Against All Odds
(Special thanks to Ali Nihat Eken & Gülseren Daş)
A friend of Tarkan Deluxe that teaches at the Sabanci University in Istanbul sent us over an article from a respected music journalist about the state of the Turkish music industry as it stands in the wake of digital downloads. It made me ponder the question of the conflicting interests between making music and making money and of Turkish pop star Tarkan.
Already fighting personal conflicts, if a 2008 BBC London radio report is anything to go by, will the troubled artist manage to ride out a period of change in his home industry and in himself - to accumulate sales to match his previous albums, and prove to his critics that he is truly the messiah of Turkish music?
Going Through a Phase
Gülseren Daş's original article ("Music Industry Tries to Beat the Odds", Turkish Daily News, 21 April, 2008), taken from the Turkish business daily Referans, argues the point that Turkey's music market is undergoing a sombre transitional phase, with producers trying to keep pace with the growing global trend of digital music and a steep decline in CD sales. The figures quoted by Daş for "the world's 24th largest music industry" makes for interesting reading.
In 2004 - when Tarkan was riding high on the previous sales of his Dudu EP - the level of CD sales was around 43 million with about 200,000 registered Internet users. Now with the number of Internet subscribers increased to 5 million, CD sales have declined by half to 21 million. And although Turkish music still makes up 93 percent of the overall music market in Turkey, only 8 domestic albums sold more than 300,000 copies in 2007 - whereas in preceding years over 20 albums would have reached that mark. No less of a musical marvel therefore that in this difficult climate, Tarkan managed to reach such sales with his Metamorfoz album in the short space of two weeks.
It is crystal clear, however, that the way forward is through keeping in tune with the latest technologies. The number of music applications downloaded on cell phones has reached one million, while those downloaded on the Internet has reached 1.5 million per month, proving that music lovers in Turkey have already signed up to a digital music mania that is yet in its infancy. And not just at home, but abroad, too: in 2007 Russian mobile phone melody sales of Tarkan's "Kuzu Kuzu" and "Dudu" songs made around $30,000 in just two months.
More importantly, the music industry in Turkey has begun winning from digital music what it lost due to pirated CDs for the last two years. With Tarkan fronting a campaign for digital downloads at the beginning of 2008 with the opening of TTNetMüzik, downloads reached two million in nearly as many months.
The Shift to Digital
The need to shift to digital music in Turkey was predicted by major Turkish music association the Turkish Phonographic Industry Society - the Turkish representative of the London-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) - otherwise known by its acronym MÜ-YAP, and that the shift would require creating a new music sector. The association knew this would be no easy task.
Illegal sharing of copyrighted files accounts for 80 percent of all the Internet traffic in the world. And with Turkey only managing to collect a 10 percent share from its own copyright fees market, this translates into about a sum of $40 million from a potential gain of $300 million and $400 million annually. It's obvious that no industry can sustain 90 percent of losses for long.
Anticipating that Turkey would be strongly affected by this digital trend, MÜ-YAP founded a digital platform with a $1 million investment. The number of songs, including foreign and domestic, that are under protection of MÜ-YAP is 10 million and about 100,000 songs in Turkish have been saved on the digital platform so far.
MÜ-YAP gave the first license in digital music to the Power Group, and the first official site of digital music in Turkey was www.powerclub.com.tr, however Turkish music really entered the digital music consciousness with Tarkan fronting telecommunications giant TTNet's campaign for a music portal for its users at TTNetMüzik. In this sense, with the exposure Tarkan brought to the cause, it will arguably be marked as a milestone in the history of his home industry.
There are now plans in operation for the video service of the platform, with about 10,000 videos saved in digital space, and we've seen MÜ-YAP enforcing its copyright ownership over videos being illegally distributed over popular video sites such as YouTube. Very soon music lovers will be able to form their playlists from the videos of their favourite artists, too, and there are already free and legal Turkish video sites coming online, such as hitklip that earns its revenue to pay copyright fees through embedded advertising.
MÜ-YAP president, Bülent Forta, in his belief that Turkey needs to strengthen its music industry and also drawing attention to successive governments' blindness to pirate CD sales, is quoted in Daş's Referans article saying:
"The only method to fight is to convert the Internet into a formal commercial sphere, because in Turkey, the rate of file sharing via the Internet is about 95 percent. Without the music industry in the United States, Madonna could easily turn into a bar singer in Beyoğlu."
Not so much a Madonna in the eyes of the world maybe, but Tarkan fans know of at least one Beyoğlu bar singer that has not only managed to defy the odds of a closed-off domestic industry to reach the international stage, but has become the Turkish music saviour of one that is set to open up globally.
Tarkan Plays On
Piracy has always been a sensitive subject for Tarkan, and the artist himself has mentioned that he is probably one of the most to have had his "fingers burnt" through the theft of his music in Turkey - and yet the artist plays on.
With Metamorfoz he helped raise awareness of legal downloads at TTNetMüzik, but he also did something more. Although there is the danger of the quality of music falling in an industry where more and more musicians are being forced to "home produce" their work in small studios to offset their production losses - by releasing a more solid production than his previous works - with Metamorfoz Tarkan has sent a signal to other musicians, too, that music must come before money.
Now there are rumours that Tarkan is about to embrace another Internet phenomenon by reaching out to home DJs in a remix competition, which will probably see the winning composition appear in a bonus release or single some time in 2008. Even if this doesn't materialise - as the dynamics of his official website leave a lot to be desired - the mood is that the artist is again trying to make important sections of the Web community feel part of the music industry that needs to catch up with the times.
Whether this will be the miracle that generates a million sales is yet to be seen, but whatever success the artist manages, in a such a conflicting climate, will be the most deserving kind - one that's achieved against all the odds.
The views in this article are those of the author alone.
Read more Mark Mayhey articles on Tarkan >>