Bisconni Music

The last 12 months saw a proliferation of music shows. The main reason this is happening is that this has been a visible, and (arguably) successful marketing strategy for some consumer goods and others now want in. The seduction of music shows for brand managers is how easy it is to measure how well you are doing compared to other brands. The age of modern advertising is the age of measurement. Advertisement campaigns are measured inside companies against detailed metrics around the number of people reached, the cost of reaching those people, and the sales driven by doing so. In the case of music shows in Pakistan, it is not easy to establish whether they are moving the bottom line of selling consumer goods. But it is pretty easy to measure online play counts and read tweets, and eventually that becomes the driving force of how many large companies make decisions about where to throw their money.

This has a few positive impacts on the music industry. Through an influx of money it ensures the production of music, the employment of artists, while also providing critical distribution. The impact on distribution happens in two ways. First, since music shows are incentivized to reach large numbers of people, brands will pay online platforms to show more people their videos. Second, as interest is generated in audiences about a music show, they perform an ‘aggregation’ function. Which is that they amass demand for new music and divide it amongst the many artists sharing the same stage. Where if each individual artist had to put in the effort to reach this audience they may have found it difficult to do so. As a result musicians reach large audiences, potentially hold on to some new audience members which they then take to their other music.

If every brand did a music show, this aggregation function would fail to be of much use. The reason aggregation works is that audiences do not find it easy to keep track of a large number of musicians, especially newer musicians. So a small number of shows known to source good musicians and produce music you tend to like, causes you to be more likely to discover a new artist on the show you may not have seen otherwise. If there is an infinitely large number of music shows, the utility of keeping track of a small number of distribution channels for new music disappears.

Part of how music shows, and marketing campaigns in general, describe their utility to customers is through product differentiation and brand. In that marketing campaigns create a vision, or an image of what they represent. Qualities, attributes, or ideas that you begin to associate with a product or name such that you are then likely to go to it to find more of the same. Coke Studio established itself as a destination for ‘fusion’ music, an exploration of South Asian musical forms, conveniently packaged to be of interest to the modern listener. In response, Pepsi Battle of the Bands finds new rock bands, and Nescafé Basement gets unknown musicians to do epic things. Kashmir Beats (!) is a show featuring singing by celebrities that are not singers. In this stead, Bisconni Music’s defining feature is its lack of premise.

In an introduction video, producer Saad Hayat describes the fundamental tenets of Bisconni Music: a focus on original music, a fresh sound, and no predefined limitations on genre or sound. Each song would be selected on ‘merit’ and constructed to wherever it naturally wants to go. I call this a lack of premise because in a sense this is how all music is made. I understand that covers are a topic of interest in Pakistani music discourse, but in general I find that the outrage is perhaps overplayed and significant amounts of original music continue to be made if you know where to look. Which leaves us with everything else, in that the production team looked for good music across a variety of artists and then made a bunch of songs. Many of them are quite good, but they do not represent a cohesive whole, so it makes it hard to write about them as a collective effort and to engage with them as a coherent marketing campaign. What the songs share is a familiar rock feeling, which I don’t mind but is a little dated and not very different from what everyone else is doing.

That said I find this recording of Natasha Baig and Ashiq Ali Chand delightful. Hayat mentions that it was this song that Bisconni first heard that caused them to set the foundation of the collaboration with Hayat. This is a Rajhastani melody layered on top of prominent beat, decorated with a sitar and a shehnai, and topped off with a gratuitous electric guitar solo. Ashiq Ali Chand is the famed percussionist associated with Junoon for three decades, and responsible for the iconic tabla beats of Yaar Bina, Mitti, and Pyaar Bina. You should also see a fascinating recent discussion between him and Louis John Pinto (aka Gumby) where they discuss some of those iconic Junoon riffs and what it’s like to play drums and tabla together.