They can be called diamonds in the rough – young musicians who are determined to grab their share of name and fame
Independent artists are coming into their own. It started with a trickle, as a few musicians made it big, while many more sank without a trace. But even grudging acceptance has opened a floodgate of young artistes who are trying to find their niche, and are making waves all on their own.
We spoke to some young independent musicians and producers in India — ranging from those who have just started out with their careers, to those that have experienced and overcome the ups and downs in the industry. Regardless of where they stand in their careers, the determination with which they spoke of their art and music, shines through as a common factor in all the conversations.
Riddhiman Dutta, 20
Currently studying guitar and piano at Calcutta School of Music, Riddhiman’s training in music has been vast and varied. He started with western vocals training, jumped to Hindustani classical a few years later, and for the past three years had also been training in Carnatic music. He was exposed to different kinds of music from a very early age on account of his parents’ varied tastes — he could rattle off the names of RD Burman’s songs and belt out hits by Queen and Pink Floyd as a kid. During his college years he was a part of the college choir and an a capella group (group or solo singing without instrument accompaniment) called Notes Gothilla, with whom he travelled to many national music competitions. The decision to pursue music, however, was rather sudden for him. He was preparing for medical entrance exams after his boards when he realised that he would not be happy in that field. “I had this nagging feeling that I was unnecessarily pushing myself towards a career that would crush my creativity,” he recalls.
One of the major drawbacks for him is lack of continued training. He believes that his skills need to be developed a lot more. “It also motivates me to push harder and get to the level at which I aspire to be,” he adds.
“Nowadays, there are a lot of opportunities out there, provided one is proactive. One needs to put oneself out there.” When asked about what platforms he uses for his art, Riddhiman says, “Any platform that is available. Nothing is small or insignificant. I have performed in college auditoriums, churches, theatres, karaoke clubs and even temples. Social media is something I am just beginning to use now.” He isn’t quite sure yet what his next step will be, but he would like to assemble a capella team that would perform originals written for a capella exclusively — he also wants to write scores for theatre and films and takes a keen interest in music therapy as well. For now he wants to focus on intensive vocal training and on picking up certain instruments that will aid him in composing more confidently and meaningfully.
Soundarya Jayachandran, 24
Every career has its breakthrough moment. Perhaps for Soundarya it was in 2014 when she participated and became a finalist in India’s first English singing reality show, The Stage. Performing under the tutelage of Vishal Dadlani, Monica Dogra and Ehsaan Noorani, among others.
More recently, she took up a role in the comedy series Die Trying, written by Kenneth Sebastian (Indian stand up comedian), which released as an Amazon Prime exclusive. It was about two struggling musicians attempting to find their niche in the music industry. In the show, Soundarya plays a singer – “I was careful in choosing the role, considering I have no immediate plans of switching careers”, explains the budding musician.
Soundarya is based in Bangalore, and is the first professional musician in the family although her father’s side of the family was always musically inclined, most of them being adept at a certain instrument or in vocals. Her interest in Hindi music developed early in life but then the family moved to Muscat when she was four years old. She studied Carnatic music for eight years and then began guitar lessons later in life.
Returning to India when she was 18 years old to attend Mt Carmel College, her career began. She got a brunch gig at a hotel in Bangalore, which was quite a humble beginning. “You cannot expect certain things the instant you start off, you have to follow a certain path — and along the line, you get paid for what you learnt.”
Now into English music, she also had to adjust to “the game” in another country. She says that it’s always challenging to understand people’s mindsets when you start out. “It’s very easy to be fazed by what people say to you, and how much people are willing to pay you, and it’s very easy to forget your self-worth, and be taken for a ride. But of course, you have to start somewhere. Understanding the game, I think, was the major hurdle.”
The treatment of independent artists in India has changed over the years, according to the young singer and songwriter. People are more accepting of her work and her art than they were before, but she isn’t sure if the scenario has changed or she has graduated to a certain level of confidence in her profession. “Bollywood, I feel, will always take the cake, in India. But it’s not necessary that your music only has to play in India, right?”
On being asked about the plethora of music available on the internet and the likelihood of getting lost in the rush of it, Soundarya thinks the numbers speak for themselves. She believes that what makes good music is the purity of where it comes from, which is where the novelty of independent music lies — it’s not just about the money that stands to be made, but the passion and love for the art itself. “And today the world is so well connected that I get to use social media as a platform for my music —There’s just so much opportunity out there.”
Soundarya is working on releasing some of her originals, and venturing into pop music, as she does want to be the name behind a hit song someday: “The idea of writing a hit really excites me!” She is working with some other artists from LA, and feels confident that she will see it through to the end of all her projects.
“I love my job. Some days it’s difficult, because you never know what’s going to happen. But on other days, that’s the most exciting thing about the job — you never know what’s going to happen.”
‘Bony’ Bhuyan, 21, and Noorhanaz Khatoon, 21
While pursuing their respective post-graduate courses in Bangalore, this duo has partnered to set up The Blue House Project, a production house. Bony is a musician, and Noor a photographer. Together they produce music videos and shorts — independently and as freelancers.
Bony started learning the guitar in the sixth standard, but never really took interest in music until four years later. Coming from a family of artistes, he felt an innate inclination towards music and art, and quickly fell into the groove of creating his own music. “I love all art forms but music has been something else for me. It is not a visual art form, there’s space for you to design everything in your mind, and that has changed the way I look at all art forms.”
Noor has been taking an interest to photography, cinematography and the visual arts ever since she was a child and her father had brought home their first ever digital camera. “Seeing people give life to a moment really inspired me,” she says, “I love to express human emotions through my pictures and videos.” She decided to look at cinematography as a career only in her final year of college, which was when she began experimenting with visual narratives.
After Bony and Noor released their first art narrative, Stage, in 2016, there was no looking back. Since then they have worked on freelance projects, and also got to work on a music video for Nagen Mongranti (musician in the band Girish and the Chronicles, a hard rock/heavy metal band from Gangtok). They recently finished working on what is to be Bony’s debut music video Rhythm0.
As for the hurdles they have faced in their fledgling career, both agreed that as young independent artists it is difficult to be ‘recognised’ in the early stages, more so if one hasn’t had any formal training in the field. “People tend to be dismissive of newbies they are always considered inexperienced even if their work suggests otherwise,” says Noor. It becomes difficult when more and more people rely on formal qualifications, because in a field like music only talent matters. Even so, they accept that the understanding and acceptance of independent artistes has changed. And although there are some artistes who truly deserve the spotlight, they get lost in the crowd. But opportunities in the form of social media and open mics have revealed to be very helpful.
Both Bony and Noor are very hopeful for their work. “I have tried to be more honest and personal in my work, I try to make it as much a part of me as I am myself,” says Bony. Noor has dedicated herself to finding her style through the work she does and is looking forward to what she can learn from her upcoming projects. Bony’s debut music video went live a day ago, and he was even featured in Rolling Stone India.