Protecting interests of musiciansApon Zahir
‘Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything’- Plato.
In the old days, music was magic and musicians were artisans, practicing their art in front of euphoric crowds and among esteemed companies. Today, music is also a business, a path to fame and fortune traversed by many but successfully completed by a few.
Becoming a musician is not an easy task, and it never has been. The advent of technology and the blurring of geographic and cultural boundaries have brought forth both opportunities and new perils. At the cutting edge of the music business is the concept of digital music distribution. Corporate innovation and the powers of the internet have now basically allowed people to listen to music anytime anywhere as long as they have a piece of technology with them or have access to the internet, but through sponsorship and advertisement, musicians are getting paid even though their works are being enjoyed for free! This idea has almost become a necessity since the rampant growth of piracy and illegal distribution of music is destroying the livelihood of musicians, especially in a country like Bangladesh where digital rights protection is virtually non-existent.
The idea of digital music distribution may be still in its infancy, but Bangladeshis have already dabbled in the possibilities. A prime example of the industry is Mushroom Entertainment, a business that rejoices music. It deals with artistes, labels, management, and fans by providing online tools for independent musicians, labels, and management companies. The business runs internationally following all standards sitting right at home. The organisation was founded by young Bangladeshis Rousseau Mannan, a guitarist and producer working in the music industry in the US, Manim Mahmud, an entrepreneur and Armeen Musa, who is a songwriter, singer and composer.
The first product of Mushroom Entertainment, ME Label is the all in one tool. It handles all aspects of the music business including distributing international digital platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay and also collects online royalty from free streaming sites such as YouTube and Spotify. ‘We are a digital label and a distributor and we work in the international digital market, making Bangla Music available globally, in addition to monetizing otherwise free content on sites like YouTube etc. This, traditional labels have not done before. In addition we do not retain any copyright or bind or artists to us, allowing the artists to retain full control over their songs and obtain maximum royalty.’ says Armeen Musa, the COO of Mushroom Entertainment Inc.
Armeen is an aspiring musician currently studying at Berklee College of Music, Boston, USA and earlier she has completed an honours degree in Economics from Nottingham University, UK. The singer who also has a band named The Grasshoppers is also widely acclaimed for her solo music album Ai Ghum Bhangai.
‘Our CEO Rousseau Mannan studied music business in college and this was his brainchild in 2009. In 2011, I came on board and we started to expand more to parent ME Label, ME Store, ME Radio and upcoming ME Music,’ states Armeen.
Armeen is passionate about making music and is working to make the lives of all aspiring musicians easier. ‘I am definitely a musician first, music is everything to me and I hope that someday I’d be able to focus just on that; and thus I am dedicated at ME Inc too. I joined the company because I saw that this would be a solution for musicians to make a steady income from online royalties and sales and be able to allow them to focus on their art.’
Rousseau commenced Mushroom Entertainment back in 2008 as a college project. He released his own project called ‘Joloj Khela’ under Mushroom, the first Bangladeshi album to be on iTunes or any other online platform. Soon after the release, he was joined by Armeen who began to reach out to more musicians and labels in Bangladesh. ‘Sumon O Aurthohin, Anusheh Anadil, Bappa Majumdar, Alif Alauddin, Elita Karim and Arnob are some musicians who have extended their support in creating awareness in digital distribution with us,’ informs Armeen. ME is operated by musicians and entrepreneurs who are passionate about artistes retaining full control and copyright over their music. The inspiration behind ME was to be able to create an income source for musicians so that they can make a living through music and do not feel compelled to sacrifice the art to make their ends meet.
‘In course of time, we have managed to get aboard many wonderful artistes living locally as well as others from abroad. Some of these albums have done wonderfully on the internet. We are currently working towards our local digital store where people can buy music online using local credit cards and bKash,’ states Armeen.
Recently ME has launched its free online radio called ME Radio (meradio.fm). Armeen says, ‘Fans can listen to songs free of cost using our online radio. We are currently engaged in licensing an enormous playlist of international music (almost 10 million) to be played in Bangladesh though ME Radio. ME will compensate the artistes for each time their song is played from the revenue generated through advertisement.’ ME radio enables smart phone users to listen to songs anytime, anywhere.
Armeen is a strong advocate against piracy. According to her, piracy has put the whole music industry at a risk. For this reason, music professionals haven’t been able to earn the actual monetary reward that they deserve. Therefore, many talented artistes have been shifting towards different occupations away from the music industry. ‘We are hoping sites like ME Radio will encourage listeners to not download illegally even if they can’t afford to buy the album, as they are listening for free,’ hopes Armeen. Through her work, she wishes to raise awareness among fans regarding the hardships all musicians including herself has suffered due to piracy. ‘The main obstacle is always financial, there isn’t a systematic music industry as such, we are yet to have artiste management that will allow musicians to just do the music and have other business aspects handled. Most musicians have to manage bills, gigs, recordings, jingles in addition to creating music.’
Independent businesses like Mushroom Entertainment exist to separate the capitalism from the music, and allow artists to live on the rewards of their work. ‘So far, we have been overwhelmed with the positive response from our musicians and audience who seemed to have been waiting for such a digital venture for Bangla Music’, Armeen shares with the Youth.
It is encouraging that some individuals are working tirelessly to pave the future of the music industry and make ways for a new generation of musicians who will not be deterred by the threat of piracy and deprivation from their deserved royalty.
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