By Vidya Pradhan
First there was the single. Those of us over a certain age (ahem!) can remember stacks of shiny black vinyl discs with songs by Donny Osmond and Cliff Richards scratching away at 45 RPM on our parents’ LP players. As technology improved and made it possible to fit more than one song per side, the album was born.
Ever since, customers have been bound to this format, even as the delivery mechanism moved from an LP to a CD. Released from the constraint of quality, record labels have been bundling mediocre pieces with hit songs, to the utter frustration of the buyers.
No longer; thanks to the internet, the music industry has done a 360. Today the single, in the form of the mp3, has made a comeback as distributors like ITunes and Amazon Music make single songs available to the listening public.
This method of marketing music and the role of the internet in disseminating it have opened the doors for struggling musicians as they reach a wider audience without the support of established record labels. One such Indian-American musician, Ananda Sen, has taken the movement to its logical conclusion. On his website, he offers one free song per week for download, committing to a 52-week cycle of songs.
Ananda, who is also an entertainment attorney, interned at several big labels like Capitol Records and EMI before concentrating on creating music full time. His experience led him to believe, early on, that the ‘album’ as a unit for promotion was an outmoded concept. The numbers bear him out. Album sales dropped for a seventh consecutive year in 2006, but a dramatic increase in the sale of digital tracks helped keep the music industry afloat.
“My philosophy in doing this project is that music, like much of online content, should be episodic,” says Ananda. “It is in keeping with the cultural trend of being constantly updated and renewed.”
In this brave new world, there are different sources of revenue for the budding musician. One is the patronage model. Not unlike medieval kings, we, the listeners, support the artists we like by subscribing to their website to keep them going. Another is to ask the listeners to pay what they can. The band Radiohead famously offered their latest album in this format. (According to lead singer Yorke, the internet sales figures for their pay-as-you-wish experiment have outstripped the revenue from digital downloads of all their previous albums.) There are also the single sales online and ultimately the concerts and public performances.
Why does Ananda make his music available for free, though? “I want people to discover me and listen to my songs. This is my way of getting noticed,” says Ananda. “Also, committing myself to a song a week gives me the discipline to continue working on my music while I try to make inroads into the industry.” He does not rule out the album format completely and is planning to release one in April of 2008.
“Change is the only consistent thing in this industry,” he adds. “I thought this would be an interesting way of establishing a community of people who were attracted to my music. I am trying to present a compelling internet portal that would encourage people to come back and see what I’ve been up to. At the end of the day, I am a musician. I need to work hard and keep trying.”
Download: Eastern Sun, a terrific fusion song I’ve been listening to every day.
Picture courtesy Yashraj Dhillon