ABCDownloaders: A Survey, of sorts

A comment on my Hindi film music post from Kush Tandon earlier in the week got me thinking:

Where do you buy India/ Bollywood music in electronic from? I have browsed Rhapsody, they seem decent. I could not find much on iTunes. Is there some other place too?

Or is it all pirated and/ or through buddies?

No one responded to the comment at the time — is it because everyone is in fact downloading pirated desi music and films over the internet, and they’re not sure they should admit it?

There are a number of good explanations for why downloading is popular. First, not everyone lives near an Indo-Pak grocery/music store, and a lot of Desi stores aren’t very serious about getting current music, or a broad range of it. Second, so much of the music is kind of crappy and derivative to begin with (Hindi film producers often borrow bass-lines and samples from western or Arabic pop songs), so why worry about making sure the artist is adequately paid for his or her work?

Third, there’s never been any attempt from Indian record and film companies to crack down on downloads of their stuff in the diaspora. Grocery/music/video stores that sell pirated material are often raided, but there’s no desi equivalent of the RIAA or MPAA suing online pirates, or shutting down BitTorrent/filesharing sites. (Note: Kazaa just settled with American record companies for $100 million.)

And finally, there’s no desi equivalent of Itunes, where you can legally buy MP3 singles from CDs and be assured that your money is going to the label and the artist who made the music (any entrepeneurs out there? go for it, buddy).

What are your thoughts on piracy? Do you yourself download pirated music (note: if you normally use your real name in comments, here I would recommend an alias)? What is your “piracy to legal consumption” ratio? Would you spend $1.00 a song if a desi version of Itunes were available?

81 thoughts on “ABCDownloaders: A Survey, of sorts

  1. Song ringtones are mostly annoying, the worse i’ve heard was the latest movie Nacho Libre and it went something like “naaaaaaaaaaachoooooooooo” in Jack Blacks voice.

    The best is Turtle’s rington on Entourage: it’s that “booty booty booty booty rockin everywhere” song :)

  2. The best is Turtle’s rington on Entourage: it’s that “booty booty booty booty rockin everywhere” song :)

    That was hilariousss! Entourage is the bomb. Drama and turtle crack me up, “crossing-swords”

  3. Most of the posts seem to be saying “that’s the way it is, or it is done everywhere“,come on, that does not make it right. It doesn’t matter whether Rahman has gazillions taking something that is not yours is called stealing. Now, I am as cheap as the next guy and would prefer to get everything for free, but somehow watching pirated movies or listening to “stolen” music just doesn’t work for me.

    <

    p> I hope someone comes up with a legit downloading site for desi music, hopefully less than a dollar.

  4. I sometimes download songs from newsgroups, etc. to check out a soundtrack. If I don’t like it, usually it goes in the recycle bin. If I do, I head to the local desi grocery and pick up a copy of the CD. I also swap CDs with friends, and my collection is probably half and half. I have also purchased a fair number of songs (usually older) via iTunes, and I found a site where I downloaded the entire Boys soundtrack (Tamil) for about $4.50. Can’t remember what site that was, and of course it was cheaper in India (Rs. 12 a song sounds about right.)

    I’m excited about raaga.com offering songs for download! The newest ones are the hardest to find.

  5. Second, so much of the music is kind of crappy and derivative to begin with (Hindi film producers often borrow bass-lines and samples from western or Arabic pop songs)

    This statement is unfair, what about the artists that steal from Bollywood movies?(eg. Black Eyed Peas) This is nothing new, sir.

  6. I believe that even the movie producers in Hindi/Telugu/Tamil treat the songs as just another promotional material for the movie. There is nothing ethically wrong in listening to pirated movie songs because of the chance that we might pay good $s for watching the movie eventually.

  7. A Tamil friend of mine has got a little enclave of piracy in his mom’s house (he’s only 15). He literally has a few Terabytes (1000 Gigs) of space set aside for his downloads, which include PS2/X-box 360 games, music, movies and other programs to further his illegal enterprises. I always go to him for new programs and better ways to get around certain obstacles. Though, for the most part, I just use Limewire for music and Azureus for movies and cartoons. Bittorrent files are also pretty good for import or hard-to-find CDs. And now, with those links to Vidalia and Torpark you guys provided for the blog-banning crisis, there even more venues of piracy open to poor college kids like me. =D

    But no… I’m not really a fan of Desi music or movies.

