Update: Spotify, the audio streaming giant, has officially announced that it is launching in Pakistan.
“We launch in 80+ new markets over the next few days. See you soon Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nigeria,” read its post on Twitter. Spotify Pakistan’s official Instagram account also posted its first update with the caption “Check it out, a new way to discover and play music is coming your way”.
In November 2020, when speculations regarding Spotify’s launch began to emerge, The Correspondent talked to prominent figures in Pakistan’s music industry to gauge what effect Spotify would have on the country, and especially on the already existing local music streaming platform Patari.
The original article follows below
Musicians in Pakistan, ever since the country’s inception, have had to go walk through a cultural quagmire before making it out alive and even then most get downtrodden. Somewhere between Zia’s censorship and Musharraf’s political turmoil, the music industry plunged downwards, leaving artists to fend for themselves in the absence of production houses and record labels. Today, the distribution of music in Pakistan is very different but artists still bear the brunt of past failures. Most hope to make independent music but don’t have the kind of money that absolves corporate sponsors of control and power over their art.
The biggest problem for artists today still lies in finding financially feasible avenues for distribution. This is when they look towards online streaming platforms like Patari and Spotify, both sharing almost identical business models and promising royalties and recognition to artists.
Spotify, however, hasn’t been launched in Pakistan yet, leaving Patari as the predominant music application here with little to no competition. Earlier this week, rumors about Spotify’s entry into Pakistan jolted through Twitter especially after Shamoon Ismail, an Islamabad-based singer, songwriter and composer tweeted, “I confirm Spotify is coming to Pakistan.” followed by more local artists sharing their excitement.
This level of enthusiasm by Pakistan’s music artists puts their current position into perspective especially with regard to their relationship with the country’s already existing music site. It also begs the question of what will happen to it once Spotify enters the market.
Patari, a Pakistani music and audio streaming service, was founded in February 2015, when it almost immediately rocketed to success, gaining thousands of users. The music portal’s journey, however, digressed over the years as structural conflicts began plaguing it. Currently, it still stands as Pakistan’s predominant music application but that could very well be because the country has no other alternatives. With Spotify’s arrival, however, this dynamic could completely change.
The Correspondent talked to Faisal Sherjan, one of the founders of Patari, about Spotify’s launch in Pakistan, what it would mean for Patari and why the local app’s success eventually plummeted.
Do you think Patari will still have a future here once Spotify arrives?
F. Sherjan: “This conventional wisdom, that if a big international players turns up, everybody is going to roll over and die, is totally incorrect. It doesn’t work that way. The local player always has its advantages. What is Spotify really going to do?
Spotify is coming to Pakistan because it believes there is potential in this market. We’ve known that forever. There IS potential in this market. Music is one of the key areas where brands actually spend billions every year. We know about Coke Studio, we know about Pepsi Battle of the Bands, we know about Nescafe basement. Even brands like Cornetto have been supporting music.
So Spotify coming here is validation that this is a big market. We look at it from that perspective.”
Do you think Patari will be directly affected by Spotify?
F.S: “Not really. Because Patari is going to be about local content. It’s going to be about producing, encouraging and incentivizing the production of fresh content. I don’t see Spotify doing it because Spotify hasn’t done it in any market. They’ve never done it.
We do it because that is our purpose. So we’ve done things like Patari Taabir, Patari Aslis, Patari Fanoos. And we’re going to do more than that. We’re also adding literature and podcasts. Those are going to be our key differentiators.”
But Spotify also has podcasts. Patari isn’t unique that way, is it?
F.S: “It won’t have local podcasts. Spotify’s music 98% is going to be international music. Look around and see who’s going to consume what music. That gives you an indication of what we mean by differentiation. We already have a plan. We’ve been aware of Spotify for almost two years. So we know that the market will develop much faster now. More people will produce more music. We will be in a good position. I mean I don’t see Spotify coming in here and asking people to do podcasts.
Pakistan has over 83 million smartphones now. That’s a very big market. To be able to play either Spotify or Patari, that’s a very large market available. And the closest comparison that you can draw is Netflix. Has everybody gone crazy here over Netflix? I don’t think so. I don’t think the numbers top even a 100,000. If it was big you’d see advertisements. That’s a big indication. There was no push for local content. That’s your biggest indicator. That is when you need to get worried.”
