arrahmanBack in December 2008, when composer A R Rahman announced a new private album called Connections, I was really excited. After all, this was his private album after ages. But, there was a catch. Connections was a Nokia exclusive…meaning, the album was available only on Nokia Xpress Music devices. Yes, it is indeed a novel promotional deal for a composer and naturally did not go well with me back then. As a fan, I found it preposterous that I have to buy a Nokia mobile phone to listen to one of my favorite composer’s new tracks.Its quite a different story that I did not like the album that much either, while many other fans were raving about it – but that’s just me.

But, in this digital piracy age, this is indeed an interesting way for a composer to earn money, if we just not think of the fans in this picture.

Last week, Universal Music India released an album with A R Rahman’s picture plastered all over the CD sleeve. It was called Connections. But wait, this is not the same as the Nokia-released version. There is only one track that is common to both the albums – Jiya se jiya..the one that was promoted with a free-hugs video.

So how do both the albums compare in terms of the track list? Here’s a comparison!

Nokia Connections Universal Music – Connections
Jiya se jiya Jiya se jiya
Mann chandre Khalballi (Rang De Basanti OST)
Kural Meherbaan (Ada OST)
Silent Invocation A Dil se re (Dil Se OST)
Silent Invocation B Ek Mohabbat ‘ Vote for Taj’
Silent Invocation C Pray For Me Brother
Mylapore Blues Bombay Theme (Bombay OST)
Himalaya Pray For Me Brother Instrumental
Mosquito Jiya Se Jiya (Club Mix)

Now, I have no issues whatsoever with Universal Music releasing yet another compilation album. But, why call it Connections? Iâ??m sure Rahmanâ??s fans, who have multiplied dramatically after the double Oscar, would see the CD before buying it and feel disappointed that the original Nokia Connections are not included in this compilation, sans one track. From that point of view, the sales will not be based on the misleading album title. But, what about credibility?

Rahman has built a phenomenally credible name, at least in India, where his fans wait patiently for everything he composes. His face adds tremendous value to any album. Isnâ??t Universal Music merely cashing-in on the Rahman craze by releasing a Rahman mug-shot carrying album named after another album that was never commercially released, while retaining only one track from the former?

I was having this discussion with a friend of mine when he pointed out that barely 1% of consumers pay for their music, in India. If the situation in CD retail is so darn bad in India, is releasing a jaded, misleading compilation the answer? That too, at the cost of one of the most credible composers in the country?

Personally, I do not think so. What about Nokiaâ??s Ovi? Canâ??t it support paid downloads of the original tracks from Connections? Why canâ??t a Universal Music work with Rahmanâ??s numerous fans (at least online) to release online only versions of the tracks for a fee? I do understand that even a pioneer like Motorolaâ??s SoundBuzz recently went belly up. But, that was a broad music retail model online. What I suggest is a fan-powered model where you tie-up with at least a few groups online and release the album to them. If Dell can use twitter to target sales of refurbished PCs right down to the level of specific area-based promotions, why canâ??t Universal Music? Are they waiting for a working model from someone else? Or, are they complaining about the lack of online payment infrastructure in India? Whatâ?¦even after IRCTCâ??s phenomenal success?

The suggestion is to include the parties involved – the composer, his fans and the record label. The composer brings in the goods (the creativity). The fans bring in the need/ want. The record label connects both – only, online. Get creative here – a minimal extra discount for fans of a particular forum? Or a twitter follower only code for fans generated after a week of following Universal or Rahman’s twitter feed? These ‘extras’ would not only generate newer followers, but some buzz about Universal doing something different. I do hear you saying that some fans will buy the tracks and upload it on the assorted torrent sites for free downloads – yes, it is definitely going to happen. But, isn’t that happening even now, with legitimate CD releases?

The one valid reason I’d attribute to downloading is ease of availability – you don’t even need to leave your computer to buy music. So, why not make a legal, paid option available to the same fan so that he/ she at least has a legitimate option to download music with ease?