Just met this funny man from the funny papers/Is there any other kind/Said he hadn't heard much about my rock and roll band/Sure hoped he had a story in mind/He seemed indolent and carefree/Lit up a cigarette offhandedly and then asked me if I wanted some good publicity
The opening lines from the song Paper Puli of the Bangalore rock band Thermal and a Quarter, though not intended, capture a new trend in music marketing and distribution in India: bands logging on to networking sites such as MySpace and Orkut to reach out to a growing audience through the Internet.
Welcome to a world of equals created by the Internet. Unsigned or new musicians, who in the pre-social networking era spent years—if ever—to cut their first album, are today using the Internet to gain custom for their music, get noticed beyond their home-cities and internationally, and eventually land contracts with record labels.
One of the first rock bands to have signed up an international contract through networking is ‘alternative rock’ band Junkyard Groove that was born just a year-and-a-half ago.
After coming up tops at an annual rock competition in Dubai last year, the Chennai-based band bagged a three-year deal with a US record label called Creative Kingdom. Terms of the deal, which will see Junkyard Groove perform live in cities worldwide and cut an album, will be finalized later this month.
“Networking on MySpace.com is really powerful. We were asked by a friend to put up our music on it and got to know of this competition through the site,” says 24-year-old lead vocalist Ameeth Thomas. The band’s lead song has been played more than 23,000 times by MySpace members.
Thermal and a Quarter, a band that cut its teeth playing at college festivals over a decade ago, has seen the change in the music world. According to the lead vocalist Bruce Mani, new musicians today do not need a manager. In fact, he says, “online activity drives your offline activity,” adding sites such as MySpace ensure a large following. “Contracts will follow,” he says. Across town, Galeej Gurus are about to sign a deal with an international record label details of which band member Nathan Harris is unwilling to divulge.
The strategy of most such bands is to put out some songs for free on networking sites to stoke interest and then when they get popular, sell them on sites such as Apple iTunes, eMusic or even their own sites.
For a music CD that sells for Rs200, the band that made the music gets just Rs20-25 if it was to sell the physical copy of the CD, says Vijay Nair, director of Only Much Louder, a Mumbai-based artist management company. However, the same album would get the band over Rs100 if sold digitally through Internet downloads.
Pralai, a Mumbai band that had its first album Urban Reality released in 2000 through Chicago-based label Sonic Wave International, will sell its next offering 14 only on the Internet later in February. “The Internet, digital distribution and promotion have changed the music business substantially and opened up the markets and possibilities for independent (bands),” Patrick Plank, managing director of Ton 4 Music, the company distributing Pralai’s music, said in an email.
Leading international record labels Sony Music and Universal Music have not trawled the Internet for upcoming talent in India, but that could change. “We have never got a chance to look at Indian bands on MySpace.com, but might explore that option in the future, what with all the good music getting there first,” said Shivi Sarin, product manager for films and non-films at Universal Music’s Mumbai offices. This is also driven by a drop in CD sales and an increase in music piracy on the Internet.
The rush of music bands to the Internet will only intensify, say industry insiders. Just 30-40 of the over 100,000 bands on MySpace are Indian, says Amit Saigal, editor of Rock Street Journal, a magazine aimed at diehard rock music fans. “The number of Indian bands on the site will more than triple in the next six months,” he predicts.