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Music Software

(Published in "Studio Systems" November-December 2002)

In the last few years, the development in electronic hardware for music creation seems to have come to a standstill with very few new breakthroughs in technology. The earlier two decades had seen the birth of FM technology and affordable ‘Sampling’, which changed the face of the Electronic Music instruments. Today, that industry has been reduced to releasing just more efficient versions of the same instruments by adding more memory, better effects, improved interface etc. The real revolution in Music technology however has been in the Music software area and newer and more powerful software are regularly seeing the light of day. In fact, there are session musicians today who produce great sounding world-class music with just a laptop computer and a small USB keyboard. Software Technology has placed truly powerful tools in the hands of today’s musician and the gifted computer musician is truly blessed. 

This music software revolution has naturally seen its biggest impact in richer western countries and the people there have embraced electronic music as a part of their culture and lifestyle. Of course, this has not stopped traditional musician skills from commanding a premium and the need to study music instruments will always remain a priority for powerful musical creation. However, there is no doubt that this music software revolution has introduced a new section of people into the musician stream. Music loving men and women, who would never have been able to make music a few years back, are beginning to explore this technology and we are beginning to see new artistic directions as a result.

Indian music culture till now has remained uninfluenced by this great music software revolution. Although we have the finest Software professionals in the world, we work for Masters from the West who mainly cater to western markets. Therefore it is not surprising that one of the first Indian music software to hit the market comes to us from Switzerland. A French IT professional, Mariano Etchepareborda developed “Swar Shala” when he realized that there was no fulfilling Indian Music software to satisfy his desire to create Indian Music. Today, in its third version, the software seems to have come into its own and can serve as a powerful tool for Indian Classical music training and for the creation of demos by aspiring musicians. Featuring many Indian instruments besides Tabla, the software works best with rhythm and melodic stroke instruments and can be used widely for the spread of Indian music. The third version has been developed extensively with the help of Indian musicians and musicologists and has a pleasing interface unlike most clinical looking music software.

With the rise in such software there is naturally been a fear that it will replace humans. In my opinion this fear is unfounded as nothing can replace the human feel especially in blown and bowed instruments. If used judiciously, music software of this nature can help the Indian musician and composers reach newer heights and he can experiment with compositions that were thought impossible. Although software all over the world has been programmed to try and make them, as ‘human’ as possible, human feel can have no substitute. As technology gets stronger, mankind will have to work harder to find what lies within him and use a combination of these powerful tools along with traditional skills to reach newer heights in musical expression.

Dum Dum Diga Diga

The ‘dumming down’ of the arts has become a major cause of worry in the Indian scenario. A recent article in an Indian weekly brought out the general tendency of the artistic community to cater only to the lowest common denominator.  The catering to only materialistic monetary benefits may have seemed worthwhile if it had resulted in a high level of success in the artistic efforts of our creative artists. Unfortunately, today the film industry has the lowest success rate ever, with films flopping every week. As far as the music goes, the less said the better! With the recession and the money resources getting even weaker, the standards of our public too stand no chance of improving. Indians were never quality conscious and the present state is making it impossible for us to get out of this trap. The cheapest is increasingly being mistaken for the best in our buying decisions resulting in further lowering of standards.

This vicious circle continues in the media facilities sector with more and more ‘amateur’ studios coming up as the rates drop. The quality of media personnel has dropped even further as salaries get lowered.  This cascading effect has ruined the entire industry and it may not be long before it catches up with us and reduces us to nothing. It is ironic that on one hand we have some of the best, world class talent with excellent facilities while at the other end the worst is being welcomed with open arms.

The insistence of excellence in our lifestyle at an early school-going age is the only long term solution to this ill that affects all of us. As for the present, creative collaborations between giants of Show business can result in turning the tide. In today’s tough times, it is important that we get together to combat the mediocrity that is drowning us. Major studios in the west have often joined hands to see an expensive film project through. In fact, as life gets tougher, this has often become the norm so that risks can be divided. We will have to learn to think globally so that the world can become our market. Already Hindi films are very popular world wide and we have some of the biggest creative heads in the world. Yet we cannot seem to command a fraction of the turnover generated by Hollywood with its “bigger than life” superstars, superior writing skills, professional infrastructure and global marketing abilities.  According to Business Week (Europe), Bollywood commands just 1.3 billion US $ in revenues to Hollywood’s 50 billion US $ although it sells more tickets!

