Flyte’s Hard Crash-Landing

Music portability has come a long, long way!

When I was in school, it was all about record players and the radio. Audiocassettes had just started becoming popular but to record onto cassettes was a pain…I remember placing a microphone in front of an HMV record player trying to capture songs. Later, with radio-cum-tape recorders, we could record songs directly from the radio, if we were lucky enough to catch the songs at the right time.

A few years later, higher end turntables could be connected directly to cassette players for recording. By the time I was in college, Walkmans allowed us to carry our music with us and cars too had audiocassette based sound systems. CDs had also started coming into the market. Some entrepreneurs started services, where for around Rs. 50, they would copy whole albums and compilations from master tapes or CDs onto blank cassettes…I remember endless debates on whether a TDK Gold or Sony Chrome was worth the extra price as compared to regular or unbranded cassettes.

Obviously this was all illegal, but access to English songs was always a major issue till the mid-90s and I remember driving all the way to Juhu from Matunga, to a small shop that always had the latest albums for copying onto tape.

Digital music exploded in the 90s. I ripped all my CDs to create an MP3 collection and one day in the mid 90s, I threw away my entire tape collection…audiocassettes just died. Soon there were portable MP3 players that allowed us to carry our entire music collection with us.

Access to legal Hindi music MP3s however has always been a problem. You either have to buy or borrow a CD and rip it off, or borrow a file from a friend or download it illegally from the thousands of hosting sites online or go to road-side shops and buy whole compilations on a USB stick. In the West, for English music, iTunes managed to change the paradigm with legal downloads, followed by other companies, but there was nothing available till recently if you wanted to legally download Hindi film songs, except for iTunes USA or UK for prices ranging from 1.29 (Rs. 75) to 0.79 (Rs. 40) USD per song.

Despite being a hard-core Flipkart user, I didn’t realize until about six months ago that it had started Flyte, a site for English and Hindi songs. Finally, there was a place where if I liked one or two songs of a particular film or album, I could pay between Rs. 15 to Rs. 9 and download a high-quality MP3. Around the same time, iTunes India started a similar service at similar prices.

For those who believe that downloading MP3s for free from the Internet or borrowing from a friend is not exactly legal and are more comfortable paying for their music, Flyte was a boon. Why “was”? Because the service is shutting down on June 17th! The reason seems to be a lack of enough paying users probably because of the inability to convince people that you actually need to pay for MP3s.  I believe though that Flyte was inadequately publicized and advertised.

I don’t envy Flyte or iTunes India. If people believe that digital music is supposed to be free, how do you now convince them to pay even a small sum of Rs. 15 per song?

Flyte was good while it lasted and I hope it gets a decent cremation. iTunes India perhaps has deeper pockets and may continue for a longer time…but I fervently hope someone else starts something similar soon. 

12 Comments

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Indians like free stuff, even substandard!

  • Pushpendra Shah wrote:

    I think EVERYONE likes free stuff . . .

  • Jayaram, M wrote:

    Right on, Bhavin: very recently I managed to convert Harindranath Chattopadhyhay’s – The Curd Seller – which my Father had got when he was with HMV & which I discovered on a – cassette; which still worked!

    Human nature and attitudes, perhaps: we do not want to reward and/or award or even acknowledge that we have to PAY for services rendered – whatever they may be.

    Incidentally – HC is still, or perhaps even more relevant !

  • sriganesh wrote:

    I listen to copyrighted Carnatic classical music over http://www.radioweb.in

    I have a paid an annual fee and listen whatever and whenever I feel like. Next question – do we need a music system with home theatre?

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Yes. We do. A good music system can be integrated into the home theatre.

  • Armaity wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this transition. we all have gone through it.

  • Armaity wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this transition. We have all gone through these stages of music recording.

  • CV Easwaran wrote:

    Very few will recognise paying for licensed software or music esp in India!!

  • Norman wrote:

    I beg to differ. I have all my 78s, 45s EPs & LPs original, so also cassettes, Cds, DVds etc.
    Being a professional myself, I like to give any professional his/her due. I also know of many like minded Indians who feel the same and pay for their entertainment.

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    Sad news, I liked flyte, music quality was very good and freedom to select single song for less then 10 Rs was really quite affordable. Used it to download Jagjitsing’s collection and Dona Summers as also the new ones like burfi etc. Hope they will reconsider, am planning to write to them and get the remaining of my favourites. It was not like other older song selling site partnered with vsnl, which did not allow you to transfer your paid music to your other devices.
    May be they have not advertized it well, This talk about “we are like that” I do not believe, Indians do pay when they get value for their money. Middle and so called lower class know the value of what they get and pay up. Maximum freeloaders are to be found in quote-unquote upper class, who consider it is smart( and brag about it) to pay less then what is the actual price. As a medical practitioner I see it everyday.

  • Do you know anyone who can record an entire collection of songs like lata mangeshkar etc and burn a dvd for me in matunga mumbai

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Sorry Deepali. Not sure. But you could try National Electronics opposite Matunga railway station.

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