As teenagers, most of Gen Y would remember their shelves stuffed full of music cassettes. This was just during the beginning of the evolution of digital music, mind you – right during the growing popularity of CDs and well before the advent of the ubiquitous iPod.
But with the advent of digital music and the new-age Internet, anything you want can be found online – from copyrighted literature in cracked PDF formats to MP3 copies of new music, fresh off the recording studios. With such an abundant array of illegal and free music available, Giri Traders, the holy grail of the tambrahm household, didn’t think they’d succeed with their ‘Music ATM’. But eight years and several millions of legal downloads later, they’re one happy organisation.
With 35 kiosks or ATMs spread across the country, their biggest set can be found in Mylapore, right next to the Kapaleeswarar Temple. The kiosk looks just like an ATM, except that instead of using the touchscreen to draw money, you can listen and download music. They stock anything from Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s rare melodies to some of Illaiyaraaja’s biggest hits – carnatic, devotional, classical, instrumental, cinema – you name it. And all at an extremely cheap price starting from Rs. 5 per song.
“When we started off, music was just beginning to change,” says Abhishek Prakash, manager-content at Giri Traders. They had been in the music industry for quite a while, with their own record label. The music world was just moving from the physical to the digital, and iPods had just entered the market. “We realised that music was going to be consumed in a big way and that changed a lot of things. The industry needed legal players to fill the gap digital music would create,” he says.
The brainchild of T S Ranganathan, the director of Giri Traders, these kiosks are mainly frequented by elderly customers with fancy music devices sent by their kids who live overseas. “They usually turn up at the store and ask for help to operate their iPods or MP3 players,” says Abhishek with a grin. The “nostalgia music” the store offers is also a big draw. “The old 50’s and 60’s music that you just can’t find anymore is what some of them come for. We’re also asked for Mozart and Beethoven, but unfortunately, we don’t stock western classical,” he adds.
Abhishek recalls an incident when a group of foreigners came to the shop some time ago. “We were just shutting shop when they came in. The next day, they were here the entire day downloading music. They would have downloaded more than 1,000 songs,” he says.
On a good day, a single kiosk earns anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 5,000. In fact, on weekends, the earnings shoot up to Rs 10,000. Abhishek sums it up best. “It goes to show that people don’t mind paying for music. They just need the option to be able to.”