Music streaming services leaving out the name of the lyricist from the main credits is nothing new. Neither is Netflix's peculiar practice of not featuring the name of the director, let alone the writer, in trailers—unless the director is of the stature of Martin Scorsese or Alfonso Cuaron. But last week, these two separate but similar issues came to the fore as part of the same conversation, thanks to a tweet by lyricist Swanand Kirkire, who pointed out that the Dil Bechara album on Spotify featured everyone's name, from the composer AR Rahman to the singers, but not the lyricist, Amitabh Bhattacharya. That's the credits you see by default. Only if you click on the 'Song Info' and go to the 'Credit' category will you find the name of the lyricist in it—a real effort.
Kirkire had taken the example of Spotify, but they are hardly alone in this. It's a standard practice among all the popular music streaming platforms, be it Saavn, or Gaana, or I-Tunes, or YouTube Music, a problem that has persisted since the beginning of the transition from CDs to digital. Their interfaces seem designed as per the singer-songwriter format of the West, where the concept of a lyricist is an oddity. Here, in India, it's the second most important—if not equally important—element of the film song. The CDs and the cassettes would have a place for it prominently at the top along with the composer, with names of singers below each track. The credits on the music streaming apps are all over the place.
Take the Dil Bechara soundtrack on Spotify, or I-Tunes, for example; they have Rahman's name at the top as well as below each track, along with the names of the singers, giving the false impression that he has co-sung every song in the album. And in the process, the lyricist, the least celebrated architect of the song, gets further left behind, and in the case of Dil Bechara, Amitabh Bhattacharya, one of the most creative lyricists of our times.
It's not a conversation Film Twitter had for the first time. But this time it turned into a bit of a movement. Lyricist and writer Varun Grover, who added his voice to Kirkire's, got an oversight fixed by Times Music, after he pointed out that his name and that of composer Sagar Desai was left out of the jukebox of Aankhon Dekhi (2014) that has been on YouTube in 2016. Riya Mukherjee, who hosts an audio show called Riya's Retro, in a reply to Grover's tweet, recalled how during her tenure as head of curation at Gaana, she got the Lyricist field added to their 'Song Info' category. It was also triggered by a tweet by a lyricist, Kausar Munir, for the song "Maana Ke Hum Yaar Nahi", Mukherjee said when we we spoke over the phone.
As someone who has worked in the music industry as an RJ and a programmer, she attributes the problem to the lack of "music lovers in the music industry, unlike in the past." "It's just neglect. Even if you want to do something about it, there aren't enough passionate people in the system to take this up as a cause, because you need to have the voices inside these companies who will say that No, we need to fix this," she says. The only way things could change is if music companies actively pursue it. "When a music label asks a radio station or a music app to do something, they pay a lot more attention to it than if a lone lyricist calls them," she says.
The conversation didn't stay restricted to lyricist credits alone. Writer-director Navjot Gulati took the opportunity to point out how Netflix left out names of writers from their announcement slate of 17 new titles, and the trailer of one of those titles, Raat Akeli Hai, and the promotional tweets by Netflix India. Typical of a Netflix trailer, it only features the name of the star cast, with the Netflix logo in the beginning and the end, communicating to the audience in every way that it is purely a Netflix product. "Ideally the writer's name should be in the slate in the trailer, if not, at least in the description on YouTube," says Gulati, a co-writer in one of the announced films, Ginny Weds Sunny, over the phone.
According to Gulati, this is particularly damaging to the morale of the writers in Hindi film industry, where they have always had to fight for their rights—Salim-Javed, the star-writers of the 70s, once legendarily went out in the streets at night and hand painted their names on posters of their new film all over the city. Gulati says that things had began looking up last year after Dharma Productions set a precedent by announcing new projects (Takht and Dostana 2) with writers getting top billing. "You suddenly had other producers following suit, putting writers names in the announcement posters, not because they suddenly respect writers but out of shame," he says.
Netflix's practice of not crediting writers in the promotional material, he fears, could undo the good work, with other streaming sites following suit. "Although Amazon Prime has a fairer crediting practise, platforms like Zee5 pretty much follow Netflix," he says. "If they start doing it, will it take away anything from their brand? I don't think so."