2017 was a game-changing year for the arts in Pakistan. One saw a rapid growth in our film industry, an influx of new faces on television and a flourishing stand-up and improvisational comedy scene. However, most importantly, we also saw our music industry getting back on its feet.
To be fair, the music industry has been operational and on its feet since the last couple of years. There are several active bands and musicians, like Mooroo, Khumariyaan, Sounds of Kolachi and Sikander Ka Mandar, who actively perform shows all over Pakistan and beyond and are continuously producing original music. However, there was still this sense of incompletion; despite all these thriving names, we would still be claiming that the music industry was dead.
This can be narrowed down to one simple explanation: many Pakistanis simply don’t know that local music is being produced on a regular basis. Unlike Pakistani films, which have huge marketing budgets, Pakistani music is being largely produced by independent artists who simply don’t have such massive budgets. The only local music that one can come across easily is branded. Coke Studio, Cornetto Pop Rock and Nescafe Basement are platforms that produce music, making our audience think that this is the only form of sonic relief there is locally.
Since record labels are almost extinct in the country, musicians are left to their own devices to figure out how to market their music. One of the most well known names in the music industry, Mooroo explains his approach, “Any time a businessman has been involved in the handling of music in Pakistan, we’ve seen artists and musicians being exploited. Which is why I prefer to handle my own marketing and I do all of it via the Internet,” he says. Mooroo explains how, “Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram are all tools to reach out to people directly and I’m able to let people know whenever I release a new song. People end up making music videos for their music because videos get more clicks and shares as opposed to just audio. It’s seen more.”
While Mooroo is now making money from his music now, in the early years he would be spending more on the music then he would earn from it. “I have figured out my formula. Now I make sure that I’m not spending more money on marketing my music than I earn from it through concerts or films, etc. But I think initial investment has to be made in any business. One has to put in money for a long time before they can start seeing the returns.”
One name that restored people’s faith in the local music last year came in the shape of the Patari Tabeer series that featured a mix of artists, the most important being Abid Brohi and SomeWhatSuper, a musical group who famously created, ‘The Sibbi Song’. Not only did this song make the two artists more popular but it also introduced Patari to a larger audience.
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Mooroo and Khalid Bajwa, co-founder of Patari, both believe that the Internet is changing things for music. “When we were creating the Tabeer series, we started looking for stories and hooks. For example, with Tabeer there were great songs but they also had a great story. Because nowadays to be noticed on the Internet and to capture the audience’s attention, one has to stand out,” says Mooroo.
Bajwa agrees that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of how Facebook really works, “It’s important to understand Facebook because it’s the primary source of content distribution in Pakistan,” he says. “For instance, we found that long form doesn’t really work. If your video is 3 or 5 minutes long, the audience isn’t watching it. We found that the average time spent on a video is 7 seconds. If one is able to catch the attention in the first 7 seconds, then the viewer will stay on your video.”
‘The Sibbi Song’ was one of the most viral songs of the year, and it was advertised primarily through Facebook. Bajwa explains why. “‘The Sibbi Song’ was actually broken down in a very scientific way. We knew that the teaser of the song had to make the viewers see three emotions: You have to see Abid sing, you have to know that he can’t read or write and you have to see him dance. Anything that elicits an emotion out of you will capture your attention.” This is the strategy Patari deploys now when marketing local music.
Traditionally, record labels would be responsible for marketing an artist but that function has now been taken over by the Internet, “Ideally, a label should take care of an artist entirely — their PR, their concerts and schedules. So yes, record labels are not needed. But at the same time, our artists are not very Internet savvy so they don’t know yet how to use it to their advantage,” Bajwa points out.
And why is it so? “It’s just a lot of work for them. They have to create their music and then they have to run around trying to promote it. There should be platforms that support the artists so that they don’t have to do everything on their own. In that way, labels aren’t a necessity but if they’re there, then great,” he says.
There is also a debate that branded music, through shows like Coke Studio and Cornetto Pop Rock, is actually hurting the music scene because regular artists are simply not able to match up to their expansive budgets. Therefore, they cannot make their music to be as accessible as the Coke Studio/Cornetto Pop Rock artists.
However, the flip side of that argument is that these branded shows are also helping in fueling platforms like Patari. “Currently, Patari is able to sustain itself through advertising, revenue generated through branded content, with shows like Pepsi Battle of the Bands, Coke Studio, Nescafe Basement and Cornetto Pop Rock, for instance. However, we’re working on introducing a premium tier so we will directly be going to our users,” Bajwa adds.
“Half of our traffic comes from outside of Pakistan, so we will be reaching out to that audience. That’s the audience that can pay,” he explains.
He suggests brands should be investing in artists and not just the platforms, “Alongside these shows, they should financially help artists with their own music as well. That way, the industry will help the music industry and they will be helping themselves as well. The brands’ investment will produce more stars and the more stars and famous names there are in music, corporates can then use those names to promote their own brands later.”
Pepsi Battle of the Bands tried to change the formula a little by promising to produce an album of the winning band. The platform not only introduced new names, such as Kashmir and Badnaam, but also promised to launch the two by offering them prize money, concerts all over Pakistan, royalties for all their music produced on the show and an album deal.
The tide is turning for music; one optimistically looks forward to what 2018 will bring.