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WEB PAGE BIG HIT
WITH MUSIC LOVERS
By Michael W. Potts
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LOS ANGELES - Eighteen months ago, Abhesh Verma discovered much to his surprise that his personal Web page, chock full of music he had collected for his own listening pleasure, had become a favorite for scores of music lovers.
He renamed the page, called it SmasHits.com, and added a host of features. Today the music Web site has become a major player on the Internet. It ranks 20th among music sites overall, received the Yahoo "Cool Site" award, and has been touted as the number one Indian music site by HindiRanks.com.
"In the last few weeks we have been averaging 150,000 hits per day," Verma proudly told IndiaWest. "The biggest advantage of our site is that whatever kind of music you choose, it is available within three clicks."
SmasHits is the first Web site of its kind to offer its listeners a continuous stream of music "so that people don't have to click again and again,' said Verma, who pointed out that site members can also log on and create a mix of their own personal music choices which they can listen to any time.
'That is one of the best products we have created and everybody loves it,' Verma main- tained. 'They can choose any song from any selection from our site, store it in our database, and then listen to it from any computer in the world.
"The HawaHawai.com site focuses mainly on the Bollywood film scene and just this month began carrying the largest picture database to allow fans to download pictures of their favorite Bollywood film stars.
Video clips promoting the latest Bollywood films are available, 'but the broadband is not here yet where people can stream the high quality video, so we have a very limited collection,' Verma said.
In a relatively short time SmashChat.com has become the network's premiere site. Not only can users meet in specialized chat rooms, but they can also chat with their favorite Bollywood and Indipop stars on a weekly basis.
'Karisma Kapoor was one of the first to join our chats," Verma said. Today he boasts that the list of Bollywood stars who chat with their fans online includes Sunil Dutt, Jeetendra, Pankaj Udhas, Anil Malik, 'and Gulshan Grover is the best."
For the romantically inclined, there is Lovefromindia.com where SouthAsians from around the world can meet in one place, and get to know each other online. This global dating site also offers free personals and the means of searching the personal ads posted by others according to age, sex and location. To send that special message to a friend or loved one, users can choose an e-card from SmashGreetings.com with personalized, non-personalized, and customizable options, and attaching a song to complement the message is the site's newest feature.
A native of Delhi, Verma in 1998 left India the day he graduated from the University of Pune with a degree in mechanical engineering and headed straight for Fairfield, Iowa, where his father is the vice-president of the Insultec company.
While studying for his master's degree in business administration at the university, Ver- ma and a fellow student in November of 1998 started their own Web design company. That enterprise satisfied a market demand; SmasHits grew out of a need.
There were no Indian stores in Fairfield that stocked Indian music, and Verma found hardly any music sites on the Web. For his own personal use, Verma assembled his favorite tracks from CD albums, loaded them on his own geocities Web page and played them at his convenience.
He later discovered much to his surprise that other enthusiasts of Indian music were visiting his Web page, listening to various selections and leaving messages, complimenting him on his choice of music.
Realizing there was an Internet audience eager to hear Indian music, Verma and his part- ner each put up $35 to register a domain name, and in March of last year started SmasHits, where listeners could hear the latest Bollywood film hits.
Within a year Verma expanded the site to include a wider variety of selections to include classic Hindi film songs, pop music and pre-mix, bhangra, even ghazals. The site also be- gan to feature regional artists from Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra.
'We also started having some more instrumentals, marriage songs, and music for medita- tion," Verma said, adding that his Web site was among the first to be licensed by the Indian Performing Rights Society, 'since we wanted to be legal from day one."
In accordance with IPRS restrictions, listeners are unable to download or record any of the music tracks 'and we have software running that no one can bypass and download music in any way,' Verma stated.
A new feature in the works is a shopping site for members, 'so that people can buy a particular CD as soon as they listen to a song on our site,' Verma said. 'It will be a two-step process. They'll click on the song and it will automatically be ordered to their account.'