As Internet and mobile phone penetration increases in Pakistan, the way people consume media, including music, is changing. Today with cheaper smartphones flooding the market, affordable fast speed internet, and new 3G and 4G mobile data options, streaming or downloading music is becoming the norm of the day.
From Napster (launched in 1999) to Apple Music, online music streaming has come a long way. In Pakistan as well, two new music platforms this year promise to be game changers not just for the listeners but also Pakistani musicians.
Taazi.com was formally launched on August 7, 2015. Brainchild of singer Haroon, who brought us the famous animated series Burka Avengers, Taazi boasts to be the country’s first and, so far, only website that legally uploads music after written agreements with the artistes and record labels.
The other website Patari.pk, scheduled to be launched by September, started its beta testing through an invite-only platform earlier this year. But soon enough, it ran into legal problems with record label EMI Pakistan and some artistes for uploading copyrighted material without permission.
“That’s the major difference between Patari and Taazi,” says Zeeshan Chaudhry, general manager of EMI Pakistan. The record label served a legal notice to Patari for copyright infringement, making them remove all the songs currently owned by it. “Taazi took care of all the legalities and then launched their platform,” Chaudhry says. “Patari deployed the music first and are then dealing with the issues that are cropping up.”
“It was a long painful process to get everyone’s content on Taazi,” Haroon admits while talking to TNS. “But I chose to go the legal route. There are no shortcuts [and] I wouldn’t dare break trust.”
Patari’s co-founder Khalid Bajwa tells TNS the team didn’t make this decision lightly. “Patari is built on the ashes of another concept of Pakistani Hulu, that was to offer online streaming of television programmes,” he explains. “For two years we went around trying to acquire legal rights to these programmes but no channel was interested.” Thus, he says, they decided that they needed to first prove to themselves and the industry at large that a platform like Patari could work. “It was at best in ethical grey area”, he admits adding that, “Patari has not made a cent from this uploaded content. We are completely focused on working on a mechanism to get the artistes monetary compensation from the website.”
So far, EMI Pakistan, that claims to hold copyright over almost 70 per cent of Pakistani music, has an arrangement with Taazi so its content is legally available on the website. And, according to Chaudhry and Bajwa, they are in the final stages of a similar arrangement with Patari.
The primary idea behind Taazi is to give musicians as much control over their content as possible. That’s why Haroon ensured that his website have a panel that allowed artistes and record label to upload their content and monitor it directly. To maintain quality, Taazi’s system automatically checks songs as they upload and gives an error if they are below a certain quality requirement.
Patari is also headed in the same direction. But at the moment, its team uploads the music, and the artistes have access only to the analytics panel through which they can monitor the traffic their tracks get. “This is because we want to ensure very strict quality control in terms of the files that are uploaded and how each track is tagged,” Bajwa elaborates. Once the system is in place, Bajwa says, Patari will eventually give uploading control to the artistes.
Both sites seem to have adopted a slightly different monetising approach. Taazi charges Rs10 plus tax for each downloaded song. This amount, Haroon says, was reached with the consensus of the artiste community. The users can charge the amount to their mobile credit; the service is currently available only to prepaid customers. But there are other options of payment e.g. via credit cards and PayPal. In response to a question about other payment models, Haroon says, “if paid subscriptions work, we will go with that. Nothing is fixed. We are also implementing an advertising model that will allow the artistes to get paid every time a free user streams their songs.”
Patari is focused on a monthly subscription plan. According to Bajwa, they haven’t decided on a figure yet, but they are aiming for around or less than Rs100 per month for users in Pakistan and 5 to 6 US dollars for international users.
The question arises how will these sites ensure their songs are not downloaded and pirated on other sites. Patari offers the solution by not providing its paying users with the MP3 files of the music track they download. Instead, the users will be able to only save the songs offline in the Patari app. “It is a misconception that people want to own songs,” Bajwa says. “In the past listeners wanted to own CDs and cassettes, but today they don’t care about owning music; they want access to it”.
Taazi, however, offers its paid users the option to download the MP3 file of the song they buy. “We debated the idea,” Haroon says. “Ultimately the musicians said they wanted their fans to own the files once they paid for it.” So that is the way Taazi went. Responding to the piracy issue, Haroon says there are other legal ways to stop piracy, including blocking piracy websites. “That is what we are focusing on,” he says.
Talking about royalties paid to the musicians, Haroon says 70 per cent of the revenue generated from each track downloaded on Taazi.com will be passed on to the artistes. “I’m not an entrepreneur,” he says “I’m an artiste. I’d be happy to break even.” The real purpose of the website, for him, is to allow musicians to make money from their work.
Patari, on the other hand, will be offering 40 per cent of the revenue to the artistes. This is because, Bajwa says, its business model is based on recurring revenues that come out of monthly subscriptions. “With 20,000 active users streaming around a million times every month at the invite-only stage,” he says, “what matters is the pool from which that [royalty] percentage is being drawn”. And Patari, according to him, will have a very large revenue pool.
Regardless of which platform the users flock towards, the tide for Pakistani musicians and their music finally seems to be turning. And for the listeners that only means more great music at even more affordable rates.