Kolkata: Music company Saregama India Ltd, will go live on Monday with the first dedicated online music store and archive by an Indian firm, that will offer the oldest recorded Indian music dating back to 1902.
The tracks downloaded for Rs12 each will come with information on everything connected to the song. Thus, a download will carry information on not just the singers, music director and lyricist, but also the movie, its production details and the star cast.
But for Jayanta Kumar Maitra, chief technical manager, and Atul Churamani, vice-president, artist & repertoire and new media, Saregama, who have been working diligently to put together a repertoire of 4.76 million music tracks online, music fans may have missed out on what is India’s biggest music archive.
Saregama—which was once Gramophone Company of India Ltd (GCI)—has been the sole custodian of the country’s oldest recorded music, being the only recording company in the country until the 1970s, when Polydor India Ltd emerged on the scene.
Since 1985, Maitra has been in charge of compiling the recorded music and also digitizing it.
Churamani, who joined the company after it first went online with Hamara CD (a prelude to the new online store, which allowed its visitors to order compact discs with their individual selection of music), has been involved in packaging the music for the market, complete with its metadata. The company has also been acquiring vending rights for music published by other companies, building on Saregama’s existing repository.
“We are going live with 40,000 tracks to start with and will add to the collection as we go along, based on market response,” says Churamani.
Currently, there are only two portals legally offering Indian music downloads for a price. Indiatimes, an entertainment channel, offers music among other things. The other online music store with a presence in India is Singapore-based Soundbuzz. Neither player has the depth of Indian music Saregama will offer, given the music it has access to dating from the start of the last century.
“Initially, we spent about six months in London copying about 4,000 old tracks recorded between 1902 and 1911, from EMI (Gramaphone Company of India’s parent company in the UK, Electrical & Musical Industries Ltd; RPG Enterprises acquired the management control of GCI in the mid-1980s),” says Maitra, who joined the company in 1968 right after he completed his engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.
With a large repository of music recorded on analogue mode (a physical storage format), Maitra and his team of engineers had an uphill task of digitizing this. Since 2001, he and his team have managed to convert about 300,000 songs and other musical renditions into digital tracks.
Will it be a hit? Jayanta Kumar Maitra, chief technical manager, Saregama, made the store happen.
The information that has to be tagged to the music being offered has made the task more complicated. Working with such detail there is frustration at every point, Churamani explains.
Churamani is also in charge of deciding what kind of product to serve up to the market.
It hasn’t always been easy. There have been instances of a nine-minute track being run as a six-minute one in the record, because that’s all the medium could take.
“The digital medium does away with the time limitation set by other physical mediums, so we can now exploit the original track,” says Churamani.
Meanwhile, Maitra will be filling out a 10,000 sq. ft space with racks of mother shells—of which the records are copies—and scores of pictures including that of the lady who cut the country’s first disc, Gauhar Jaan.
As the story goes, an engineer with EMI, Fred Gaisburg, set out in 1901 armed with 600 blank wax discs. He came to Kolkata looking for music to impress on these discs. After a lot of search he found Gauhar Jaan, a performer who charged Rs300 for an evening’s performance. That was in 1902. Then came Janki Bai who charged Rs3,000 in those days for a single recording. So began India’s journey with recorded music.
“Between Saregama and All India Radio, we are custodian of the old Indian music,” said Subroto Chattopadhyay, managing director of Saregama. This is something his firm is exploiting well—60% of its business is generated by the old repertoire.