  8. One pretty good source for legal bollywood music is Yahoo music. (it is drm’ed and in wma format, though) It has a very good collection of old bollywood music (50′s, 60′s & 70′s), and pretty much no recent stuff. It also has a decent collection of Indian classical (hindustani and carnatic) music. I pay $6.99 a month and get unlimited streaming. Thats probably the best 7 bucks i spend a month.

    Highly recommended

  9. Why is that in NYC, which is supposed to care deeply about piracy and international property rights and the scourge of knockoffs, etc.–why is that in the bowels of the subway station below the CitiGroup Building on 51st and Lex, heavily patrolled by police since it’s been declared a prime terrorism target, you can buy pirated DVDs for $5 from Ecuadoran and Guatemalan women who spread their wares on those lovely Andean alpaca wool blankets?

    Because it’s not that big a deal? Because people need to make a living? Because organize crime syndicates have a place in New York’s economy? Because NYC, home of knock off guccis and rolexes and everything else one could possibly want but not afford, is really different from what you think it is.

  10. Entourage is amazing, like someone said (think it was NYT), its the guy version of Sex and the City.

    Entourage is the bomb. Drama and turtle crack me up, “crossing-swords”

    OMG I was laughing for like half an hour after that episode. It still cracks me up.

  11. This statement is unfair, what about the artists that steal from Bollywood movies?(eg. Black Eyed Peas) This is nothing new, sir.

    jigga please. the flow of “inspiration” is heavily one-way.

  12. Manish, thanks — I’d missed Vinod’s post on Crimson Bay. But it looks like Masala Downloads now points to something called “Camcorder Share.” I guess the DRM download concept didn’t take off?

    BWcinema.com seems to be doing pretty well. Their approach is streaming video, either $3.99 for 3 days or $10 a month. It’s not quite DVD quality, but most of the folks who are renting the VHS tapes don’t really care that much about having perfect quality video.

  13. Second, so much of the music is kind of crappy and derivative to begin with (Hindi film producers often borrow bass-lines and samples from western or Arabic pop songs)

    Do not forget a number of Hindi songs lifted wholesale from South Indian movies, esp. Tamil.

  14. My 2 cents… I guess I have a problem with downloading anything “current;” the artists have a right to make a living and to profit from their work. So, I have no problem with downloading stuff from the ’50′s, 60′s and even the 70′s and 80′s.

    My friend Santosh calls me “North America’s greatest gora A.R. Rahman fan.” And I have everything that has been released of his in the States, courtesy of Amazon.com But when I was in Chennai last month, I went nuts at a CD store and snapped up everything I could get my hands on by him that I can’t find here in the States. (+ the soundtracks to “Faana,” “Krrish” (eh, 2 songs worth taking notice of) and my fav playback singer, K.K.)

    Most soundtracks average 30 minutes of music… at $12 to $15 a pop (and space for storage), I compile 70 minute CD’s of all of my favorite songs, and give the CD’s to my University Library.

    My copy of the “Boys” soundtrack came to me courtesy of a friend in Boston.

    There is one song that I’m having trouble tracking down… Bunita’s “Ankhiyan” from “Where’s the Party, Yaar.” Smashits recording is lousy, so its not worth downloading.

    I guess the point is, when you’re desperate for something, you’ll stop at nothing to get it!

  15. the wife has mastered the art of downloading dvds, inserting subtitles, and making copies with the original labels (yes, there are sites for this). Unfortunately I dont watch (most of) them but the kids seem to know the latest re the various woods. These sites are run by teenagers (it seems) and they are really have a highly tuned ethical sense and the bit-torrent protocol seems to be handy for this (upload determines download). Once every often they go on their fund raising drives for server space. Otherwise these sites wouldnt have had the lasting power they do. I usually subscribe to these shady places for live sporting events (aka cricket)when the season comes around.

