From His Master’s Voice to the Masters of My Choice, Saregama MD Vikram Mehra on the ‘Carvaan’ of music, the future, the world of downloads and more.
A vintage gramophone piece in brass welcomes you as you enter the cabin of Vikram Mehra – MD of Saregama, a company from the RP-Sanjiv Goenka group. The music giant that treasures a colossal bank of 1.17 lakh Indian tracks was on the threshold of announcing the turn of its new leaf in the music arena betting on new technology and its legacy since the appointment of Vikram Mehra as the MD.
As you pass the corridors of Saregama to the cabin of Mehra, a pleasant intimacy is noticed between the modern décor with the portrait of veteran Bollywood legends alongside the office walls symbolizing the packaging of rich old content with a new age instrument. After exchanging pleasantries, Vikram Mehra shows a portable radio-cum-music player ‘Carvaan’ - the company’s latest revolution in the world of music which is now called as the new gambit in the digital music world, Vikram Mehra in a candid conversation speaks about the idea behind ‘Carvaan’, its reach, the future of music, the threat of downloads and his nostalgic moments with the legendary Asha Bhosle..
The idea behind ‘Carvaan’
Early in 2015 within months of my joining we conducted a massive survey across the country to understand the music consumption habits of people. The survey that panned regions across India, primarily focused on the way music is consumed by people especially in the less tech savvy regions. The exercise was a learning experience and we learned that people in the age group 35 and beyond are huge fans of Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle etc but they are laid back in their attitude and find the apps complicated. The demand to give them their evergreen melodies stored in those CD’s started pouring in. Also aficionados of evergreen melodies and avid radio listeners during the legendary Ameen Sayani era (known for Binaca Geetmala) shared that those times were better as we put on the radio and songs started playing giving the whole family a soothing experience. From here the seed of ‘Carvaan’ was bowed and we got together to create a physical product that gives a lean-back experience in the form of a device that resembles the vintage Murphy radio with a collection of 5,000 songs (mostly retro) flaunting a cool look, light and portable in weight that doubles up with a Bluetooth speaker and as a USB player, looks like a radio but it’s as digital as it gets.
Songs can be downloaded and/or heard online everywhere, YouTube, Gaana, Saavn etc so many options? What makes ‘Carvaan’ score over the presently available options?
The idea behind is to give a laid back music experience, the age group of 35 and beyond in a metropolitan may be more net savvy and curious to experiment the new options available in music apps etc. The device caters to those for whom internet is restricted to whatts up and suddenly if someone from that group wants to listen to ‘Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen’ then the person has to do some exercise on his device and has to depend on the connectivity and strength of the internet network at his place. (He gets up and brings a piece of ‘Carvaan’ from his table, and continues), see this you will get the perfect idea. (He turns on the device and Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar’s unforgettable ‘Ah Chhod Do Aanchal, Zamana Kya Kahega’ starts playing, he then rotates the regulator and we see names of Rafi, Hemant Kumar, Jagjit Singh etc, appearing on the digital screen, other options like music director, lyricist, mood, instrumental, classical, sufi, devotional also pop up as the knob is rotated. A surprise addition of ‘Geetmala’ fits in perfectly giving all the nostalgia of Ameen Sayani making it an informative and idiosyncratic journey for the collectors and the listeners). Previously, kids of our target age group of 35+ used to download pirated songs and store it in their parents mobile etc, but the action gave limited results; say up to 50 songs, but here at the price of 5,990, ‘Carvaan’ gives a complete package of everlasting melodies.
With free downloads available and by the same time other platforms offering music from Saregama at lesser price, how the price of ‘Carvaan’ is justified?
Yes, other platforms are available from where Saregama owned music can be downloaded officially, and pirated downloads do happen, but as I said earlier ‘Carvaan’ caters to a laid back mindset prevalent in the 35+ age groups in India which is not that net savvy plus the device proper justice to the immense followers of legends like Rafi, Kishore. For example if someone wants to have only Rafi numbers then ‘Carvaan’ provides him with a big bank at one go. To download a sizable 500 numbers of Rafi, a person will require at least 4 days. A customer is always willing to pay the price provided he gets the value of money. ‘Carvaan’ offers a unique catalogue at the push of a button taking care of the customer’s convenience bringing back the good old days of listening to music without any hurdles. The device also comes with a remote and FM radio for the customer who can change his preferences at will at just one click, even an internet connection is not required. The songs which are stored is a result of a collective survey based on preferences across regions and it’s not just a random download of numbers in a chip.
How has the market responded to ‘Carvaan’
The response has been a talking point. In the first quarter we have sold 95,000 units.
What is the target and what in store for future competition from other music companies?
We are aiming a 100 thousand unit per quarter and working on it internally. If the competition comes with something, they are welcome but we offer is unique, a Kishore song owned by Saregama is owned by Saregama, you cannot put anything else. The encouraging response to the sale of ‘Carvaan’ in the first quarter has motivated us to launch the Tamil version which is now available and we are excited to come with the Marathi and Bengali versions as well in near future.
Looking at your past wealth of experience from Tata Sky, Star, what next in the digital music world from India’s oldest music label?
In our endeavour to monetize on the rich bank of content we own, ‘Carvaan’ is a step taken with a proper understanding of taste, preference varying from region to region in the digital format. We were the kings of cassettes and cds and we will keep on acquiring new music while provide a better listening experience to the customers and make sure that our music is sold more and more..
Finally, is your ‘Carvaan’ with Saregama just another corporate jump or it has something to do with passion for music?
I am a huge fan of Kishore and Ashaji. I was a new entrant in the 78 rpm record collectors' club. After joining Saregama India, I met Ashaji and it was a memorably humbling experience for me. I was looking out for her old 78 rpm vinyl records. Ashaji did not disappoint and in fact played her old songs on the records on my request. What else can anyone ask for? For me it’s not money, I hope the ‘Carvaan’ of good music continues..