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A music ecosystem

Most musicians in Pakistan are suffering due to a lack of a sustainable ecosystem for musicians. The painful death of Asad Abbas, renowned folk singer, shows the murky reality our lesser privileged artists go through.

Asad was suffering from kidney dysfunction and had made desperate pleas for financial assistance from the government and his fellow colleagues. Unfortunately, he breathed his last on August 15, 2023 – may God bless his soul and give strength to his family.

At present, the music industry in Pakistan is largely led by brand advertisers who advertise various products of big corporations through music competitions, shows and programmes. Whereas brand advertisers have produced amazing music shows and songs, they have failed to establish a sustainable ecosystem for musicians despite investing millions of dollars.

To put it in simple words, advertisers want to promote and sell their products at all costs. For the last 15 years, music programmes have been an effective way for them to do so. Their main goal is to promote products rather than create music. This has caused serious harm to Pakistan’s music industry since advertisers have not created an eco-system where music can be considered a serious profession. Investment in the music industry which builds a sustainable eco-system for musicians is the need of the hour.

Globally, great artists and musicians selling millions of records and performing concerts are products of an ecosystem which caters to musicians. Music companies are the centre-points of such an ecosystem. Contrary to what is commonly believed, music companies are not music production houses. In fact, they are a corporation as any other corporation – aiming to make money and pay dividends to their shareholders. Their survival is dependent on building a sustainable ecosystem and a marketplace.

For instance, the business model of a record label is that it signs artists for creating music. The artists assign their copyrights to labels and the labels then distribute and market the artists’ music. Success of the artists and their music means better revenue for the label. The labels then invest their earnings in creating better production studios, distribution platforms, technologies and social media outlets. Labels also licence music to music show producers, electronic media and music streaming platforms.

The earnings from such licensing are then shared with artists and all supporting parties. This creates employment, development of skill-sets and a thriving music industry. Since music companies earn by selling music, they ultimately invest in the entire supply chain of the music industry.

However, when advertisers step into the shoes of music companies, the ecosystem and its importance is ignored. Pomp and fanfare take centre-stage since they are the key ingredients for successful branding. The ecosystem that takes time, energy, focus, and investment is relegated to the backburners.

In this regard, small music enterprises cannot grow in an environment which is not conducive for growth. The big money of the advertisers has resulted in lesser competition as small music enterprises are unable to compete with big advertisers. This uneven level playing field shuts down small music enterprises which are essential for healthy and long-term growth of the music industry.

Music, like any other industry, requires long-term, structured, and consistent investment, focus and priority. Advertisers’ big money also jolts the whole market and the evaluation criteria on which music, songs, artists, and their catalogue must be evaluated, licensed, assigned and sold. Music companies’ KPIs and their methods of evaluation worldwide are based on the performance of the songs (such as number of views, playlists, revenue from digital and non-digital platforms and concert audience of the artist). However, advertisers method of evaluation is primarily based on identifying which artist can sell their product better and can act as an influencer. This has distorted market rates in the music industry concerning performance fees and licensing costs.

Globally, licensing of music is an important means by which money is earned in the music industry and it is essential for the growth of the music industry. However, advertisers don’t understand music distribution, licensing, and copyrights and they tend to be highly protective of their catalogues and refuse licensing or assignment.

On the other hand, global music companies thrive on the licensing business. Licensing allows music to spread out, be exploited in its full term and be a source of revenue for both music companies and the artist. As the saying goes, sharing is caring. The various music programme in Pakistan produce roughly 30-35 songs per year. This is an extremely low figure and since licensing requirements are stringent, thus a market of buyers and sellers cannot be created. In Pakistan, the music industry suffers due to the absence of licensing by advertisers.

To conclude, advertisers’ hunch for music is primarily to serve their own branding needs. Music companies have the pressure of surviving and growing which enables innovative thinking. On the other hand, advertisers have no pressure to create a market, which is why the music industry in Pakistan has deteriorated. Music companies investing in building an eco-system for musicians, are the only future for the growth of the music industry in Pakistan.

bdul Rafay Siddiqui & Yahya Farid Khwaja, "A music ecosystem," The News. 2023-09-11.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social media , Electronic media , Musicians , Studios , Pakistan