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Record labels vs music industry: The war intensifies

MUMBAI: Having produced some hit tunes together over the years, the music industry comprising singers, composers and lyricists are now up against the Indian record labels over the song royalty issue. Though the row started with one label and composer, the war has now intensified with each member of the fraternity choosing a side.

In the West, singers are paid a certain sum as royalty for the songs rendered by them, even as the rights lie with the music labels. India has been the only country with no such provisions for its music fraternity members.

In the past, several musicians including Lata Mangeshkar and Javed Akhtar spearheaded the revolution, but to no avail. Their struggles ultimately petered out without a trace. Slowly, over time, the record labels emerged as the giants of the industry having an absolute monopoly.

Today, the unreleased music of an actor’s upcoming film led to a furore involving the actor, music label, production house and composers. This revived the old conflict, with battle lines drawn between T-Series and music trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

One of the leading music labels, T-Series has been dominating the Bollywood music distribution segment for the past two years, with most major film titles registering their music rights with the label. The producers of ‘One by Two’ too approached the label for the music release and marketing of the film’s music.

The problem started when Abhay Deol, who is making his debut as a producer with this film and also playing its male lead, made a public outcry blaming T-Series for the delay in the marketing and launch of the film’s music.

He alleged that the music label was asking composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (SEL) to sign a clause over the latter’s refusal to pay them royalty, which it deemed illegal. However, T-Series denied the claims stating that they were baseless allegations.

The main issue was that the singers and composers were demanding their rights to get the royalty from a song, while T-Series was apparently making them sign a clause curbing those rights. While some singers had no problem, others like Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan and SEL took issue starting the crusade once again.

While the exact details of the clause are yet to be known, many industry experts state that the label was asking the composers to sign a clause which would prevent them from re-creating the song in any other form later and the sole rights would lie with the labels, acting as a major ‘tie-down’ for composers.

Describing the music labels as monsters, a music industry expert and former executive of a music channel told TelevisionPost.com that it is a fight that has started again for the rights of the singers and composers.

But why only T-Series? And if that is the case, why don’t the singers take the case to court to sort it out legally?

The answer emerges that T-Series, as the leading music label having music rights of the majority of films released these days, must bear the brunt, but other music labels too will face the same fate. The second part of the question has a practical answer—the music labels and singers have to continue working together in future and a legal recourse would only make the relationship bitter. Moreover, the expert says that with most music labels being ‘giant monsters’, they can easily dispose of a case without detriment to their business.

A top executive of T-Series fired back that the music fraternity has no understanding of the law and that the singers and composers are paid a heavy remuneration and earn as much through the numerous concerts they do. In such a case, demanding rights and royalty for a song is not feasible as the rights get fragmented and monetisation is at a loss.

He further adds that singers do not have any rights as they do not contribute to the creativity of a song.

Supporting T-Series in this brawl, a Sony Music executive, on condition of anonymity, opined, “The music label is unnecessarily being dragged into all of this. A music label is just the buyer; it is the production house that is responsible for the agreements.”

One of the oldest music labels, Saregama’s business head Adarsh Gupta said, “Singers already get paid a very hefty remuneration and now claiming a share of revenue from the song is not right as the cost breakthrough of a song itself is very high.”

He further strengthened the stand of music labels by stating that all music labels would take the same step as T-Series if faced with such an issue any time in future.

Aiming to douse the fire, a Viacom18 Motion Pictures spokesperson said, “We wish to clarify that T-Series legitimately holds the rights to the music of ‘One by Two’ and the producers are required to provide them the relevant link documents. There was some misunderstanding regarding the factual positions and we are happy the same stands clarified and resolved between all parties.”

But the fire had already started, with most singers and composers now stiffening their stand against the music label.

Several artists from the music fraternity supported Deol when he narrated his ordeal. The actor also resorted to social media sites to make his stand clear and was supported by singers like Kailash Kher, Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan and Pratichee Mohapatra.

The music trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy too tweeted, “Big respect! Thank you for your support and whatever happens whether the music releases or not @OneByTwoFilm needs all your support people! please RT!”

In this connection, it should be mentioned that earlier singer Sonu Nigam too was involved in a similar tussle with the music label over Shekhar Suman’s upcoming film ‘Heartless’.

Kavita Seth too expressed her support by saying, “What is the harm if we get a small share of royalty from the songs we render? A singer’s voice is also equally important. The song becomes a hit and the music companies go about filling their pockets, this is also not right. We will continue to fight and some people will have to suffer from this.”

There was also a press conference held recently by Deol and members of the Indian Singers’ Rights Association (ISRA) where they voiced their dismay with the label.

While the fight continues, it is the films that will take much of the heat of the situation as labels refuse to market the music if the clauses are not agreed upon and singers continue their stand on not signing these clauses. The matter may die a slow death like in the past or may turn out to be something big, but that remains to be seen.