Royalty

The recent announcement by BMG Entertainment, the record label home of Britney Spears, Elvis Presley etc. to simplify the way it accounts for royalty payments to artists is indeed a step in the right direction to reduce the tension between artists and record labels in recent years.  It will be the first of the five major labels to make the changes. US royalties are typically paid as a percentage of the suggested retail price, with deductions for packaging, new technology, manufacturing costs and others. Under BMG’s new structure, the royalty rate will be based on a lower wholesale price, but will eliminate standard deductions. The actual amount of royalties paid to the artists will remain unchanged. The other major labels, Universal Music Group, a unit of Vivendi Universal, EMI Group, Sony music and Warner Music Group, a unit of AOL Time Warner will hopefully follow suit.

Royalty will always remain as the fairest way to reward an artist for his creativity but it demands integrity in accounting, a quality sourly lacking in Indian conditions. (The West is not far behind as fittingly demonstrated by Enron!) The multitude of taxes and hurdles placed by the government, the inefficiencies of the working class, the alleged dubious characters of directors etc. unfortunately seem to make this system a non starter in India.   In the old days, when HMV was the only Indian Music company, royalty was the standard mode of payment to artists and it has been rumored that the system was fair and consistent. Unfortunately, with the increase in recording companies, the system collapsed and there was widespread fraud. The artists felt cheated and lump sum payments became the preferred way of operation, for both the artists and companies.

This system resulted in further discontent when hits were not compensated fairly and the film producers started demanding huge sums of money based on past records. The giving in by the music companies resulted in crores of rupees being paid as music rights based on projected sales, which were very often not realized, and music companies started producing films! The nature of the music industry changed totally, resulting in total disintegration and today the music companies are in bad shape with no identities of their own. TV, FM, Piracy and recession has further worsened their fate, a state which they had brought upon themselves. Today, with 27% drop in sales, they are playing a cat and mouse game, waiting for things to change, waiting for someone to show them the way so that they can blindly follow like they have always done!

George Harrison

The first death anniversary of George Harrison was celebrated recently with a tribute concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Famous friends of Harrison like Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, former Beatle band mates Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne etc. along with wife Olivia and son Dhani performed for a sell out crowd and I am sure it must have been an emotional evening for those present. “Something”, “Here comes the sun”, “While my guitar gently weeps” were just some of the compositions of this great maestro who in his later years also went on to produce films in between his music-making ventures.

George had a special connection to India and his love for Indian music and spirituality is well known. He was definitely one of India’s greatest friends and his “Ravi Shankar” days, ‘Maharshi Mahesh Yogi period’, ‘the visit to the ashram at Rishikesh’, ‘the concert for Bangla Desh’ have all been well documented besides the incredible guitar solos that used to feature in every Beatle song. Truly an amazing guitarist, George was a perfect foil for the Lennon-McCartney team. Unfortunately he was a trifle underrated mainly because of the massive talent of his band mates Paul and John. Hey, but who else could step into his shoes and off set their great music and lyrics and play a perfect solo in the midst of all that!

At the time of his death in November of 2001, George Harrison was working on his next album “Brainwashed”. His son, Dhani and Jeff Lyne have since finished this album which has released recently to rave reviews. In fact, it stands among the best work that Harrison ever did. Lynne had co-produced Harrison's 1987 solo album, Cloud Nine and had been his partner in the Traveling Wilburys. He had also worked with him on "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" for the Beatles' Anthology project, and was one of his closest friends. Harrison's son, Dhani had also worked closely with his father from the very beginning of the project and was him when the songs were being written and recorded. For all Beatle and George fans, the album promises to be a veritable treat. What an excellent opportunity to celebrate George's life!

Happy listening,  

Nandu Bhende

 

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