Economy, Business And Markets

The Dissonance in Iran’s Music Industry

Business & Markets Desk
Making a mark in Iran’s music market is tough because of artistic and economic challenges
The cost of releasing an album in the European countries is far higher than in Iran.
The cost of releasing an album in the European countries is far higher than in Iran.
Music distribution via online stores is more viable economically than physical album distribution

It’s tough to be a musician in Iran and tougher for music artists who resist the temptation to make money by pandering to popular demand. Add to it the economic challenges.

Ninety-nine percent of people prefer music with vocals over instrumental music, hence few publishing companies are willing to work with instrumental artists, Ali Gerami, the multi-instrumentalist music composer and instructor, said in an interview with Financial Tribune.  

To produce an album, music publishers should refer to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance where they have to pay about 10 million rials ($250) to obtain the permit to release an album in Iran’s market.

Given the popularity of the singer or songwriter, the publisher decides how many copies of an album should be produced.

The cost of publishing 1,000 copies of an album (the average number of copies for a music album by a good jazz musician in Iran) stands at 50 million rials ($1,250). The songwriter receives 9,000 rials (22.5 cents) from the sales of each CD, whereas the cost of recording the music in the studio, coupled with mixing and mastering, amounts to about 120 million rials ($3,000). Royalties are paid to the writer-composer every six months depending on the number of CDs sold.

“There is no return on investment in CD production in Iran, but CDs are a significant way of promoting singers and musicians’ concerts,” Gerami said.

Most music publishers jockey for a contract with a few top-selling, distinguished artists such as Homayoun Shajarian. Here, the artist works with the publisher who pays the highest, but at the end of the day it is again the publisher who takes home the lion’s share of the profit.

 Void of Musicality

Gerami believes it is possible to become rich in Iran’s music market, “but you have to resign yourself to the poor, unrefined taste of music listeners: the immediate handiwork of those who call themselves musicians but lack knowledge of the basics of music, harmony and rhythm”.

To make music on the cheap, people opt for the application of computing technology in music composition. This way you’ve got musicians who don’t really have the skills to solely use instruments to produce sound through acoustic means.

Technology has removed the artistry and feeling from a lot of songs, which means consumers are getting less traditional musicality and more computer-generated sounds.

“Democracy in music is a fraudulent statement. ‘Let’s give people the music they want’ is a way to deceive people. There is a clear distinction between good and bad music. Music is one way to nourish and enlighten the soul. Does the music we hear these days nourish and enlighten our souls?” Gerami asks.

On the number of professionals actively contributing to music business in Iran, the musician said, “By looking at CD covers, you’ll see a handful of familiar names appearing recurrently. Some professionals—I mean those who are well-trained and good at their jobs—are not active in music production today because of lacking a strong network of people to work with.”

 Half-Hearted Support

Asked whether the government lends any support to musicians, the artist said Iran Music House only recognizes three genres of music: pop, classical and traditional Iranian.

Pop music has become a hot commodity these days. It is economically lucrative and even has a syndicate of its own in Iran. As for classical music, it is being taught in Iranian universities for several decades and Iranian traditional music is the music of the country.

Iran Music House introduces its card-carrying members, who have been vetted by a jury, to Art Credit Fund (formerly known as Artists Credit Fund). The fund used to grant up to 30 million rials ($750) in the fiscal 2009-10 to artists, writers and translators based on their profile.

“As far as I know, they are no longer offering such loans. This is while all over world, governments provide artists with subsidies and other facilities like studios. Tehran Municipality owns a number of music halls. The least it can do is to allow musicians to perform at its venues for a single night,” Gerami said.

The government also sponsors three music festivals: Fajr International Music Festival, the National Festival of Youth Music and the Iranian Folk Music Festival.

Fajr International Music Festival is Iran’s most prestigious music festival founded in 1986 and includes a national competition section where winners are awarded financial gifts. The festival also invites professional music bands (Iranian and foreign) and pays them for their live performances.

To promote Iranian music worldwide, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology sends different music bands to other countries on different occasions. These groups, accompanied by a delegation from the ministry, perform in Iranian embassies, or festivals held in those countries as well as schools and receive a decent payment.

Unfortunately, the ministry’s tight budget due to the depreciation of rial compared with a decade ago, among other things, has limited the number of these cultural missions today.


 Familiar Chord

Apple’s iTunes and Amazon have opened their markets to Iranian musicians and Iran’s international record brands like Hermes Records and Javan Records over the past few years, thanks to the nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers in 2015.

Each time a user listens to a song, the artist earns 99 cents. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows music distribution through online stores is more viable economically than physical album distribution. In fact, online radio broadcasters pick quality music from mainstream genres of the time, which appeal to their audience.

“Whether we like it or not, traditional Iranian music resonates with very few people in foreign countries. Willing to export our music to other countries, musicians need to locate the common roots of occidental, oriental and Iranian musical textures and harmonies. They need to go for a multicultural musical blend and come up with a music that strikes a familiar chord with listeners of different backgrounds,” he said.

Gerami is conducting research on a unique music that blends elements of Iranian traditional music with Afrobeat, a music genre developed in the 1970s out of a combination of West African musical styles.

Noting that instrument manufacturing companies have opened offices in Iran following the nuclear deal, the composer said, “Now you can purchase instruments at their global prices in Iran. During the sanctions years, middlemen used to sell instruments multiple times their real prices.”

Iranian concert promoters have also been inviting more international artists to perform in Iran over the past few years.

Plus, Hermes Records, one of the few Iranian international record brands, has partnered with German label ECM Records and produces music albums both in Iran and Europe.

The cost of releasing an album in the European countries is far higher than in Iran. For example, a music CD in Europe and Iran costs about €5 and €1 respectively. These two companies distribute their works under the label of their partner in their countries,” Gerami concluded.

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