  16. emusic.com has a TONNE of Indian songs(tamil, hindi, telugu, kannada) classical, movies and religious in drm free mp3 format. They charge you $10/month for 40 songs yours to keep for perpetuity. They occasionally give you a promo 100 special for free for the first month. All the music is legit and in fantastic quality.

    You need to browse in the International/Reggae category.

  17. For years I avoided downloading illegal music. On the few occasions I did, I bought the CDs of albums that I liked. I do feel for artists who may be robbed of their genuine earnings, but I have absolutely no respect for the industry wallahs. They rid playlists on radio and get away with just a slap on the wrist, yet have no compunctions in putting kids in jail because they have downloaded illegally. My main complaint though is, the kind of “music” that they promote. How does Shakira get so much airplay? Seems like some of the people on the charts cannot play an instrument to save their lives. Of course they have producers to put everything together, and the label to get their marketing muscle behind it. And these are the people I’m supposed to listen to? I’m all for buying Nine Inch Nails or Floyd, but no one should pay for some of the other junk :)

    Sorry about the tangential rant.

  18. I guess I have a problem with downloading anything “current;” the artists have a right to make a living and to profit from their work. So, I have no problem with downloading stuff from the ’50′s, 60′s and even the 70′s and 80′s.

    I think it’s interesting that like me a lot of people have limits and levels of justification on “downloading” or “sharing” but at the end of the day it’s still not ethical is it? :-)

    How does Shakira get so much airplay? Seems like some of the people on the charts cannot play an instrument to save their lives.

    Airplay is based on requests, same with VH1 or MTV (does MTV still play music?) And people who sing and are popular don’t really have to know how to play anything really if you think about it.

  19. 70: They rid playlists – I meant rig, of course.

    I hear you JOAT, and I agree they don’t have to, but I wonder how many good artists fall by the wayside just because some exec thought about how marketable the whole package was. That’s what it has boiled down to for the most part, I think. At least when I look at songs on the charts, that’s the impression I get. There are exceptions of course. In the Indian context, playback singers don’t really do anything else unless they’re involved in the composition (as in Shankar of Shankar/Ehsaan/Loy or even Rehman), but everyone knows who’s doing the hard work behind the scenes.

  20. I spend $1.69 (AUD) per song at itunes Australia, so I hope Manish’s friend hurries up with the desi version (and that I’ll be able to download the songs here in Oz. It was a long frustrating wait for itunes to arrive here!). I normally spend around $15-$18 every 2-3 months downloading songs from itunes.

  21. I spend $1.69 (AUD) per song at itunes Australia…

    If you use P2P on the other hand,…

    Not advocating anything, just saying there’s other ways :)

  22. who buys hindi music? This is atleast true for the really good punjabi mixes, there are tons of them circulating on the net for free or i guess illegally.

  23. for the really good punjabi mixes, there are tons of them circulating on the net for free or i guess illegally.

    i agree with jatin. a lot of underdog djs put really good remixes up on filesharing sites and i doubt they ever get marketed on cds or other legal venues. punjabi mixes are very common, however, and often times you can find them in the store. i think that dl-ing is most convenient when you want remixes of rarer songs, like marathi pop or unusual hip-hop/rap mixes (not the typical d&b, techno, or ska). hell, it took me a year to finally find the dhagala lagli kara mix i wanted and it only happened after i gave up on the desi music stores in cerritos and edison and resorted to a filesharing program!

    with respect to the financial hit that the music industry takes from illegal DL-ing, musicians are more affected than record companies since the money they make is directly proportional to how much they sell. distributors, however, seem to be resilient in that sense because they have many other sources to compensate for losses. i think that musicians/legal filesharing companies should make a deal with corporations or universities (like my college does) where the company gets a corporate subscription to, say, napster and employees and students can download for free while affiliated with them (or for a heavily subsidized fee). besides, it’s all about good business and i’m sure madonna would prefer the gouda from thousands of DLs by users from a large company versus the sporadic “moral” DLs from individuals who actually pay full price for napster. cuz we all know paying $15/month for napster is just plain extra when there are hardly that many songs-worth to DL in one month.

    c’mon people, music is a form of communication. as a musician myself, i believe it should be shared and made accessible to all tiers of society. throughout history, music has been what unites humanity, and there have always been ways that music has been kept from the broke people and that’s just wrong. we are the world, we are the people and we were meant to live for so much more. you down wit D-L-ing, yeah you kno’ me… now i ain’t sayin’ i’m a golddigga’, but can’t you snap ya’ fingahz, to the beat y’all without having the law on your a$$?

