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.