In this week’s #BigStory, we connect with singers, musicians, and singing talent hunt contestants and find out what sets the community of new generation singers a cut above the rest. Read on.
Multiple platforms to showcase their talent
Unlike the olden times, when singers were many but opportunities were few, and a majority of them aimed to playback for films, today’s singers are blessed with myriad platforms to showcase their talent. Gone are the days when one had to go door to door to meet the directors and music labels and impress them with the talent to grab that one big break. With the advent of technology and the internet, singers today have easy access to platforms where they can build their own audience, expand their exposure and take off their careers.
Singer Abhijeet Sawant has his name etched in history for being the first ever winner of singing talent hunt show Indian Idol. Speaking to ETimes, Abhijeet recalls how pop singing was on the verge of ending when he started his career in music. “I remember Junoon was my last album, Kailash Kher’s Saiyaan had released at the same time, and Atif Aslam had also released one album. There was no social media, and with MP3s coming in, pop singers did not have much scope to cash in on sales. So playback was the only option back then. Everyone was fighting for playback singing in those days and at the same time there was no space for newcomers. The established singers already had their clout, and there was no tradition to try a new voice for the heroes. So today’s time is indeed a blessing for singers. I have seen many singers who are only doing covers, and doing very well for themselves. They have their audience, which is the best thing. It’s a huge achievement to be able to build your own audience. Today one can consider singing as a profession for the future and do well for themselves,” he says.
Singer and music director Himesh Reshammiya has been instrumental in launching several new singers. His music label has garnered more than 3 billion views that has 3000 million views across YouTube in a year on 75 songs that he has released with all zones of singers. “I can tell you with conviction that these new singers are all extremely talented and versatile. But if we have to compare them with yesteryear’s legends then it’s difficult, as in those days, the scenario was different with only a few legends who were singing at that time. They were great, so the scope for new singers was very little. But today there are more than 1 lakh singers who are all very good and have a platform to showcase their singing talent. They are all doing well at their own level but the competition for them is very high,” he says.
Social media a boon for singers
Social media, they say, is a double edged sword. But it’s up to individuals to use it in a way that helps them further their objectives. Social media provides autonomy for singers and musicians and cuts their dependency on music labels alone.
Singer and composer Shankar Mahadevan who has been a part of the Indian music industry for around three decades echoes the sentiment as he says, “With the advent of the internet, and platforms like Spotify, YouTube, Saavn, Gaana etc. the artist is directly in touch with his/her fans. So, now you’re not dependent on a music label where you take a CD and sit at the reception for 7-8 hours and you may or may not get an appointment. Then they decide what to do with the song. Now, you’re not dependent on a music company. You’re the music company. You can put it out there and if people like it, you become a sensation. You’re not dependent on film music anymore. If you get a film song, well and good. I don’t want to take names but there are superstar singers who are independent artistes. You ask them to sing a playback song, and they say, ‘Sorry sir, we don’t do playback’!”
This is an era of content creators and there is a lot of nice on social media because of the amount of content that is churned out daily. One can say that it’s a tsunami of songs coming to us. Hundreds of songs are released every hour. So, as a creator, one has to see whether the music has a USP, melody, lyrical content, and a good video.
One may also credit social media and its benefits to bring the artistes closer and facilitate a cohesive atmosphere. Abhijeet Sawant rightly notes, “The teamwork and cohesiveness that we see in today’s generation of singers has come because of social media. Everybody wants to do collaboration to be able to tap into each other’s reach and followers and subscribers. That way they can exchange their audience. That’s a huge advantage and that’s why everybody wants to work with everybody. During our times, we went about pleading to find work. But if I were to participate in Indian Idol today, I would have had millions of followers on social media and a lot of people would have approached me on their own to get the advantage of those numbers. We did not have this advantage earlier, but it is indeed a boon for artistes today.”
