January Issue 2007

By | Arts & Culture | Published 13 years ago

Almost every third station on television these days is a music channel. And the note doesn’t end there. The stations are not just playing local music, but also music from across the world, making the business a truly global industry.

The question is, is this proliferation of channels really widening musical horizons? Many channels operate 24/7, but that there is a local musical boom may be somewhat misleading. The fact that all the channels air the same music videos, and that too repeatedly, would suggest the repertoire is still fairly limited and there is not enough material to sustain so many channels. Also there seems to be more of a focus on international music — at the expense of our own.

All that notwithstanding, music channels have contributed towards providing jobs for thousands involved in one way or another in the industry, created a new brand of both fusion and an entirely home-grown, indigenous genre of music, spawned a new-wave pop culture and created dozens of icons like Strings, Fuzon, Fakhir, Jal, Atif Aslam, Noori and Call.

The senior producer at AAG, Fariha Chapra, says, “Most entertainment channels comprise narrative programming, game shows, talk shows, a small segment on current affairs and an even smaller percentage of music shows. However, music channels fill a very specific void in programming that entertainment channels don’t.”

It all started in 2003 with the establishment of the first Pakistani private music channel, Indus Music (IM). Many eyebrows were raised with the launch of the channel because, it was lamented, IM was propagating a foreign culture that encouraged singing and dancing — the wild and wanton “MTV culture.” The brainchild of Ghazanfar Ali, the producer who started Music Channel Charts in 1992 on Satellite Television Network (STN), IM, however, came in as a breath of fresh air for the youth of the nation.

According to Mani, a VJ at The Musik, “IM is an institution which educates newcomers in the field. One interns there, learns the ropes, virtually earns a degree, graduates and then moves on and applies that education in other places. Ghanzanfar Ali is a revolutionary, always brimming with ideas. He is a true star-maker. IM has helped every singer and every VJ and taught them to excel.”

The need for music channels was felt with the rise in the popularity of music shows on entertainment channels. PTV aired its first music show in 1989 by the name of ‘Music ‘89.’ This Shoaib Mansur-directed show gained immense popularity with the masses and introduced stars like Nazia and Zoheb Hassan, then Vital Signs, and later Ali Haider, Sajjad Ali, the Jupiters, Live Wires and three of the country’s first ever ‘underground rock’ acts, Final Cut, The Barbarians and Midnight Madness.

There was a glimmer of the fact that music channels were going to be a burgeoning business when, during the STN era, Music Channel Charts became the biggest hit on TV. Pakistani youth particularly tuned in to this show and overnight stars were born: Vital Signs, Junoon, Strings, Fringe Benefits, Fakhre Alam and Awaz.

Today the options are endless, ranging from The Musik, G Channel, Aag TV, Play TV and IM which has now been transformed into MTV Pakistan. Essentially, all amount to more of the same, the only difference being the VJs — and those too often seem like clones of one another — and the show concepts.

However, the focus in these channels is now shifting from being entirely musically oriented to incorporating other segments as well. These new-look music channels are becoming more inclined towards fashion and lifestyles in their programming, while retaining music as their prime component. The good news is that the concepts in these shows are getting increasingly creative and their formats are different from the usual VJ-based shows.

The producer VJ for Channel G, Nini maintains, “G was the first music and lifestyle channel. It is a trendsetter which opened doors for a new breed of channels. The audience range of G channel is wide, catering to all age groups and genres of people. The channel, keeping in mind the audience, plays everything from new wave to classics and from local to international numbers.”

There is a difference of views about the manner in which these music channels are supporting the local music industry. Fariha Chapra views it commercially. She says airing different performers’ music is like providing advertisements for artists. The music channels promote their videos and in turn get free programming, so it’s a mutually beneficial association.

Maiez Arif, a VJ at Play TV, puts it this way: “Music channels are promoting new talent, which is a very positive step for the music business. Opportunities make stars. With so many music channels around, everyone is striving to put on new stuff first. Obviously, the one with the spark will remain and the rest will fade away. At least, now our channels are open to drawing out fresh blood.”

The underground scene is finally finding a place in the sun too. The new channels have shows based on the underground music industry where the latter’s music is discussed in detail. This theme is well conceived by Play TV in its segment show, Top 10 from the Underground. This is not the only component of the show. One underground band is selected for each segment and their struggle to make a mark in the industry is highlighted. They are asked to have jam sessions so one can gauge the quality of their music. While music channels are thus unarguably giving the music industry, a boost, they are not necessarily promoting real talent. While one has to give the channels credit for propping up true talent like Jal, Atif Aslam, Call, Mizraab etc., these channels have also given undue popularity to artists like Omer Inayat, Dino, Annie and Ayesha Omar among others, who, with their clearly synthesised voices have less talent than pull with the powers-that-be at the music stations. Yet they are popular, featuring on all the channels repeatedly, undoubtedly at the expense of others who are the genuine article.

But just as easily as channels can make a star, they can break him/her too. “Music channels are the backbone of our music industry. The acknowledgment our singers and bands are receiving today is all because of these channels. Noori, Annie, Atif Aslam, Jal and many more are the products of these channels. But the negative aspect is that these very channels can ban a star if some day the star fails to cooperate with the promoters of the programmes. In this way the star-makers become the star- breakers,” says Mani.

Since television is now everywhere and a visual medium as much as an auditory one, the importance of music videos in the promotion of an album, a number or even a singer cannot be underplayed. Artists spend millions to produce cutting edge videos. From Fakhir’s Chicagoesque Mahi Ve to Aaroh’s Rag Neela and Ali Zafar’s Masty, the phenomenon of music videos is definitely on fire. Nonetheless, music industry gurus still contend that music videos are not the most important ingredient for a successful song.

Sharjeel Qureshi, producer/director at Play TV reckons, “A song in itself has to be the main element for its success. A well-executed video can’t save a poorly sung song, at least not for long. Atif Aslam has not produced very good videos, yet he is a phenomenal singer and consequently a big hit.”

Nini and Mani cite the example of Ali Zafar’s Channo: it is not a very high-budget video, but nevertheless Ali became a superstar overnight with this hit single because of the powerful audio.

Others speak of Shehzad Roy’s reportedly very expensive video Aag shot in the UK and directed by one of the best in the business, Ahsan Rahim, which was unable to create magic and was soon forgotten.

Maiez Arif maintains it is a give-and-take relationship where music channels provide artists with a platform and artists provide them with content. The better the content, the more the demand and the greater the sales. If the artist doesn’t ‘click,’ he does not have a place in the business. According to Arif, the audience is the sole judge.

Musicians are thus under a lot of pressure to deliver solid hits, and they believe that album sales improve exponentially if there are dramatic videos accompanying the songs on them.

However, with the plethora of music channels now on air, quality is sometimes conspiciously missing, whether in the graphics, the sets, the VJs, the concepts or the repetition of songs. The focus is more on quantity. In the west, artists take years to produce one album. Here, however, any band that takes more than a year to produce a new album is termed a “has been,” regardless of how talented they might be. The best example here would be that of Fuzon.

“The bottom line for me is good quality entertainment, and we at Aag work very hard in providing that to our audience. The fact that there is a plethora of music channels in Pakistan today is a testament to the fact that our music industry is headed in the right direction. Quality on our television screens is directly related to the production budget and the creative input provided by the people running the show,” says Fariha.

There is no doubt that music channels have uplifted the music business in Pakistan. It may not all be slick and professional, but in fairness, the music industry in Pakistan is still in its fledgling phase. And even with all the sub-standard stuff being churned out, there are a few gems that have emerged. Now the onus is on the audiences to sift the wheat from the chaff.