Soda pop goes the pop industry
By Taimur Saleem
Our music industry is growing very aggressively with new talent being tapped every other day and commercialism, if discerningly and aesthetically done, can serve to be the requisite catalyst to accelerate that growth. It can offer motivation to the artiste in terms of the monetary equation. It can help him carry his message across to a wider audience. But at the same time, one needs to be mindful of the fact that too many fizzy drinks are bad for one’s health
Money makes the world go around — a straightforward philosophy that we are quickly coming to terms with. In today’s corporate world, products simply do not sell through their generic names; so every product strives to stand out among the crowd. A catchier jingle promises to rake in more customers. The consumer market is a money-spinning arena that is both the cause and corollary of competition and ultimately augments the quality of the products.
Every mega event requires some sort of sponsor brand to bear its organization expenditure. Be it a cricket tournament, a carnival, an exhibition or a music concert — it has become unfathomable to consider the organization of these events sans sponsors. The association of a popular sponsor brand brings a degree of authenticity and reliability to the event besides financial security.
In the beginning, sponsors only relied on ad campaigns but aggressive competition forced the brands to explore new avenues that would garner more consumers, translating into more profits. Music is a medium that virtually connects the brands with the common consumer in more ways than one. Be it the barbershop, a restaurant, a fun fair, a haute couture outlet opening or a casual drive in the car, we are surrounded by melodious (and maybe sometimes by the not so melodious) ditties. This raison d’etre gave birth to a partnership between sponsors and musicians. Many beverage, tea, ice-cream, cell phone, shampoo and pan masala companies started using the music of the artistes to carry their message to their consumers and the musicians in their turn got the chance to produce higher budget videos, perform more gigs and enjoy some (make note of some) degree of monetary assurance.
But, of late, the brands have started going overboard and have apparently directly taken the production of music videos into their own hands. Moreover, the videos of the songs just have chunks of the artiste’s own appearance whereas the centrestage is largely dominated by the reds, yellows and blues of the companies sponsoring the videos. The songs and their lyrics appear to have been literally tailored for supporting the company’s slogan; no matter how ridiculous they sound or how caricatured the artiste’s image becomes by their public projection (for instance, certain bands have been blindly endorsing candies in the most tasteless way imaginable). The music videos have begun to seem less and less like what they actually are and more like parts of advertisement campaigns. This is seriously tarnishing the essence and image of music.
The overall earnings of the artiste from his album sales are not so handsome unless he is able to generate a sufficient buzz and hype with his music. Copyrights enforcement remains a distant dream and artistes are not paid the royalty they actually deserve in this part of the world. Different celebrities have different views as far as the mushrooming commercialism in the Pakistani music scene is concerned, and there are different camps among the artistes regarding sponsorship and its crash course with artistic vision. Artistes have no problem being the spokesperson for the companies and building their image with their music as long as it’s done within delineated boundaries because Pakistani record labels offer little support to them (money-wise and otherwise) and going commercial then seems a viable option. Though no one admits outrightly that he is a sponsorship antagonist; but there were many focal points that the artistes agreed upon.
Khurram J. Khan is the manager of the alternative rock band Entity Paradigm, Jal as well as the drummer for the upcoming band Call (another alternative rock outfit). He believes that sponsors in Pakistan only go for the music that has mass appeal. “Sponsorships are imperative for new artistes who want to get the initial kick; but we all need sponsors to flourish. An artiste in Pakistan needs to have a proper marketing and launching platform; otherwise it is hard to get in the limelight,” he says. He also believes that when a sponsor just aims at selling the product through the music video, then it is ultimately the artiste who suffers. Only sponsors with vision can help the industry. “Sponsors should look for long-term benefits when they sponsor an artiste so that both parties can get a positive mileage,” says the manager.
Goher Mumtaz, songwriter, guitarist, composer and vocalist for the band Jal believes that pronounced commercialism exists in our music industry. He also says that sponsorships are important for a new artiste in the industry. “However, if a band has a good running with a strong fan following, then the band might be able to survive without a brand,” he says. Goher feels strongly about a sponsor dictating rigid terms and conditions. “I do appreciate ideas from others, but if someone pressurizes me to do something commercially, then I can’t work with dictatorship of that sort. Any band would end up losing its charm that way.” So what should a sponsor actually do for an artiste? “I think it is the responsibility of the brand to promote the band with its own musical style and arrange concerts, etc, in that connection.”
Qurram of Josh has an interesting approach: “I don’t think there is anything wrong with sponsorship. It just has to be done tastefully. And it has to highlight the artiste the way he/she is and wants to be projected and seen. I would never endorse a sponsorship if it didn’t coincide with all my beliefs.” About the commercial status quo, he ****, “Commercialism has become a part of the industry now; whether it happens at a subtle level or a higher level. Companies are always finding interesting ways to promote their products through the music industry.”
He thinks that commercialism is mainly stemming from want of financial freedom: “The artiste needs to live and he decides that going commercial will help him achieve this quicker. At the same time, companies are seeing this as a brand new way of reaching out to a core audience of youngsters.” So, how does he find the entire movement of musical evolution? “It’s exciting and this is how the industry shapes itself.” Comparing the local and international music scenes, Qurram says that commercialism in the same dosage is present locally and internationally but “they just have more creative ways of concealing it,” which is what it all boils down to in the end as well.