New Delhi: As the opening credits rolled last year for the Hollywood movie Cloverfield, some were surprised to find Lekha Rathnakumar’s name listed as the first music credit. Among the surprised was Rathnakumar himself.
“It came as a big shock to me when I got a call from several friends saying they had seen my name in the credits,” says Rathnakumar, a composer and ad film-maker who had no idea he had provided the score for the movie.
As the Beijing Olympics prepare to get underway, the same is happening to sitar maestro Pandit Janardhan Mitta, who finds himself bombarded with calls and congratulatory messages for having played on a composition that might be played in the Olympics.
Right note: Lekha Rathnakumar, who heads Sonoton’s India division, believes the model will be a hit with the Indian production industry.
“I don’t know how my name got out, considering that I don’t even remember having played for any composition for the Olympics,” says a baffled Mitta.
The source of this confusion lies at Germany-based Sonoton Creative Sound Solutions, which says it is the world’s largest independently owned production music library, based on the 130,000 tracks it says it owns. In both the instances, the tracks had been selected from Sonoton’s library.
Last month, Sonoton re-launched its Indian chapter, after a first launch two years ago. The first opening went nowhere, but Sonoton says it would be more proactive this time around.
Its ambition to shake up production music and online rerecording in this country, though, will not go entirely unchallenged, as some directors say music for a film cannot necessarily be composed beforehand.
Rathnakumar, who will head up Sonoton’s Indian operations, says the producers of Cloverfield were searching for authentic Indian music. That was how they settled upon his creation Pankhida, a Gujarati folk song, for part of the background score in the movie.
Cloverfield is only one of the Hollywood customers of Sonoton. Its current client list includes production houses such as Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, BBC, and Warner Brothers.
The Sonoton library has provided scores for blockbusters such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Fahrenheit 9/11, Spider-Man 2, Frida, and The Mummy; and for TV shows such as The Sopranos, JAG, Sex and the City, The West Wing, and Friends. Rathnakumar’s music has also been picked for a Mercedes-Benz commercial.
The model is simple: Sonoton customers pay $100 (around Rs4,300) for a single track and $1,000 for a CD of 72 minutes. The music belongs to the buyer for one year of unlimited use. After that, buyers own complete copyright to the final synchronized piece. Rathnakumar says the budget for re-recording and background scores “will come down from Rs10-15 lakh to less than Rs1 lakh.”
He has been associated with Sonoton since 1992, when it was an offline music library. Sonoton chairman Gerhard Narholz was recording some Indian music at the HBO studios in New York.
At the time, Rathnakumar, who was there for a music course, pointed out some faults in the authenticity of the piece. Narholz immediately asked him to do a series of authentic Indian music, and the association has continued.
Chennai-based Rathnakumar, who recently re-launched Sonoton’s Indian counterpart, Lekha Productions Pvt. Ltd, believes that the model will be a hit with the Indian production industry. “I believe that in two years, 50% of the production industry here will use Sonoton,” he says. “That comes to around 750 films a year.”
Others aren’t as optimistic. Mani Sharma, the well-known Telugu film music director of hits such as Pokkiri and Okkadu, is appalled at the idea of using pre-recorded music for his movies.
“Every story has a different storyline and mood, and the music director has to watch the movie first to compose the music accordingly,” Sharma says. “You can’t choose from a jukebox. You need to understand the mood, the feeling. (The composition) should come from the heart. I have no respect for this (using pre-recorded music) kind of process.”
Flautist Sudhakar, who goes by only one name and has played for more than 300 films, mostly for composer Ilayaraja, feels differently. “The Sonoton revolution is welcome,” he says. “If utilized properly, it can be a great thing for producers and directors. They can get the tracks that they would have spent lakhs for just a couple of thousand.”
“Most of the time,” Sudhakar adds, wryly, “it’s all the same kind of music, so why not Sonoton? Electronic gadgets have already encroached into the area of professional musicians. At least this way musicians will get to play for Sonoton music because they want the original thing.”
The business model works particularly well for customers in a hurry. “Music is such an intrinsic part of ads, and we’re always on the lookout for good music,” says Udit Sen, creative director at the advertising agency Lowe India. “I think there’s immense potential in this, to be able to go to a source and look for music instead of looking for a composer.”
Sonoton seems to have one interested buyer already.
K. Bhagyaraj, the director of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Aakhree Raasta and writer of movies such as Gharwali Baharwali and Woh Saat Din, is in touch with Rathnakumar about score for his next film, Pudhiya Vaarpugal.
“I think it is a good idea, and I will be listening to some tracks in the next couple of days to make a final decision,” Bhagyaraj says. But everything depends, he says, on the sort of music available in the library, and how well it will mesh with the sensibilities of Indian cinematic music.
Rathnakumar, meanwhile, is at work on an entire CD devoted to chase music “for chase scenes in movies and other productions.” That means 72 minutes of pure, heart-stopping soundtracks to cars chasing cars, or cops chasing fugitives. The question now, of course, is whether the producers will be chasing this technology, or whether it will be the other way around.