What’s the difference between the business models of Patari and Spotify?
F.S: “There isn’t much of a difference. Spotify also relies largely on paid subscriptions; on people who pay for their premium services. Patari does the same. In fact, all content, eventually, if you want it to grow, has to do the same. Advertising support is very very difficult unless you’re YouTube. YouTube is essentially a search engine. None of the content is produced by YouTube itself. Content is expensive. And to produce expensive content you need to have the end user pay for it. If the end user isn’t paying, then you need huge numbers in terms of people who are consuming the music to be able to support through advertising.
So that is why Spotify also, very quickly after its launch, within a few years began to build its subscription base.
Patari has the same intention. We are launching a very big campaign, the Coke fest 2020, which launches tomorrow. We have a lot of sponsors. So already the numbers are building up.”
Why wasn’t Patari able to hit a larger audience in Pakistan?
F.S: “Patari had a very big inflection point. At that point it was just about to launch its premium service. It was always deigned from day one to lead towards a premium service.
The purpose was to create a platform for the music industry so that musicians could actually make money from it. Because then they would produce more music. That was the thought behind it. And that kind of an inflection point, in 2018, set it back for a while. But it is now coming back and it is coming back strongly. We were able to get more funding for it. That funding is now going to drive it forward.“
Why are our local music artists so excited about Spotify’s launch?
F.S: “An international player coming to the market is to the benefit of everyone, which includes local platforms. The artist is going to look at every single opportunity where their music is heard.
The biggest repertoire you have is of regional music. Regional music is going to find room on Patari. It may not find the same room on Spotify.
Steve Jobs sold music when everybody said you can’t sell music. He sold it because he made it so easy. That is our intention. We will make Pakistani music so accessible that you won’t ever need to go far. And we have done this.”
Mr. Sherjan believes Patari has a unique vantage point, so much so that Spotify’s arrival will barely have any adverse effect on it. He remains confident in his portal’s model and its service to local artists. However, some of Pakistan’s current music artists hold a completely different opinion.
In conversation with The Correspondent, Sikandar ka Mandar, an indie Folk band from Lahore/Islamabad with its own cult following, explained their experience with Patari and why they were excited about Spotify’s release.
I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm coming from music artists following the news about Spotify. Why is everybody so excited?
SKM: “Spotify has a larger outreach globally and gives one the opportunity to showcase their music to wider audiences. We have been on Spotify for a while now and we know through their analytics that we have several listeners in India, UK and the US. With Spotify coming to Pakistan, we will be able to zero down on where exactly our listener base is and cater to those specific audiences and analytics too.”
What makes it different from Spotify in terms of convenience to artists?
SKM: “Patari has had a controversial set up from the get go. They ripped music from local artists’ Soundcloud without permission to put it up on their website and then eventually the whole fiasco with their CEO left a bitter taste. We pulled out of Patari soon after. Besides that their payment structure is not at all transparent. “
You’ve been part of Pakistan’s music scene for a while now. Why do you think Patari hasn’t been able to maintain the kind of outreach it had in its earlier stage?
SKM: “Patari hasn’t been able to reach wider audiences because they’re not focusing on the artists. Music marketing is about building bridges and creating culture which is something that comes from the artist. If they want to promote music, they will have to invest in the music. That wasn’t happening.”
Takatak, a heavy metal band in Pakistan deriving their name from a spicy local meat dish, recently took their music off Patari, stating that the streaming service uploaded their music to the site without the band’s permission. In conversation with Daniyal Nasir from On the Mic, an increasingly popular English language podcast, the band shared their reservations about the site.
“I’m a lazy guy. I said it’s fine. Yes, it’s unethical but I’m not getting any money from Soundcloud either. I’ll let this be.”
“I did it get it taken off eventually though” he added. “But I don’t think they paid artists.”
Patari has played a major role in reviving Pakistan’s music, driving its users through whirlwinds of nostalgia with complete albums by Nazia Hassan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mehdi Hasan among a plethora of others while also providing a platform for more obscure and niche artists like Abid Brohi and Dynoman.
In a context where it has no serious competitors, Patari has faced no real threat to its market share, making it relatively easier for the site to get away with a lot. With the advent of Spotify, it just might be forcibly held at a higher standard with greater accountability which could be an ultimate win for music in Pakistan.