Reality shows turned the tables
Singing talent hunt shows or reality shows have inarguably turned the tables around for artistes who once struggled to even get noticed and showcase their talent to launch their careers. Mahadevan explains, “Let us go many years back when there was no avenue for singers. For example, if I am a singer in the interiors of Jharkhand, I’m an extremely talented singer but I don’t know where to go. Just because I’m in the interior of India does not mean I am not talented. That does not mean that I don’t have the potential to become a popular singer. So, if I want to become a popular singer, first I have to think of how to come to Mumbai. Coming to Mumbai itself is a project. And after coming to Mumbai, what? The struggle. That’s how it was many years ago,”
Then came reality TV shows where talent was spotted even in the most interior parts of India. “So, at least talent had a focal point where they could try to give an audition at Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Indian Idol, Rising Star etc. At least there’s some direction for you to think. I think reality TV shows are the best thing to have happened to singers. Because it has given them an amazing platform where they’re featured in people’s bedrooms. They know you by your first name. They start relating to these singers and the singers become stars already. Of course, later it’s up to the singers how they manage their careers,” he says.
Sawant agrees reality shows have opened a lot of doors for singers. “Earlier there were the very established singers who were getting the major projects and then there were those who would get stage shows at a very little pay. There was no in between. Reality shows have bridged the gap between the two. Majority of today’s singers have come from reality shows, they have taken advantage of the platform and of social media. Today, if Pawandeep sings a song, all his followers will be his audience. Back in the day, when I did an album, we only had the television medium. It incurred a lot of money and there was no direct connection with the audience that social media provides today. It is possible today, and if people like something, they share it and the songs become viral. Through YouTube an artiste can also make money directly,” he says.
Singer Vineet Singh has witnessed extreme ups and downs in his career. He has a singing reality show to thank for reviving his confidence and bringing him back in the music scene. “Times have indeed changed. Earlier singers aspired to playback for the hero. But today, it’s the time of ‘playfront’ singers. Singers coming out from singing reality shows are creating their own singles, and growing with their own independent music. So the mindset has changed, we don’t want to just become playback singers. I had never dreamt of participating in Indian Idol. These reality shows give you ample opportunity to showcase your talent,” he says.
A supportive community
The community of singers and musicians is a fairly close knit one and they believe in supporting each other in their pursuits. Singer and songwriter Kamakshi Khanna gained mainstream recognition from a singing reality show The Stage. She says she would never have imagined her song, ‘Duur’, a collaboration with OAFF making its way to a Dharma show, ‘The Fame Game’ starring the icon, Madhuri Dixit. “I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by genuinely supportive and inspiring friends and collaborators who are all constantly stepping out of their comfort zones, breaking boundaries and challenging the norm of what it means to be a musician in India,” she says. “Suddenly it feels like there is something for everyone and we’re all a lot more open to sharing space, the lines between mainstream, Bollywood, indie are all blurring in a healthy way.”
Over the past year, many mainstream Bollywood films have featured independent music. Artistes like Mali, OAFF, Rashmeet Kaur, Parekh & Singh, When Chai Met Toast, Sameer Rahat, The Yellow Diary have lent their art to films and web series in a way that allows space for authenticity and originality. “I think that’s a great indicator of growth and would not have been possible if we as a community didn’t stick together,” adds Kamakshi.
Singer Asees Kaur has been a contestant on reality shows like Indian Idol and Awaz Punjab Di. She pleasantly found the community of singers very closely knitted. “I am happy to be a part of it,” she says. “Our industry really supports each other, we share each other’s songs and we are open to even do covers of other singers’ songs. That’s how we show support to each other. I have spent eight years in the industry and I am blessed that people love working with me. They support whenever my new song releases and vice versa. So it’s been a great experience.”
Vineet Singh too considers himself lucky to have received such a positive response both from the judges and the audiences on Indian Idol. “I have received way more love and respect than expected from this show. I have no words to describe this experience. Unlike popular perception, this new generation of artistes is so nice, even though there is a competition, they are so positive and have each other’s best interests at heart. In the absence of this the atmosphere would have been very negative. The most important factor to create good music is to remain positive. I’ve seen these contestants always helping each other in good spirit. There is positivity at its peak,” he shares.
