The multiple music industries in South India which operated in silos

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Then, last year, I changed my focus completely. Instead of doing film album reviews, I moved to compile language-agnostic playlists.

Why?

Two reasons. One, the death of ‘albums’, and two, playlists are the gateway drug to multilingualism, as I’ve found.

The death of albums

Indian films, across languages, have historically used songs to move the plot of a film. That, too, maybe changing. It is seen as a vestige of the past, an unreal and artificial way of moving the plot.

Earlier a soundtrack gave movie producers an opportunity to do a few things. One was to simply make money from the sale of a soundtrack. The second was to introduce the film and crew through an ‘audio launch’. And third, it was a PR opportunity to talk more about the film through the music.

Today, individual singles serve the same purpose. In a digital-first marketing world, every touchpoint with audiences is important since there is an overdose of content online already. Most such content has an interesting value of about 24 hours after which newer content comes and takes over our interest.

Sustained for a long period of time

So, it makes sense to launch one song a week or a month and keep the interest in a film’s opening week sustained for a prolonged period of time. The result is that there is no soundtrack anymore, not in the way it was assumed earlier. There is just a collection of singles, now. This also means that by the time I wait and write about a full soundtrack, people (and I) have heard the singles many times over, and there’s far less interest to read about something that is four weeks old.

My assumption, while doing album reviews, is that people will at least read reviews of albums of music not in their language and try those songs after reading some glowing reviews. This used to happen very sporadically and serendipitously in India where one song becomes popular everywhere regardless of its language. The most recent example of this is the Malayalam song Jimikki Kammal from the film Velipadinte Pusthakam.

I was trying to remove the serendipity from random song discovery and using album reviews as the predictable gateway to finding music in multiple languages. While this did happen, as many Milliblog readers vouch for in the comments, this was also an enormously slow process that depends on users first being open enough to read those reviews. It seemed far easier for readers to pick and read reviews of albums in the language they know, and ignore the rest.

It’s easy to get lazy with playlists; there’s always the risk of getting trapped in “filter bubbles” or a bubble of similar music. Inversely, they can also subtly nudge us to discover music beyond our comfort zone.

Discovering the new music

As a format, the playlist is what we used to discover new music for a very long time, going back to the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. The primary method than for disseminating the playlists was through radio, and then, TV. A Binaca Geetmala was a playlist on the radio, while a Chitrahaar was a playlist on TV.

While Geetmala aggregated interests of people and formed a countdown-based playlist, Chitrahaar was a vanilla playlist with no criterion besides the freshness of a song.

Today’s playlists—and the platforms through which they spread—though, are something else. Let’s take a look at Apple Music’s “Genius” playlists for starters.

Say you start with ‘Tere Bina’ from A R Rahman’s Guru, Genius suggests a Tamil song next—’Oru Deivam Thandha Poove’, from Kannathil Muthamittal. Reason? Common factors—singer Chinmayi Sripada, and of course, A R Rahman (besides Mani Ratnam). It could then take you to Chinmayi’s Telugu, Kannada, and even Marathi songs.

By changing one variable at a time–singers, composers, films, actors, and finally, languages–algorithmic playlists can immerse us in music we may never have heard. Take these two simulated playlists to see how.