The time when albums by Vital Signs, Junoon and Awaz were distributed by record companies is definitely a thing of the past. Now amateur singers don’t have to undergo the tedious process of finding a record label to release a 12-track music album.
Technology is now allowing artists to release and promote their music on the internet. Thus it’s the record stores and companies that actually miss the good old days of Pakistani pop music.
Liberty Market’s Offbeat– one of the oldest music shops in Lahore — was the former hot spot for buying music cassettes and CDs. In fact many renowned actors such as Shaan, Moammar Rana, and even politicians like Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif used to frequent the store to get their music fix.
“Those were different times. There weren’t many options for consumers. Now, the internet has changed a lot of habits,” says Raees Khawar, the store’s salesman. He says that the peak period for album sales for Offbeat was between 1993-2003 and now the number of customers has fallen by nearly 90 percent.
“If 100 people used to come to our shop 8-9 years ago, now barely 10 walk in,” laments Khawar. “Business in general has suffered in Pakistan; people are just making ends meet.”
While he candidly talked about the store’s plummeting sales, a customer returned the CD he had purchased because it did not have the song he wanted. “People come for a song rather than an album so the question for the consumer is how they can justify spending money on a full album when its one single that they wanted,” explains the shop manager.
The substandard quality of current music is also a potential factor contributing to the decrease in sales, he adds. Consumers were interested in the entire albums of stalwarts like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Junoon and not just a specific song. In fact pop icons like Atif Aslam still continue to sell well, according to the store manager.
Another music store in Offbeat’s vicinity, Sound Creation is facing a similar dearth of customers. Opened in 1982, the place now mainly sells DVDs, with musical CDs only confined to a small back corner.
“We call it the Youtube phenomenon. Before people would come to a record store, now they just browse the internet and download from there,” says manager Muhammed Ashraf.
Zebunnisa Bangash from the music duo Zeb and Haniya, say that musicians are aware of the rampant music piracy on the internet and the public’s lack of interest in full-length albums.
Consequently many artists are now focusing on releasing singles, which are typically sponsored by multi-national companies.
“Multi-nationals have taken on some of the slack by using the artists as brand ambassadors and for huge campaigns,” explained Fahad Qadir, the Coca-cola regional public affairs and communications manager for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In fact several telecom industries Jazz Records and Uth Records have replaced the atrophying record companies by establishing a platform for musicians.
The current scenario bodes ill for record stores as the trend shifts away from record labels to multinational sponsorship. The fate of record stores has indeed sealed.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2011.