The future of music industry

You are in Bangkok . You love transiting here.  What other airport offers you flights to Bhutan and North Korea – the two least visited places in the world. You have time to kill, you head for the bus stand, you pay 100 bahts and buy a ticket to Kaosan Road . Kaosan is the backpacker capital of the east. You arrive light. Ten USD gets you generous amount of clothes for the rest of your trip. And then Kaosan has decent green curry. You walk by the makeshift shops selling trinkets, postcards, used and fake lonely planets and then you spot the busiest stall – the one selling CDs – pirated of course.

Two days later, you are in Chiang Rai, the northernmost part of Thailand . You have spent the day in Tachileik, up in Myanmar . You have hopped into Lao. You are looking for something quiet. You are walking by the market, you spot a s small pub. You decide to rest there for a while and write some postcards. You meet Nook(or something that sounds like that), she runs the pub. Nook sits in one corner, a little girl, Nook’s assistant probably, sits on a stool in another corner playing a board game. Nook is trying to scam you. She wants you to buy her a drink. You say “the whole shop is yours, you can drink whatever you want”. You add “I came up north hoping the girls here are not scam”. Now you’ve hurt her(or she pretends). She says that she is not scam. She is quiet. You feel bad, but you still don’t want to get scammed. You tell her “Ok, I will buy you a drink, but not in your pub, somewhere else maybe”. She says “You are lucky, there is a rock show tonight, I will take you”. You say “great”.

Nook hands over the pub to the little girl. The little girl is sad, she probably wants to go home…a few more years, she will be older and she won’t go home at all.

Nook has a little car. The little car has furry interior and some more furry toys in the back seat. You try not to imagine anything wild. You guys drive out on the main road. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the rock show is big deal. There are kids all around, on bikes, overflowing out of cars, heading the same way as you. it’s a party environment. At the traffic lights, people roll the windsheild down and exchange beer cans with whoever is next to them. At the venue, it is a bigger party. You make friends fast and you know it is not because of the alcohol flowing around. People are generally friendly. You know the energy of live shows – the feedback. And, you are here to re-live the small town rock shows. No fancy gimmicks, no lasers, just nasty acoustics and a band – high on god knows what and ready to please. The band starts performing, the crowd goes into riot mode. The band is called Kerebau – actually, a famous band. Nook tells you that it means water buffalo.  That explains the reason some people in the audience are carrying horns over their head and dancing.

Across Asia, you may go to Bagio(.ph), Shenzhen(.cn), Saigon(.vn) or Bangalore(.in), you just need to be in the town on that one Friday night for that rock show and the party follows. What happens when local bands and their music starts becoming popular (Kerabau is actually a well known band in Thailand). How will they beat piracy? How will they survive in an environment where their fans assume that music is for free? You just have to spend a day in any campus, and you know how much of file (mp3) sharing is happening. Ironically, this is the region where more and more younger people are becoming content producers. Your little friend Lynn, makes movies clandestinely in her dorm in Guangzhou . She hopes to direct music videos some day. But Lynn needs inspiration, Lynn needs to study techniques. Legal DVDs are out of the question. Lynn has to resort to pirates. The next generation of content producers are the biggest pirated content consumers of today.

You believe that music should be free and it is the “performance” that should be charged for (you still have to figure out how your idea will work with movies or books). Piracy can never die. The music companies build a lock to protect their content, and all they do is provide a couple of days entertainment to some Russian hackers.

You realize what would work well in Asia is the “Grateful Dead” model. Give away your music for free. Participate in more live concerts. The artists have to work hard but it is more fulfilling . You build a relationship with your fans. One other benefit of this is that a lot of money (spent on arranging the show) goes back to the local economy. This will prompt cities to organize more shows. Local bands get a chance to play as a lead-up band. The region is large enough to allow bands to go touring. You look forward to a day when Thai bands tour Philippines and vice versa. You have seen the popularity of Korean bands in China (and Japan , BoA a teenage Korean artist became the no. 1 selling artist in Japan last year) and how that fact alone prompts so many Chinese/Japanese/Taiwanese youngsters to learn Korean. And music is only a precursor to fashion and other cultural exports.

Got this quote from a website
“I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way. The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing. Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”
David Bowie (from an interview on NY times in 2002)

Feeling At Home (In Nanjing, China)

From Shanghai I took the train to Nanjing , passed the three hour journey playing with the little kid sitting next to me, amusing her with my origami dragons. I had read about Nanjing in Vikram Seth ’s “From Heaven Lake”. In the early 80s, He studied at the Nanjing University and hitchhiked to Delhi via Tibet and Nepal .

A curious bird at the Ming tombs

One afternoon I went up the purple hill. There is an observatory up the hill with some bronze instruments from the Ming dynasty times. Nanjing served as the capital during the Ming dynasty and several Ming tombs are located here. I visited the tomb of the founding emperor and his empress. Sun Yat Sen’s (considered as the father of modern China ) mausoleum is also in Nanjing . To reach the tomb, I had to climb a huge stone stairway. On the way back, I sat on the steps and wrote some postcards. One afternoon, I went to the Nanjing Museum. Soldiers were practicing martial arts on the museum grounds. The museum was having an exhibition of Tibetan relics and gems. At the entrance was a huge bronze of a goddess. Each room had two armed security guards. There were trying very hard to seem strict but they smiled easily. A Tibetan girl was selling some trinkets. I wished her in “tashey dele ” - hello in Tibetan. She was happy and she gave me a poster featuring a goddess.

Sun Yat Sen’s Memorial

I stayed in the university campus. A lot of foreign students study at the university. I met some interesting people like the formidable Misiba from Togo . Misiba addressed everyone as xiao pengyou (little friend). Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province. Yet, It still feels like a small university town. The street markets Vikram Seth wrote about, continue to thrive. and sell interesting stuff. One of these days I will return to Nanjing and hopefully study there.

From Nanjing I went to Guangzhou . I had passed through Guangzhou last year, just spending a few hours. I decided to stay in an old part of the city called Shamien Dao. There are some interesting old buildings here and almost everyday you can spot some art students painting. 

The land of million smiles

I was in Luang Prabhang, the old capital of Lao. It was a cool December afternoon. I sat there in a temple, writing some thing in my note book. I fell asleep. I woke up hearing some voices. I opened my eyes, I saw a bunch of kids around me. As I sat up, they moved back a bit, and stared at me. It was like the Gulliver's Travel...all those little people, perhaps half scared, half curious. I turned to the last page in my notebook, and from my Laotian phrase book, I copied "hello" in Laotian script. I passed the page to the kid right in front of me. She took it, and read it aloud. There were a round of giggles. She borrowed my pen and wrote something in Laotian. I took back the notebook and I guessed it was her name. Next, I passed my book to the "littlest" kid. Everyone started laughing as she was too young to write. Someone else took the book and wrote the littlest kid's name. So we conversed, they would draw something, say it aloud in Laotian and and ask me to repeat it. I learnt some many new Laotian words. Lately, I seem to be forgetting the words. I think it is time, I go back.

Lao is one of the most bombed country in the history of warfare. During the Vietnam war, the North Vietnamese supply routes used to run through Laos. US warplanes used to drop their bombs all across eastern Lao. Thirty years on, the Lao people have found an interesting use for the bomb casings. They cut them open, fill them up with soil and grow flowers in them.
In Lao people always seem to be smiling. They use to call Lao the land of million elephants. I named it "the land of million smiles."