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Features |  31 Oct 2008 15:41 |  By Riya

Going for a song

The rules of the music rights game in the Hindi film industry are changing at light speed. When music wizard A R Rahman refused to compose for Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om when denied a share in the film's music rights, he didn't know it would create a tumult in the composer fraternity. In the span of less than a year since then, composers have begun laying down their own rules.

Composer trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy worked on a relatively humble budgeted Johny Gaddar, working the deal in their favour by bagging a plum 50 per cent share of the publishing rights. Not so long ago, background scorers turned music composers Salim-Sulaiman cracked some exclusive deals with producers, for a lucrative share of music rights. Composers, earlier unaware of these possibilities, seem to have decided not to bow down to labels' demands.

Anu Malek, who has scored the music for a myriad films in the last 25 years, spent months thinking whether he should demand his pound of flesh from the producers. After studying the industry closely, Malek now clearly defines his conditions before signing on any project; he now wants 50 per cent of the music publishing rights. "I don't like to term this as a fight from us composers. It works on simple economics. It is my music and I want to own it."

Malek has inked a three film deal with Eros and his other films include Love Story 2050, Maan Gaye Mughal-E-Azam and a few others for which he is not getting a share since he signed these films before charting out this rule. However, since Eros has Sajid Nadiadwala's Kambaqt Ishq, the composer will be getting his fair share. Shekhar Ravijani of the Vishal-Shekhar duo too says it is the music composers who should have the ownership of the music since they create it. Also, he adds, they are in a better position to monetize the music property. If I was international, I would be driving a Bentley. However, the situation in India is changing now....

The duo will be getting a handsome share of music royalties for their upcoming projects. He stresses on the fact that big banners pay in a way that there is no need to press for music royalties. But Ravijani also hints that while signing multi film contracts will be beneficial for composer, music companies would do well to initiate changes in the system.

While most labels have not yet reacted to the undercurrent, Big Music, a fairly new player in the market, has taken the initiative by inducting an arm – Big Music Publishing - which will actively fight for the rights of music directors and lyricists. Will these changes finally bring in the long delayed pecuniary recognition to the creative talent in the music industry?

Explains Big Music CEO Kulmeet Makkar, "We will be signing composers and lyricists, and manage them completely. We have a dedicated publishing arm which looks after the music rights; hence we will be taking care of issues of music rights share of composers and lyricists as well. We want to work very closely with the industry." He states that composers are willing to work with his music label. "They are willing to partner with us and explore the opportunities. Like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy did for Johny Gadaar and A R Rahman for Ada."

Though the investment for the new venture is still being worked out, Makkar estimates it will roughly range between Rs 30 to 50 million. Ex IPRS Director General Sanjay Tandon will be heading the new arm.

T-Series, one of the top players in the game, with the maximum number of current Hindi film music rights under its belt, doesn't agree with the idea of granting music rights shares to the creators. "Music companies are built for a reason and it's our job to take care of the music rights. The marketing and distribution of music is done in a systematic process which is important. We know the legalities very well, how will the composers monetise the property in the due course of time?" questions T-Series' President, Marketing, Media and Publishing Vinod Bhanushali.

The Indian Music Industry's The Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) is in place to help composers and lyricists get their due share. But Anandji, part of veteran composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji, who was part of the board of directors of the IPRS, says after 2004, the music labels have been having an upper hand in the working of the IPRS, with the result that the real creative owners of the music do not get their rightful dues.

While Anandji avers that the Copyright Act of India is a nice piece of legislation, the dilemma lies in the fact that the artistes lack the temperament to fight, whereas music labels have a brilliant infrastructure in place. This does not allow music composers to fight and take the liable to the court, lacking both the power and money to do that, he alleges.

The growing monies from the digital sales are also giving ample reason to the labels to hold on to their rights. The physical sales of music may be on the downswing, but digital sales (read ringtones and caller ringback tones) are more than making up. "Nearly 40 to 50 million rupees are earned through the download of one song's ringtones. The whole amount goes to the music label, I as a musician get nothing except the money paid to me at the time of composition," says Lalit Sen, who composes songs for Falguni Pathak and a few other pop artistes. He also points out that internationally, pop stars mint money when their created music is played at concerts, shows, ringtones and much more.

"Earlier, the job of the record label was to distribute the records of the songs and pay the owner 10 per cent royalties. That 10 per cent got divided between the producer, composer and singer. Then came the concept of outright buyouts of music rights by a certain music label and that was done through middlemen i.e. the producer of the film. It was then that people understood or liked to believe that the producer is the whole and sole of IPR and people in the industry were led on to believe the same," explains Anandji, recollecting the music rights share business in his era.

However, unity among the composer fraternity is still a mirage. There are composers, like Salim and Sulaiman Merchant who shot to fame with Chak De India's music, and are working on a number of projects which include Madhur Bhandarkar's Fashion and Yashraj's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and animation film Roadside Romeo. "We are not getting any share for these two projects. When it comes to YRF, working with them is a big thing, so we are not looking at anything beyond that," confirms the duo.

Times, however, are poised for a change, believes Malek. "Initially it will be difficult for musicians; especially the new breed, to turn down the lucrative offers, but slowly and steadily one will understand the importance of sticking to the defined rules." The tussle, it seems, has just begun.