Of tunes, melodies and rights – struggles on an independent musician

Awed by his talent, simplicity and dedication towards the art, I decided to engage in a conversation with popular violinist Manoj George. A native of Thrissur district, situated in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Manoj George was also instrumental in instituting an award, under India’s cultural ministry, to promote and encourage independent musicians. While the order has been passed, the formalities in this regard are yet to be completed.

The discussion had begun on the need for providing avenues to help promote independent musicians. A Grammy Awardee, Manoj George felt that Indian music is often restricted to songs or compositions created for films. In short, it is rather difficult for a singers, music composers, instrumentalists or even music producers to sustain themselves without venturing into the arena of motion pictures. With the rapid penetration of the internet, the idea of ‘paid music’ seems to have taken a back seat.

“There was a time when musicians made their debuts in the form of individual albums that were often publicised through record labels and the media. Musicians like Lucky Ali, Daler Mehendi and many others have done so,” explained Manoj. But the challenges have multiplied since the beginning of the decade.

Having performed across the world and worked closely with international musicians, Manoj presented a rather interesting analysis of the strategies adopted by the music industry in the west as opposed to India.

This is what he had to say:

“Abroad, most singers wear many hats. They not only sing, but also compose and produce music. Radio stations, in certain foreign nations, are dedicated to specific genres of music – rap, R&B, country, classical etc. Whereas in India, in spite of its diverse styles, the media does not seem to highlight such talent – not any more. Many radio stations broadcast songs that are often composed for a movie or two. As a result, there aren’t many musicians producing albums or singles in the present.”

Could this have triggered the controversies surrounding the copyrights of songs?

“Honestly, the music composed ought to retain the rights pertaining to a song. It is unfortunate that lately, especially in the movie industry, the rights of a song often lie with a record company or the music director. While the composer pens each note that has to be presented, the director merely instructs the artistes. Is that truly fair,” stated Manoj.

So, how do musicians make their mark?

According to Manoj, a musician is lucky is he or she has won the hearts of the public. “We are able to fulfill our dreams and pursue our passion because the public believes in us. Hopefully, the government supports us as well,” he commented.

Until then, he believes that the best way for musicians to tackle the problem of copyrights and other legal issues is to consider being a ‘complete musician.’ “If you can sing, or compose a song, why don’t you try producing the song yourself. YouTube, SoundCloud and many other online platforms have provided plenty of opportunities to those talented folk who often go unnoticed. In short, it is easy. So, give it a shot!”added Manoj.