Hosting “Hridayapoorvam”

I got a chance to host a musical programme called “Hridayapoorvam” in All India Radio, Thrissur station, for one day. In this programme, I will be presenting some of my favorite Malayalam film songs with an introduction to each song and I will also be singing the first couple of lines of each song. The audio was recorded on Saturday at AIR’s music studio and the programme will be broadcast on April 3rd, Sunday, at 9:45 AM in All India Radio, Thrissur station. Those of you in and around Thrissur, please do listen and let me know how it did it go.

I have great memories of the music studio at AIR, Thrissur. My first composition, a devotional song, was recorded in that studio. It was during the same time then too (March-April). Our Church choir was regularly invited to record for Easter or Good Friday and that year we had a set of 5 songs to record, two of which I had written, composed and sung. It was an accidental thing. I had these two songs with me for sometime but they never got published. And when the Choir had the opportunity to record at AIR, we had to make new songs. George chettan, our keyboardist who also played in the music troupes those days were busy with his album recording works. So he had little time to spent on this and he asked if any of us had any songs ready with us. So my friend Lindsie told George chettan that I have two songs ready. When he heard the songs he liked it and was ready to orchestrate the songs. So there I had my luck. To publish my first ever composition and another one through All India Radio on a Maundy Thursday morning. 🙂

It felt good to sit in that studio one more time and this time after the initial nervousness, I think I did fine. 🙂

Categories: Entertainment, Music, News, Notes

Pavizham Pol (cover)

My colleague and friend Sitara had asked me to do a cover of this song long back. Didn’t have the karaoke track back then but I got it recently and wanted to record something over the weekend so badly, so I recorded this song at midnight (yes, exactly past midnight) on Saturday. This song has beautiful lyrics from the Jananpeeth winner and Kerala’s most famous poet ONV Kuruppu and the magical music of Johnson master. What you would note about Johnson master is that he gives a lot of space for the vocalist with a minimal orchestration. And these two talented people joined the film director late Padmarajan in a wonderful movie project called “Namukku Paarkkan Munthirithoppukal”. Here is my version of the song.

Song: Pavizham pol
Movie: Namakku Paarkan Munthiri Thoppukal
Singer: Yesudas
Lyrics : O.N.V
music : Johnson

Download the MP3 of my cover of “Pavizham Pol”

Categories: Entertainment, Music, My Songs

Net Gain

[This is my first full feature for Sound Box that appeared in the March 2011 issue. Sound Box is creating ripples in the music industry with the recent at-length discussion on India Copyright Act. February issue had Javed Akhtar explaining his stand and the March issue features the opinion from country’s leading musical labels – Saregama, Tips and Universal music. Check out the mag to get you up-to-date with the music industry buzz.]

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Roll back to pre-internet era in India. The chances of an aspiring musician getting noticed in the public were rare. You could try singing locally, in local bands or music troupes which would just be covering popular film songs. Your talent was scaled primarily on the basis of how close your version stood to the original or how much you succeeded in making yourself sound like the original singer. You just had to be a voice skeleton of someone else. And you would have a limited audience. Even if you had come up with an original set of songs, chances were still rare that you could reach your target audience. Until of course the Net arrived.

The arrival of the internet completely changed the lives of amateur and aspiring musicians. In the Web 1.0 era, it would let you register a website of your own and add your profile with music. People from around the world would then have access to your website and they would be able to download and listen to your songs. But the opportunity to interact with the audience was still lacking. Then came Web 2.0, with blogs and social networking sites, and this has led to some revolutionary changes in the field of amateur music.

The transformation

Music blogging was one major venture that drastically changed the face of music in the virtual world. It has helped many people who could not devote all their time to music but had great passion for music in their lives. So it was the amateurs or part-time musicians like Vidyu Appaiah who flourished.

Vidyu Appaiah

Vidyu Appaiah

Appaiah is a trained singer from Calicut, Kerala, and used to perform on stage from the age of 10. But she had completely given up on music after her marriage and moved to the US. In 2005, she put together a website that had her cover versions of popular film songs. Then in 2006, she started her own music blog. “Music blogging has given me the opportunity to share my music with friends and family. The desire to sing and be heard is there in every artist big or small, and this is perfect for me in terms of reaching out to a small, regular audience from the comfort of my home. Blogging also opened doors for me to get opportunities to sing on stage after moving to the US,” says Vidyu.