Unified by the love of art
The music industry has witnessed tales of unmatched camaraderie. Right from the time of Kalyanji-Anandji, Nadeem-Shravan, Jatin-Lalit to Salim-Sulaiman, Sachin-Jigar, Vishal-Sheykhar, there are innumerable examples to quote. They are unified by their love for the craft and they are tightly knit together like a family.
Jigar Saraiya of Sachin-Jigar fame says, “The music industry is like a family and we are here to support each other. Sachin and I have always kept music and songs above ego and other issues. We are here for music and that’s what we live for.”
Shankar Mahadevan adds, “In my career, I have never seen any musicians running each other down. There has always been great camaraderie and friendships. Whenever Vishal and Sheykhar make a great song, I make sure that I call them. I messaged Pritam (Chakraborty) after I heard a beautiful song that he composed for ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’. I messaged Amitabh Bhattacharya for ‘Kesariya’. Likewise, people call me up too when they like my songs.
The talented singers have enough work. They’re either performing, recording or touring. And there’s great chemistry between them. They support and appreciate each other. 38 artists performed at the Bhajan Sandhya at my house during the Ganpati festival. Music is such an art form that gives love to each other.”
As someone who has solely been pursuing music for over 10 years, Kamakshi Khanna says that the struggle doesn’t ever really go away or disappear, and choosing to do what you love as a profession sounds like a dream but it can be overwhelming. “Especially if you’re someone who has to pave their own path,” she says. “I think the reason most of us still do it is because it brings us joy and channeling your experiences and emotions into creating art is one of the most powerful feelings in the world. Music is such an integral part of everything that exists around us but it’s still incredibly challenging to make it a viable profession. The assumption that artists only create for the love of it and not for the money is problematic because it often becomes the crutch that justifies people taking artists for granted. We all have stomachs to feed, bills to pay and I don’t think there’s any shame in acknowledging and striving for both creative and monetary success.”
Asees Kaur agrees, “Money does come into picture, but we consider several factors while deciding to do a song. But the most important factor is indeed creative satisfaction for an artiste and that really means a lot to all the singers and musicians out there.”
The struggles and the support system
Success stories are incomplete without their share of struggle. But along the way, one may find a support system that eases the journey or acts as a catalyst to the formula of success. Jigar credits a bunch of helpful souls for helping them on the way “We have assisted Rajesh Roshan ji, Pritam da (Chakraborty) and they have really been helpful in teaching us as well as guiding us. Since we come from a non film background, our dear musician friends, singers and our mentors are our support system and we are really thankful to god to have found people in the industry we can count on,” he says.
Vineet recalls his struggle on his way back up after his downfall. “I have given so many years to this field, but it doesn’t matter what happens in my life, because the world is always looking ahead. It’s not right to expect anything, you have to ignite the fire in you, work towards the goal and achieve it on your own. I had become very selective when it came to work. I turned down quite a few offers because of which I witnessed a downfall. It was a lesson for me. I have learned from my mistakes and returned to Indian Idol hoping that I never repeat them again,” he says.
Asees Kaur considers herself really lucky to have received a lot of support in the industry. “My journey has been really smooth from the day I started. After ‘Bolna’, it really changed, I got a lot of love from people for my songs. I think a struggle that every musician or singer faces is what to do after you get your first big hit, because you have to be consistent. The struggle is how to land your second big song, and then the third and the list goes on. My family has always been my greatest support system. I have the best talent management team that looks after my work, and in the course of these eight years, I have come across some really good people who supported me and gave me amazing songs. There have been quite a few ups and downs, but that is a part of life. But the journey has been really amazing,” she shares.
Kamakshi too had her family by her side as a rock solid support system through her career. “It was actually my parents who convinced me to dive deep into pursuing music and I’ll always be so grateful for that,” she reveals. “The biggest struggle for me has always been the crippling self doubt that comes with being an artist and the one thing that always helps me overcome that feeling is to look for inspiration, in a friend, another artist, a song and realise that I’m not alone in how I feel. External struggles that are beyond your control are inevitable but it’s important to work on how you feel about yourself and your music. If that’s something you’re constantly developing and working on, the rest will follow,” she concludes.