August 8, 2011

Everything was picture perfect. The name, the artists, the format, even the studio, and yet MTV Coke Studio has not taken off the way it should have.

As a self-professed music lover, I have been intrigued by this question. What really happened? They have the perfect ingredients, yet why don’t I stop doing every thing else on Friday evening and book my seat in front of the television?

There is got be some reason!

Now after few months of MTV Coke Studio’s launch, a few dots are emerging. The attempt in this note is to put down the dots, and try to join them from an objective lens of music marketing.

The First Dot: Comparison

Since it is designed exactly like its more famous counterpart from Pakistan, Coke Studio @ MTV opens itself to be compared against a previously set benchmark. Like in any marketplace, a new product or a brand will be compared with the predecessor or the leader.

Knowingly or unknowingly, it has entered the red ocean. The sound will be scrutinized; the artists will be put under lens. I mean Coke Studio is no music of the masses. They are dealing with people who know their stuff and have a mature taste of music.

The Second Dot: The Problem Of Known

What worked for original Coke Studio was lack of familiarity. Every song was a discovery of a new artist and his music. Nothing was known beforehand. We discovered as we heard. And excited we went around the town spreading the word.

Maybe there is an insight that has been missed. A true music lover likes to have bragging credentials. He doesn’t like to belong to the masses. He needs to know more. He needs ‘introductory’ rights. Did you hear this from ‘that’? Who is ‘that’? What? You don’t know ‘that’? Come on! Let me introduce you to him.

Much like that guy in the school who introduced us to Hotel California, and when everyone started to sing along, he said, ‘it is so passé!’

In our version of Coke Studio, we already know at least half of the artists, we have heard them before, and musically they haven’t surprised us. It lacks the Eureka.

The Third Dot: Bollywood?

This one is a personal disappointment. No way you can put Bollywood songs in there, even if you fuse them with something else. Bollywood is a different space. Even if you have to put in Bollywood, you will have to recreate something that doesn’t resemble the original.

George Michael did that with ‘Songs From The Last Century’, an all covers album and no resemblance to the originals, except for the lyrics. Rabbi Shergill demonstrated this when he did ‘Bulla Ki Jaana’. By the way don’t forget to check out the same on original Coke Studio by Riaz Ali Khan.

They are two ‘different’ songs. And both stand tall.

The Fourth Dot: Fusion Is A Delicate Business

The problem with fusion is that most of the times it goes wrong.

Just like most of the multi-cuisine restaurants. If the signboard says Indian-Chinese-Mughlai-Continental, you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

Fusion is not about mixing two or more instruments, artists or languages together. It is about striking the right balance. Much like any brilliant recipe. It’s not the ingredients but the balance of the ingredients that counts.

The Last One: Energy

Marketing processes cannot crack this. They don’t have the bandwidth to do this. But the audience knows that music has soul and energy. That’s the difference between me picking a note on a Fender, and David Gilmour picking the same note. David will create magic.

It may not be wrong to say that most of the songs that made original Coke Studio famous in India were songs that had some sort of energy driving them, mostly with an element of divinity.

And we pitched Bollywood against energy. No chance! The sub continent is spiritual. Period.

Check these two good examples of energy doing a dance at Coke Studio @ MTV

So Can It Get Where It Deserves It To Be?

No doubt about it. It has everything, but probably is lacking the vibe that strings it all together.

I mean with guys like Kailash Kher, KK, Sabri Brothers, Harshdeep Kaur, Wadali Brothers and the likes, is there even a question of it failing?

What it needs is to cut loose and release some original undiscovered primal energy. Like KK and Sabri brothers did. KK was the Eureka in that. That was the undiscovered side of KK.