 

Murali Venkatraman

A heartening aspect of music blogging is that you do not need a promoter, a music label or even going to a studio to make yourself heard. All you need is a mic, a recording software and a free account on a blogging platform like Blogger or WordPress. You need not worry about the technical aspects of building a website. Murali Venkatraman, one of the earliest music bloggers from India, says, “I have been composing from 2001 and music blogging was a good platform to present some of my work without much of a website building fuss.”

 

It is not solely the amateur musicians that music blogging has helped to have a fan base. Pradip Somasundaran from Thrissur, Kerala, who was the winner of the Lata Mangeshkar award for Best Male Singer of India through Meri Awaz Suno (the first of its kind music reality show on Indian TV), got the opportunity to build a fan base across the globe through his music blog. Though he was offered a recording contract with Yash Raj as part the prize along with Sunidhi Chauhan who shared the title with him, it never materialised. He had been singing in a few Malayalam films and was doing stage shows but music blogging brought him many fans from different parts of the world.

Interact with your listeners

The comment box interaction with the listeners through the music blogs has given an opportunity for music bloggers to improve themselves. Based on listener comments, one can sing again and post a revised version of a song. Some listeners say “I feel the reverb was a bit too much”, or “in the second verse, you have sung too plainly”. This leads the music blogger to take notice of the details of singing, recording and mixing. Eventually this helps them become better singers or musicians. However there are a few setbacks to this, as some music bloggers have found out.

Sindhuja Bhaktavatsalam

Sindhuja Bhaktavatsalam

Sindhuja Bhaktavatsalam, a music blogger and a trained singer who has recently performed with Pt Ravi Shankar’s Ensemble at Hollywood Bowl, says, “Blogging (or any kind of performance for that matter) makes you more audience oriented and so you tend to focus less on your own growth as a singer. When blogging was new to me, I would crave for comments on my blog- I think that’s natural. It became more of “how will people like this and how many comments will I get?” rather than “how well have I actually sung this and how better can I get at this?”

 

Meera Manohar

Meera Manohar

Meera Manohar, a singer of the band Thillana and a music blogger, says that comments should help improve and not be detrimental or demoti-vating to artists. “Ideally, listeners should appreciate the effort that has gone into making a cover/original, whatever it might be. I do see some frivolous comments which in my opinion can be avoided,” Manohar says.

But since music bloggers have grown to become a large online community, honest comments are sometimes hard to come by. “The commitment, in my humble opinion, must be towards the art and not towards the person. In fact if you are a very good friend of an artist, it is only useful if you are honest about their performance and talent,” says Venkatraman.

Music collaboration, virtually

The primary phase of music blogging had the bloggers singing cover versions. A music blogger would usually record over an available karaoke track and post it on their music blog. This would be a solo track mostly. Later on, with the freedom that technology gave them, they have begun posting duets for which they have a singer from another part of the world. With the ease of recording vocals alone, one singer from Kerala can record his vocals at his place and have the other portion of the vocals recorded by a singer who might be residing in the US and give it to a third person in Mumbai to mix the tracks. All the file exchanges are done over email and when the listeners hear the final track, it is like the song was done in one place with everybody involved physically present.

The ease of such recording techniques has made some bloggers think about creating original songs rather than posting karaoke cover versions of film songs on their blog. Thus were born many original songs in the music blogs, with each of the involved person living in different parts of the world – lyricist, composer, singer, orchestrator, rhythm programmer and the sound engineer. This led to further ideas and Blogswara (www.blogswara.in), the first of its kind collaborative music project, was born. Even though Blogswara was formed to create an album that consists of original works from music bloggers, it has continued to be a permanent platform for all amateur and aspiring singers.

The music network

The vast popularity of music blogging particularly in the South-Indian diaspora has encouraged the birth of many new websites and music social networking sites. Among the notable ones is Muziboo. com, a networking website started by Prateek and Nithya Daya, a couple from Bengaluru. Today Muziboo hosts a large number of musicians from around the world, some of whom have been noticed by prominent musicians in the industry. Music blogger George Kuruvilla was invited to sing for Sonu Nigam’s musical tribute to Michael Jackson, MJ, this one’s for you. Another Muziboo member Nithya Bayya recently made her debut in the Telugu music industry. There are many such success stories.

