Used to be, the music universe was ruled by great wielders of power known as record companies. Also called labels, and permeated by men referred to by the intended pejorative “suits”, these companies had immense control over a vast and disparate tribe of social deviants known as musicians. The labels had dominance over nearly every aspect of those tribe members’ most personal creations—their songs. (There was even a time when the suits tried to name themselves as songwriters, even if they didn’t know the difference between a chord and a cord.)
The musicians remained beholden to the labels because the only investment they could afford was their time, skill, talent and conviction. The labels had coffers thick with coin, and so were able to fund the expensive processes of recording and release. That was merely the beginning of the indentureship. Every successive process in the chain of development remained in the iron grip of the labels: The publishing of the works, their distribution and their marketing. The ever self-empowering companies tightened their grasp by cartelising the business even further by engaging in conference room deals with other similarly expansionistic entities such as record stores, radio stations and TV channels. The only throughway to any of those outlets was via that conduit of conspirators, so if you wanted to spend your life making music professionally, your only option was to get a recording contract. And thus be in debt forever, because those houndstoothed, shark-finned, bespoked gents recouped every last paisa they spent on you. And then gave you a sliver of silver-plating for your efforts.
Then came the internet. And Napster, and BitTorrent, and 50 mbps broadband connections. And down went the papier-maché palaces. Record companies downed their shutters like shopkeepers during a bandh. The house began to be rebuilt—by craftsmen bearing tools of their own. Technology brought back the power to the people. Now not only do they create, they also control those creations. They offer their message to whoever is interested directly, untainted by the grubby, greedy hands of corporate behemoths.
Today, wherever you are in the world, you can connect with others who think like you, or dig what you do. There are no filters or funnels but the ones you employ to share the music you toiled for lifetimes to make. Social networking and online distribution sites form the level playing field you always wanted.
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(This story appears in the Nov-Dec 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)