By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
So, there I was, looking through recently released albums by local bands, wondering which one would secure a portion of this month's allowance. Next to me, my more-impatient (than me) friend rolled his eyes on some new DVDs, smirked like a moron on spotting a blonde wrapped in an oddly unnecessary towel on one and then turned to face me.
“How much longer are you going to take on this?” he asked, clearly irritated.
“I can't decide. I'll buy one, 'cuz that's all I can afford now, but don't know which one!” I mumbled a reply.
“Uff, why bother? You can download them all for free by tomorrow!”
It hit me. He was right. Thanks to ultra-user-friendly software and the simplicity of Web, there were numerous sites popping up that allowed virtually anyone across the globe to download any new, old and even unreleased songs, both by local and international artists. I can easily download them tomorrow night and save my money! The following thought hit me stronger. Sure, I was enjoying my freebies; but what about all those who're making it? Being a patriot and enthusiast of any local effort, was I 'harming' these upcoming musicians?
The easiest answer to any question is given by the person(s) involved with it. Likewise, musicians had a lot more to share than us on the subject. While many completely detested such sites, saying it was cheap to save less than hundred bucks if you really liked the band or artist, simply because you can download them for free; others had quite different and strangely shocking realities to share. Apart from the by-now obvious fact that this second group of musicians completely supported free downloading, they pointed out how record labels haven't been giving artists a fair share of the deal.
As said, most established record labels pay a negligible amount of money to bands, regardless of the number of copies sold. The albums aren't well publicized, which is quite evident when you walk on the streets and don't see enough posters, or never get read its name on any newspaper. In that context, downloading songs from the Internet boosts up the band's popularity and Bangladeshis living abroad can easily listen to them. Apart from that, international productions follow a royalty system, which means for every copy of the album sold, the respective artist will get a certain percentage. In Bangladesh, such a 'fair' system is yet to develop and some labels pay the band a particular amount of money. This was unfair, considering bands, which sold more copies than what they were paid for or didn't even reach the mark. Few record labels take this 'unfairness' to the next level by only paying the band or artist minimal recording charges on its debut release, while any profits earned on it would be kept by the label. As far as my 'knowledgeable', coming-out-clean friends could recall, only Ektaar Music operated on royalty with musicians.
The story doesn't end here. Many musicians complained that productions don't 'work enough' to make an album look attractive to its buyers and listeners. Drawing example from Tool's latest album, it comes with a magnifying glass, which when looked through gives a 3D-feel out of the album sleeve. On the other hand, people hardly pay attention to the album art in Bangladesh. In the end, it doesn't make much of a difference between downloading an entire album and buying a 'kagoj'er modhe, jilapir moton CD bhora' album?
Downloading songs for free is one thing, but staring at Habib's mutated grayscale features on pirated copies around Nilkhet, Elephant Road, New Market and photocopy shops around the corner is a different story altogether. As long as we're stretching the issue of piracy, the main source of income for most record labels is through selling pirated foreign CDs and DVDs. This is, however, a strict policy maintained unanimously by all musicians and concerned listeners: do not support selling pirated CDs of local artists.
So, what can be done? Inspired by our 'democratic' scenario, one of the musicians suggested frequent drives against shops selling pirated albums, headed by cool magistrates like Mr. Rokon-ud-Doula (who also led that famous adulterated food drive). As for the record labels (with a sudden burst of inspiration to do something about piracy) can simply tick off by not copying the new Shakira, Borat and Superman! This calls for reducing prices of international releases. A more civilized suggestion was a round-table with all record labels so that they can set parameters on payment to different categories of musicians and be more enthusiastic about album art. For those who hate free downloading at the expense of buying local CDs, “Ban such websites, and take legal actions against those scumbags!”
Finally, on a lighter, agreeable and smarter note: to all the young and new bands about issue of free music on the net, make sure you upload all your songs so that people can download them for free! That's your best chances of publicity and before long, you'll be receiving fan mails from all corners of the globe!
Thanks to Reehan Rahman, Daniel Afzalur Rahman, Raef Al Hasan and Ashraful Abedin Khan for sharing their views.