It seems that television has become ambivalent to good music unless it has corporate patronage and is forced down your throat. Or, it comes in the form of Bollywood songs or, as observed lately, music from cinematic releases from Pakistan. In other words, the rules have changed so many times that we don’t seem to know what they are anymore. We also live in the age where our attention spans are limited and sometimes you need a visual cue. What does it mean for the music industry though?
From The Sketches to Sajjad Ali, Khumariyaan, Fuzon, Abbas Ali Khan, Adil Omar, Asim Azhar, Call, Strings, Shallum Xavier, Mehdi Maloof, everybody’s got a music video to their credit in recent weeks and months. Patari, Pakistan’s largest streaming site, has also turned its Patari Aslis platform into a rolling audio-video one and has delivered a number of music videos along with singles, including Abid Brohi’s ‘Kaam Dou’. While on the subject of Brohi, he blew up as an artist with ‘The Sibbi Song’ last year and THAT music video too has picked up millions of hits on YouTube. With projects like Cornetto Pop Rock, now in its third season, more music videos will be released in the year ahead.
If the biggest misconception (and a rotten one at that) is that there is no good original music releasing in Pakistan, then the second biggest misconception is that music videos are dead. But is the surge we’re seeing a permanent one or just simply a series of music videos releasing together and making it seem as if the culture of music videos is back?
The one thing we do know is that music videos in the digital age is a growing concept that is no longer being embraced by just the internet-savvy home-based music producers around the country but several prominent names as well, some of whom have, in the past, made iconic videos.
Instep reached out to a number of industry experts to get their take on the matter. Among them is singer-songwriter Jimmy Khan, who created ‘Madam’, his strongest music video to date, last year. Given that investment, Instep asked Jimmy if he agrees that there is a surge in original music videos in Pakistan and whether ‘Madam’ was a one-off. In response Jimmy told Instep: “You say strongest because it spoke of a marginalised community or just visually powerful? It certainly was not a one-off for me. All my previous music has been showcased through music videos and hopefully my future work shall be too.”
As for the current surge in music videos and whether corporate patronage is necessary for music videos, Jimmy added: “I don’t feel that there’s been a surge in music videos but there’s definitely more music coming out off-late. Regardless of it being corporate backed or not. The great thing about the digital age is that now you can start monetising your own content and more people are getting the hang of it now than ever before. A quality song and music video might be able to generate its own return through various platforms. I’m hoping there’ll be less and less dependence on the corporate in the future and the music industry will be more independent than it currently is.”
Another artist Instep reached out to is Hadiqa Kiani, who released a five track EP titled Wajd last year, to great success, with each track accompanied by a music video. When asked about a surge in music videos, Hadiqa noted, “I don’t know if music videos are necessarily seeing a surge. I believe that humans tend to be visual creatures, we need some sort of visual to truly register art. There was a ton of independent work being produced in the late 90s and early 2000s; people were making music for the sake of making music and, by default, music videos tagged along. Now with the corporatization of Pakistani entertainment, artists seem to rely on various platforms rather than on their own songs (and therefore, own videos). I think if we encourage more independent artists, we will be able to see a real revival of the ‘music video’.”
When asked if it is possible to make a mark with strong music videos without corporate patronage, Hadiqa noted, “It is. I think music videos are about art at the end of the day, not the budget. I have music videos directed by Asim Raza, Jami, Abdullah Haris and various incredible directors and only a handful of them had corporate sponsorship; the rest were financed by myself and my brother, Irfan Kiani. Most of my videos were about collaboration, working with fellow artists to create works of art that were aimed to make an impact. This has been my strategy since the beginning of my career; working with people who are talented and who, most importantly, want to work.”
“I think the problem with the lack of ‘strong music videos’ these days is that people (even those with millions in corporate investment) just don’t care about the art behind the video. Or if they do care about video, they don’t care about the music and there is usually at least one piece missing. I think if people dedicated themselves to music videos and saw them for the pieces of art that they are, we would get back into making a real impact. As artists, we have to come together and start making art again.”
Perhaps the biggest example of the return of music videos in the mainstream, aside from Hadiqa’s efforts last year, is that of Strings in 2018. Having put out music videos for ‘Urr Jaoon’ (Jami) and ‘Sajni’ (Yasir Jaswal), they plan to produce more music videos as they continue to release new material from their latest album, 30, which is a celebration of 30 years of existence. Both music videos have received a decent response and to do it without the backing of either a record label or a corporate backer, for Strings, is new territory. But, speaking to Instep on behalf of the group, Faisal Kapadia explained that they agree with the notion that there is a surge in music videos and so far it’s working out for the band.
“We surely believe that it’s really working for us to release music videos online. Of course, 10 years back the mediums were different; TV was a very important platform. Now TV has become irrelevant to music distribution because people listen to and watch music videos on their phones via YouTube and other social platforms. TV is not that important anymore. Record labels were there back then but they never used to actually help artists to distribute music. Back then also, artists used to distribute music on their own. If there was a label releasing our album, that was fine, but we were the ones who’d go to radio stations or TV stations and distribute our music. In that sense, the label companies never did play such a role, not in 2000s and not even in 1990s. In 1992 when we released Strings II, we were the ones who made a video of ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’ and we even made a promo. Usually, artists do everything themselves in Pakistan and it has been so for the last 20-30 years. Now, it has become more controllable; when TV channels did exist, you had to depend on them but with YouTube, Facebook, artists can distribute their content on their own and they can actually target the audience and do a lot of things.”
Faisal added: “If the PR and all the platforms are simultaneously engaged, the results are positive.”
So there you have it, it isn’t necessarily a surge in music videos as it is the realization that the growth in digital is enormous, with or without corporate backing and ultimately it is a reflection of very good music being made. The real question now is: have you heard it?