Mumbai: Sona Mohapatra’s new album won’t be out till the summer of 2009.
Most people across the country, however, are already familiar with one of the songs on the album, Paas aao (come closer, in Hindi).
The song, in keeping with its name, is the tune to which the latest ad for Closeup, a toothpaste brand from Hindustan Unilever Ltd, is set. And it could well mark the beginning here of an established trend in the US, the UK, and the rest of Europe.
While Indian advertisers have always turned to popular music—both homegrown Bollywood hits as well as international tracks—to draw attention to their brand, this is perhaps the first time a company has licensed an unknown song for its ad. Mohapatra could also be the first Indian musician seeking to tap into the popularity and reach of big-brand advertising to launch and promote her work.
Such arrangements work for both sides: the company gets to licence an original piece of music at a fraction of what it would have cost to licence a popular Bollywood number and the artist gets a promotional fillip—airplay on TV channels and radio stations that could rub off on the album when it is released.
According to Ram Sampath of The Mint, a Mumbai-based music production house, licensing an original composition such as Paas aao could cost a company between Rs5 lakh and Rs15 lakh. A Bollywood number would cost them Rs25-30 lakh, while an international song by an A-list singer such as Madonna could set them back by a cool $1 million (Rs4.8 crore at today’s prices).
“Not only does it make economic sense but an original composition is a more likely fit as compared to a song where the lyrics are not composed from the brand’s point of view,” said Sandeep Puri, regional business director on Unilever business, Lowe Bangkok. “In this case, Paas aao communicated exactly what the brand wanted to.” The song remains the intellectual property of the singer.
“Most people hope their songs get picked for a movie. But when the ad came along, I knew there was no better video for my song,” said Mohapatra, whose last album, Sona, was released by Sony BMG.
“Here was a chance to run the song in mainstream media without having to lose the soul or integrity of it. It could breathe and was not part of a contrived situation on film where it would be overshadowed by the star.” Mohapatra is partner and producer at The Mint and married to Sampath.
The move will help musicians because it is otherwise difficult for them to showcase their talent, said a composer. “It is next to impossible to get mainstream attention,” said Sampath. “When Bollywood is so all-pervasive, there are no avenues for local or indigenous musicians to express themselves any more.”
The dominance of Bollywood music also has to do with the kind of TV and radio audience measurement systems in use, according to Amar Deb, chief rowdy, RowdyRascals, an Internet content company. When media buying is based on a rating system that measures the quantity and not quality of audience, it’s only natural that a majority of radio stations and television music channels will opt for the least common denominator, the one that rakes in a chunk of the audience—Bollywood music, he said.
Music companies, too, rarely root for independent musicians because it is difficult for them to survive on record sales alone. That explains their near-obsession with Bollywood.
“The issue is exposure,” said Craig Pereira, associate marketing director, Artistes and Repertoire, Sony BMG India. An indie (as in independent artist created) track gets a maximum of three-four plays on a music channel per day, as compared to at least 10 for a Bollywood one, he explained. In January, Sony launched an album by Pakistani band Strings. The music video for the title track featured Bollywood actor John Abraham—an effort targeted at higher exposure. “The song has definitely got 100% more rotations just because of John Abraham,” added Pereira.
According to Pereira, when a big music label such as Sony BMG launches an album, it spends around Rs1 crore, of which around 55% will go to cutting a music video and marketing the album. Clearly, it’s easier to make the economics of this business work with Bollywood music.
The only avenues open to musicians are advertising, television and films, said Dhruv Ghanekar, co-founder and key composer of Blue Frog Media Pvt. Ltd, a live performance venue, record label and music production company rolled into one. The scope for live performances is limited, he added. “If you want real money at a show, Rs5-10 lakh, it’s in film music. Not in singing the blues.” The record label division of Blue Frog Media is now looking to hook up some of its talent, such as Sha’ir + Func, a Mumbai- and New York-based band, with advertisers who could use their compositions in ads. Recently, Ghanekar, along with a colleague, Ashu Phatak, used a jazz blues song with Bengali lyrics from their album Smoke Signals, as the soundtrack for the television commercial for GQ India.
The trend of tapping musicians for ads isn’t new. In 1989, before the commercial release of the song, PepsiCo Inc. used Madonna’s song Like a prayer in a television commercial featuring the pop star. The commercial was aired only twice before the release of the music video on MTV. The video itself was controversial and Pepsi pulled the plug on its ad when religious groups threatened to boycott the drink. More recently, singer Jose Gonzalez’s song Heartbeats reached No. 7 on the UK charts, helped by an award-winning Sony Bravia television commercial which used the song as its soundtrack.
“Any avenue that delivers exposure to the song is considered,” said Pereira of Sony BMG.
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