Home » Interviews » “It is important for physical and digital media to co-exist” – Mannan Shaah

There was a time when you saw a music store selling CDs and cassettes at every nook and corner of the town or city you lived in. Now, physical media is collapsing and music is largely heard on digital platforms. Composer Mannan Shaah talks about the importance of preserving physical media and reminisces about the time when he used to frequent the many music stores in the city.

Your song ‘Akhiyaan Milaavanga’ from ‘Commando 3’ was hugely popular and that can be gauged by the thousands of cover versions that have been made and shared on the internet. Just a couple of years ago, the success of an album was determined by the number of copies it sold. While most soundtracks still get a physical release in the west, we do not really follow that practice in India anymore.

Yes, it is sad that most albums do not come out on CD. The music of my first film ‘Commando’ (2013) did release on CD. It was a special feeling to hold the audio CD of my first film in my hand. Even the music of ‘Commando 2’ (2016) came out on CD. Thankfully, vinyl records have made a comeback. A CD, a vinyl record and even a cassette is a priceless possession. I have an old music system in my car on which I still listen to albums on a CD or a cassette.

Now, digital media has overtaken everything.

Digital media had become very strong already and now, it is taking giant strides because of the whole lockdown situation. Films are releasing on OTT platforms and people are even scared to buy newspapers. Most of the things are happening online, so digital media will continue to become more and more popular with time. For several days, newspapers were not allowed to come in the area I live in. Print media is going through a tough time.

As a music composer, how do you look at this shift?

We are living in times where we listen to master tracks sent to us on email. When I was assisting Pritam, he had a Santro car and he would make us listen to multiple master copies throughout the night in the car and then, choose the best one. As a creator, the excitement that we had while listening to the master copy and approving it has gone away as we receive digital audio files on the e-mail. The quality of those compressed audio files is not as good as those you get on a CD.  At least, we should try and go back to the times where we listened to uncompressed master copies on a CD.

What are your memories of listening to music on or collecting physical media back in the day?

I had great memories of visiting the music stores in Mumbai. Rhythm House and Planet M were important cultural institutions. I was studying in St. Xaviers and in that college, there is a library of Indian classical music. There were several old vinyl records there. I used to only listen to LP records. Just like a physical library consists of books, a film library is made up of physical media. It is important for physical and digital media to co-exist. When you let go of physical media, you are also losing out on the artwork and the sense of ownership you get when you pay for a CD or a vinyl record.

Do you remember the last time you bought a CD?

I bought a DVD set of Tom Hanks’ films last year. The box-set was very attractive and it had a very good collection of his films. Though not released commercially, a few CDs of ‘Namaste England’ were given to people in the production team and the music label.