  24. For those looking for legal desi-mp3 downloads, thought I’d mention emusic.com They seem to have a fairly decent collection of restored HMV oldies; I (legally) downloaded a few Mohd Rafi songs in those free fifty downloads.

    But otherwise… raaga.com / musicindiaonline.com , although I don’t mind occassionally trekking down to Little India (ah, the pleasures of South East Asia) to survey the contemporary filmi scene.

    But as a general point, I think morality is rather overblown when it comes to copyright infringement; personally, the debate between contra-legal downloading and legal buying is that of taste (do you REALLY want to wade through all those irritating IRC/ torrent tracker sites to get your moolah?) and convenience.

  25. I used to download a lot of music when I was younger. I felt quite within my rights as part of the subversive collective to stick it to the man that way. It was also the only way to get access to a lot of music that was just not carried in the usual music stores. There was also a problem with cash flow.

    These days I don’t download at all. All the music I listen to is from online radio or pandora.com. You can almost always find online any song you want to listen to. This way I don’t have to buy a 320 gb hdd. Is what I do less ethical than buying the cd?

  26. Great link Saurav: so many aspiring musicians (including myself at one point) are completely oblivious to how soul-crushing the recording industry can be. They may be the evil-incarnate hellbent on exploiting and repackaging the creativity of doe-eyed college kids with a guitar in their hand and a tune in their head, but they still hold the key to turning that dream into commercial success. The internet easily solves the problem of distribution and promotion that would stifle most independent artists, but even with the advent of the internet and peer to peer filesharing, I’m hard-pressed to name a single band that has become a commercial success and household name without the aid of the recording industry. A friend of mine’s band, Thriving Ivory, has been able to garner a comfortable amount of publicity and popularity through their Myspace and support from local radio stations. They’ve had their single played on continuous rotation and have already opened up for big bands like The Violent Femmes and Counting Crows, but, without a record contract, they’re likely to remain a relatively local phenonmen and thousands of dollars in debt.

    Here’s another interesting read on how much an artist actually makes on the sale of his/her CD:

    “Profit margin is also huge concern for an artist at any level, but especially for one just busting into the business. Right now, the typical contract deal for a new artist goes something like this: the artist agrees to a deal where she doesn’t even begin to see a profit unless her CD sells at least 500,000 copies. Even then, she will likely earn only about $1 per CD. And if she doesn’t sell at least 100,000 CD’s often big companies will drop her anyway.

    The musician who sells artist-to-fan direct, over the Internet, can earn $7-10 a CD, and can actually make living selling far fewer CD’s. Not to mention the fact that SHE maintains control of the distribution of her art.”

    I don’t know how much of what I wrote concerns artists working in India, though I will surmise that musicians the world over see the majority of the profit from their work going into the pockets of others, download or no download.

  27. I’ll be honest – if it’s an artist/group that’s more independent, I’ll make sure to buy their CD, even if I get the songs initially in other forms. However, if it’s Hindi music, I really don’t give a crap. I can go to a store and buy the CD for $5 (which will be pirated), I can ask a friend for the songs, or I can download them online for free.

    Very true. There are so many indie bands like Alms for Shanti, Thermal and a Quarter, Avial, Fossils (just the four on the top of my mind, there are so many many more) that are pure brilliance with some amazing original music. I wouldn’t mind paying a decent price (18 bucks a CD, did someone say?) for good music like this. As far as the rest of the tripe that bombay, madras and bangalore put out as filmi music… well, I’d rather save my money for those cool DKNY shoes I saw down at East Village. :D