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Varun Grover: If it comes to going on a strike, I’ll be aggressive

Updated on: 19 February,2024 05:19 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sonia Lulla |

Leading from the front in enabling writers to get their due credit in the music industry, Varun Grover, as part of his association with The Indian Performing Rights Society, urges listeners to support artistes

Varun Grover: If it comes to going on a strike, I’ll be aggressive

Varun Grover

Via its nationwide campaign, My Music, My Rights, the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) launched the Raga to Rock event, aimed at initiating dialogue on the need to support creators for the establishment of a sustainable industry. Writer Varun Grover, who addressed questions on the means to create a system that’s viable for artistes,  emphasised the need to help individuals who envisage a full-time career in the field. In this interview, he spoke of the importance of creating a future that ensures artistes earn a sustainable livelihood from their craft.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

When we speak about just giving authority and ownership of music to its creators, do you believe there is one set of artistes who suffer more than the others?
Yeah, absolutely. I think lyrics writers within the music industry suffer the most because people are made to believe that a song [is created] on its own and only the singers get the love and credit for it, because they sing it across venues. For that reason, they have the same status as actors in a film do. I don’t have a grudge against their success because they have the talent and put in the hard work. But, mostly, a singer is credited for a song; a composer comes in the second [place] and then it is the lyricist. Nowadays, several composers have their own [labels], but writers are seen as dispensable. Also, given the nature of the music industry today, composers are considered the heads of departments, and have more power. So, writers end up getting the least credit.

Why do you think we have reached a situation where writers are not given their due credit?
It has always been like that. There was a time when even All India Radio would only announce the names of the singer and the composer, and wouldn’t name a lyrics writer. Then, Sahir saab [Ludhianvi] had to protest to get them to start including the names of writers. Even when the era of television began, only the singers, and, at times, the composers would be credited. It’s a fight that has been underway, and occurs when a new medium is created. Now, with streaming platforms becoming dominant, this must occur again. 

Recently, I wrote the entire album of Merry Christmas, and had to fight, and constantly message the music company for seven to eight days to credit me on the YouTube videos of the songs. In the headline, they would only credit the singer and composer. I had to ask for it, even though I have written the entire album. I don’t know why there is this cultural mindset in India where writers are considered lesser artistes than other musicians. A lot of them, whom I know, are very mild-mannered and not aggressive. That’s why, people take advantage of them. 

The fight we are involved in is on two levels—one is the moral rights, which is that credit should be duly given. That [requires] a change in the mindset of the common listener as well. The second is getting fair royalties for fair play. 

When I became a writer 20 years ago, I did ghostwriting for a lot of people. They would tell me that they would pay me. But they wouldn’t pay me. In one scenario, I had asked the director of a show whose pilot episode I wrote for the payment, and he asked me how much I would pay to be associated with the project. That’s the unfortunate state of the industry. 

Considering how predominant and wealthy this industry is, one would assume that the scope for such exploitation is limited. Why does this grey space exist when we have contracts?
Music is kind of abstract. Words are still solid and real, but music is abstract. Someone can change a couple of instruments and beats and call it different. While writers can still copyright our work, I don’t know if there is a way to copyright a tune, because music is so intricate. So, it’s a difficult scenario to deal with. 

What were the measures you’ll discussed when it comes to dealing with this scenario?
I think young musicians must be careful when it comes to deciding who they choose to trust. If you are working in bad faith, that’s a sad scenario. Lots of bodies like the IPRS and SWA [Screen Writers’ Association] are trying to put together a good contract for newcomers and everyone else so that nobody is exploited. They should sign contracts before they submit any work so that they don’t reach a place where they would need to accuse someone of stealing something they submitted. 

All the bodies came together to create this after we got inspired by how WGA [Writers’ Guild of America] got together to fight for their rights. I hope we don’t have to go on strike, but, if it comes to that, I’ll be very aggressive. 

Who do you believe should have ownership of a song?
The authority, in terms of the intellectual property of the song, should remain with the composer and the author, who are the music director and the lyrics writer. At the third level should be the singer. So, these three people should perpetually retain it. Subsequently, whichever music company comes on board, they should license the song for a stipulated number of years, and then share profits. Anything that [results] from one person’s efforts should stay with them. Being a musician is a lifetime’s effort. 

Is there something about this subject that you think we haven’t addressed? 
Just that I wish that the public also supports the artistes. There are so many music apps that people listen to, right from the time they wake up. I hope they give thought to the artistes who make the music and support them in their fight to earn their rights. We only ask to be treated with respect. It is only in India that we must fight for these things. There’s no royalty system for writers.

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