Music in the digital age: Star-studded panel discusses the future of the music industry


While it may seem that Sri Lanka is slightly stagnant when it comes to producing music and remaining consistent with the pace of the global industry, one thing we often forget is that we have something of a rich past when it comes to music production.

A household name – two names, rather – Bathiya and Santhush have given us music that has never ceased to be trendy throughout the generations. Similarly, Dushyanth Weeraman, Randhir Witana, Natasha Rathnayake, and metal band Stigmata are names very close to our hearts.

The above-mentioned individuals, along with Stigmata lead singer Suresh de Silva, collaborated with Chokolaate, the teen magazine, to provide some input for the youngsters of today regarding the music industry. They got together through Zoom to conduct a live panel discussion which was streamed on Facebook. It aimed to teach a few things about the industry to aspiring musicians and those who are curious about how things work in Sri Lanka. The panel was moderated by professional compere Stephanie Siriwardhana, who asked the panel questions about how one can navigate their way through the industry.

She first asked them about what qualities one might need to possess in order to be a successful part of the industry. Her spouse Dushyanth willingly answered first, stating that what he believes is most essential for a musician right now is humility. He shared that this is the best way an artiste can connect with his or her fans. Although in the beginning, the artiste’s main concentration would be on his or her work, soon the fans start becoming fond of him or her, at which point the artiste needs to be able to build a relationship with them which can only be found through humility.

Agreeing somewhat with what he said, Suresh spoke about how he believes that discipline is the most important quality needed for an artiste. He shared that regardless of the role you play – as a songwriter, performer, or whatever type of musician – being disciplined is quintessential to success. Another factor he believes is important is the need to work with integrity and not find yourself lost in pursuing short-term successes and material things.

Natasha shared that she believes that success comes from having a vision for oneself and working hard towards it while Randhir similarly said that clarity and focus on where you want to go as a musician are the most important qualities to possess.

Bathiya spoke about something he and his partner have done very effectively throughout their career – connecting with the audience you want to cater to. He shared that one must know how to communicate to people, no matter what the artform is. He said that if this skill can be mastered, even an artiste with average talent would be able to achieve easy success as opposed to a very refined artist who can’t hone this skill.

Steering the conversation towards the main reason for the panel, Siriwardana asked the panellists how they, who came mostly from an era of cassettes, were able to achieve their success despite the mode of delivery to their consumers constantly changing.

Santhush spoke about how evolution was so important for a musician. He recalled how he and Bathiya were the pioneering local artists who integrated television with their art. While radio was a massive media platform at the time, they saw that they needed to change in order to achieve greater success. He recalled how they began to produce their own music videos; when they came to their second album, they felt that the industry was evolving and so began to integrate themselves with this evolution. When YouTube started catching on, even though they were already an older generation, they took some time, learned about the process, and got used to it. According to him, this is something that has been happening in the music industry all throughout the years, even dating back to the times of Mozart. Hence, this was simply the way things were and a successful musician needed to get used to the pattern.

Randhir shared that for him too, switching to digital media was a learning curve. However, he understands that he and those of his time were able to overcome this slowly. However, he said the real problem that has arisen at present is the inability for a new artist to establish themselves the way he was able to. He shared that the entire country would be able to easily recognise the faces on this panel as they were able to come into the industry after a screening process through many gatekeepers such as those in television and other producers. He identified the ease with which an individual can put art out now as the reason why no one gets recognised. The lack of an intricate process has deprived young aspiring artistes to showcase their legitimacy.

Suresh spoke about how the new wave of technology was indeed frightening and even threatening for musicians from his time. Nevertheless, agreeing with Santhush, he said that we are simply looking at the next logical step in the evolution of the music industry. He highlighted two factors which have changed greatly – the way music is being consumed and the audience’s desires. He believes, like Bathiya said before, that an artist must be able to understand their consumers, be it a niche audience, like what Stigmata caters to, or the entire country.

An interesting new point the artistes on the panel highlighted was the method through which an aspiring artiste could achieve success, monetary success that is. Bathiya and Santhush shared that the main problem is that the artistes are not getting paid the actual royalties which are owed to them. Nevertheless, they were jubilant to acknowledge, as Natasha reminded them too, that there was a law which has been passed stating that the singer must receive royalties.

Dushyanth then brought up the question of whether this would mean that the rights of the song’s ownership should go to the singer only, despite the songwriter and other artists having put in so much effort. Bathiya and Santhush answered that this is extremely difficult to determine as the law has unfortunately not been enforced. However, as Randhir then pointed out, at least the presence of such a law shows that even something small is being done to help the industry.