet Mala played 16 popular film songs and ranked them according to their popularity. The climax was reached when the week’s number-one song was played. People speculated and placed bets.
The popularity of film songs continued when television came to India. Knowing how people loved film songs, Doordarshan fixed a slot named Chhayageet/Chitrahaar once a week to play old film songs. There were no rankings, but, if TRPs were counted in those days, they would have beaten any modern-day TV program hands down.
I dare say that the music score of the film was a bigger draw than the star of the film!
The popularity of the music of that era is as strong as ever. You get to know it when you watch television talent shows where children sing the same old songs. There used to be ‘orchestra groups’ that performed film songs during festivals and made money; some of them earned a break as film playback singers.
When film music ruled, for all the films produced, there was only one marketing company, The Gramophone Company of India, commonly known as HMV. The company still hawks those old songs it had acquired for marketing. Today, the same musical scores are also available on platforms such as YouTube, Apple-iTune, Raaga, Wynk Music, JioSaavn, Gaana, Spotify, Amazon Music, Hungama Music and Google Play.
Considering these numbers, one wonders who gets the royalties and if the understanding reached between Indian Music Industry (IMI) and Indian Singers Rights Association (ISRA) earlier in the week will help in this regard.
The film songs were played on the government-owned radio service. What did it pay? One rupee as royalty even after the radio services went commercial and started making money because of film songs.
Those who were a part of a film song got a one-time payment from the filmmaker for the job done. A lyric writer or a singer did not know or did not care if he/she was entitled to royalty from the earnings.
In fact, stories abound about a dispute between two great singers, Lata Mangeshkar, and Mohammed Rafi, in as long back as 1960. Lata Mangeshkar stood for royalty payments for singers and the lyric writers; Rafi was content with the one-time payment he received as playback singer.
Later, in 2012, the issue of royalty came up again with Javed Akhtar leading the fight. Lataji felt her songs were exploited on all fronts, such as compilation albums with various music composers as well as by other crooners and were even used for TV serials, against which the music company, she named HMV because most of her repertoire vests with HMV, makes money on her songs and she deserved her share of the royalty.
Music spelled money and audio pirates raked in moolah with no investments. For most of these audio pirates, entering the legit business proved to be disastrous. They had to buy rights for music which, otherwise, they got for free. Today, just one music marketing company dominates the Hindi film music trade, T-Series.
The Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, Piyush Goyal, has entered the scene and worked out a settlement between IMI, which has both big and small music labels as its members, and ISRA.
The two bodies have arrived at a “historic agreement” for the music ecosystem (the phrase very much in fashion lately!). The agreement is supposed to benefit all the stakeholders and elevate Indian music to the top 10 in the world.
The press release posts this agreement does not mention the specifics of what kind of understanding has been worked out. I tried to find the details of this agreement on the official websites of both parties, IMI and ISRA. There was no mention of any such agreement.
In fact, the websites of both bodies do not seem to have been updated in a long time! Well, if the minister got involved and brokered a settlement, with which it says both the parties are happy, so be it.
At the end of the same week, even as the IMI and ISRA were celebrating the understanding they had reached, on Friday, April 28, the Bombay High Court issued a definitive judgment in a case between the Indian Performing Rights Society Limited (IPRS) headed by Javed Akhtar and the FM Radio Broadcasters.
Justice Manish Pitale of the Bombay High Court has upheld the rights of the IPRS and ruled that music broadcasts by FM channels were required to pay, literally, for the use of the musical work underlying sound recordings, notwithstanding the payments made to the owners of the recordings (labels or producers).
The Court observed that the communication of such sound recordings to the public entitles the authors to royalties on each occasion. It has directed the broadcasters to abide by the judgment of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board dated December 31, 2020, and pay the royalties due within six months.
Ministries can make laws, but the implementation is not guaranteed.
Filmmakers are not the type to get into litigation and the music companies are making merry because of this. There is the case of the late producer, Ram Dayal, who received a royalty cheque of Rs 2 from his music company. He raised the matter on social media but took no legal action.
I think film folk need to seek legal help more often so that they are not taken for granted. (IANS)