Sound of MUSIC

Debarati Palit Singh
Saturday, 21 October 2017

Bollywood music in the last few decades has gone through a major change because of technology. Debarati Palit Singh looks at some of these changes.

Music is and will always be an integral part of the Hindi film industry. The rest of the world refers to Indian films as ‘the cinema with song and dance’. Even though filmmakers are making an attempt to break away from the image, there is no denying that until and unless we have a dance number, a romantic track, a party number and a family song, the film seems incomplete to us.

If we look at the developments in Hindi film music in the last few years, we notice that technology has become an integral part of it. From musicians putting up songs on YouTube and Facebook before the film’s release, to technology-aided composing and singing, you find its presence everywhere.
Is the trend good or bad? When we speak to experts, we realise that opinions are divided on this topic.

Hit? Really?
With the use of technology, it doesn’t take filmmakers, music labels and production houses even a week to declare their song or album a hit. All online platforms are put to use to promote the song with just one goal – to declare it a hit.
But really, who decides if a song is hit or not?

The question has been bothering veterans, new musicians and composers. Says singer-composer Shaan, “It’s quite surprising that we declare a certain song as superhit when many listeners haven’t even heard it. We decide if the song has worked or not going by the number of hits it gets on YouTube and Facebook. I believe the whole thing is becoming completely virtual, but it is far from reality.”

He adds that no one realises that the hits that the songs get on YouTube or Facebook are paid hits. “How many songs or albums are organically reaching the listeners? No one knows that,” he says.

Veteran singer Sudesh Bhosle believes that today any song can become a hit. “There’re no rules. Because of media, marketing and constant hammering on social media, listeners are forced to listen to a particular song. The moment the song gets hits like this, it’s declared a superhit.”

Is is just sound?
If we keep aside the aggressive promotion, do the ‘hit’ songs have merit? Not too many of them, because the moment another ‘hit’ song comes along, the first one goes into oblivion. Veteran composer and music arranger Uttam Singh, who has given music for memorable films like Dil Toh Pagal Hai, feels, “Technology has taken away the soul from Hindi film music.” 

While most people believe that one must not compare Hindi film music pre and post digitisation because digitisation has given a completely new dimension to music, Uttam Singh complains, “Post digitisation, it’s not humans but machines who sing. Till the ‘90s, human brains used to work but now machines work. In the last 15-20 years, what we are reading and hearing is a copy. Originality is dead.”

He goes on to say that music and writing has become a casual affair because no one is making efforts to create anything new or unique.

Singer Sukhwinder Singh echoes his thoughts when he says, “We are at such a stage when 90 per cent of our life is digitised. Because of this the technique to create music has changed 100 per cent. The earlier format, equipment and instruments no longer exist. It’s the machine that creates music and the technicians have become secondary.”

The singer, famous for crooning songs like Chak De, however, doesn’t dismiss technology as useless and admits that it has both advantages and disadvantages. “Today because of technology, music sounds fake. When a singer sings, it sounds like the machine is singing. Anyway, eventually, those with special talent will survive and the rest of the crowd will fizzle out. But the best part about technology I feel is that we are being able to create too many songs in a short span of time.” 

Auto tuned?
With more number of songs, more singers are also coming up. And here too, technology is coming to the aid. From non-trained singers to actors, many are recording songs at the studios, all thanks to auto tuning. Sudesh says even popular singers are taking help of auto tuning to enhance the effect. But he feels that young artists are not making use of the platform in a positive manner. “Youngsters are recording a cover and getting lakhs of votes. They are not creating original tracks.”

Singer and composer Kailesh Kher, however, would like to look at the positive side. “Everyone is getting an opportunity to sing. This has happened because of the digital world. Earlier, budding musicians and singers had such a hard time finding a platform but that’s not the case anymore,” he feels.

Sharing similar thoughts, composer Gourov Dasgupta (of Gourav-Roshin duo) says, “It’s become easy for budding artists to upload their music online and get noticed.”

Shaan has no issues with actors or non-trained singers doing playback singing and he firmly believes that composers will soon start going back to the old ways. “Many composers have started using more instruments and less electonics. I think it was an initial phase of excitement among composers and singers to use different kinds of technology,” he says.

The future
In a competitive world of today, the challenge is how fast you can put your music online. Two decades ago, listeners bought an entire album (cassettes and later CDs) to listen to their favourite songs. Today, we don’t need to buy music because we get to hear the same song on YouTube, music channels and music apps, all free of cost.  

To bring in some change, Sony Music recently took a bold step and made listeners pay for Pritam and DIPLO’s song Phurrr from Jab Harry Met Sejal. Explaining the step, Shridhar Subramaniam, President India & Middle East — Sony Music says, “We inserted a paid window in the music business which didn’t exist prior to this. We need to create an ecosystem where some things are free and other things paid. This will help balance the health of the industry.”

He further says, “We also got much support from partners and stake holders including audio streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Saavn, Gaana, Hungama as well as the producer of the film, Red Chillies Entertainment. At the end of the day, it is the health of the music industry and the health of the platforms that is at stake and this decision directly benefits the health of the creators. They will definitely be in for this.”

Makers and labels have perhaps realised that this will help in sustaining the music industry in the long run.

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