Today there are 120 music blogs listed at Audio india (www.musicblogsindia.com), an online directory of music bloggers. A majority of these music bloggers are from South India and most of them are non-resident Indians. Even though not all of them put up frequent posts and some have migrated to other music networking websites, bloggers like Sindhuja feel that a blog is where one can keep one’s own individual identity compared to social networking sites.

The enormous number and interest of music blogs and bloggers have been subjected to study in a university abroad. Jessica Dyck, a student in the Department of Music in University of Alberta in Canada wrote her graduate thesis in 2008 on the basis of music blogging in the Indian diaspora. Her paper was titled “Blogging Music: Indian Musicians and Online Musical Spaces”. In her 111 pages long thesis, she had mentioned why she chose the Indian music blogging scene for her thesis:

“Why focus on Indian music blogging? Within the entire blogging world, there are people from every place who post music blogs, and many have extremely high readership. However, after extensive searching, I was unable to find any music blogs other than these Indian ones used for posting recordings of the blogger’s own music in an amateur, noncommercial format. The vast majority of music blogs on the Internet are focused on introducing and reviewing indie bands or posting gossip, songs and videos by major label recording artists. The Indian music blogging community is one truly centered around making and sharing music for the pleasure of singing, listening, and growing musically.”

Categories: Blogging, Music, Sound Box, Technology

Bringing back original instruments to music

[I have started writing for My Smart Life, an initiative by Nokia India that features guest authors from various walks of life who have made use of technology and social media in their work and life. Here is my second article that has been published in My Smart Life. Go to the website and check out rest of the articles there.]

 

Sometimes back I was listening to a song that was submitted to Blogswara. It was a melodious song and was totally mesmerizing. I called up the composer of the song and told him that the song sounded really nice. While discussing the details of the song, I had also mentioned that I loved the Sitar played in parts of the song. The composer first laughed when he heard me. Then he told me that it was him who played the Sitar. Just one difference – he played the Sitar on his keyboard, using VST.

VST (Virtual Studio Technology) is very commonly used among musicians these days. With VST, you could emulate the tones of musical instruments and avoid the use of manual orchestra. Not that it is an easy thing. You will need to have absolute knowledge of how an instrument works or else it would be disastrous to hear. VST has helped musicians who have small budgets for their projects but what effect has it made in a musician’s life?

The truth is that except for the small budget projects, the musicians are still in need in the recording industry. But the scene is drastically changing. If there was a full piece orchestra recording in a studio sometimes back, now it’s only 2-3 musicians recording in multi-layered tracks to produce the effect of a full piece orchestra. The only essential instruments in a typical Indian recording studio seem to be Violin, Veena, Flute and Tabla. Or any other authentic instrument that cannot be produced or would not sound so perfect in VST. Even in the stage shows, instrumental musicians are just show pieces and it would be the electronic keyboard player who does the trick. So one major complaint that we hear these days is that digitization is killing independent musicians.

But is the digitization of music that bad? Will it really take your bread away? The answer is no. To survive in any profession, you need to constantly keep updating your skills and prove that you play an essential part in the whole structure. Same goes with music too. If you fully rely on playing accompany music, there isn’t much in store for you in the future. So you got to do something unique, define your niche. Once you do that, you could use the technology, which you thought would take away your bread and butter, to help you grow.

Let us take the example of Zoë Keating, a Canadian Cellist from California. She calls herself a ‘one-woman orchestra’. I first heard Zoë in one of the Radiolab podcasts where she had explained and demonstrated a device that she invented. She uses a cello and a foot-controlled laptop to record layer upon layer of cello, looping and creating beautiful music. Zoë release her albums by herself, online, and she has sold over 35,000 copies and has 1.3 million followers in Twitter. Her website showcases her work with the option to buy her albums. In her music page, she says “No middlemen involved other than PayPal and your purchase allows me to keep making music, for which I am profoundly grateful”. No middlemen. No music labels and the royalty fights. No big hoardings and marketing managers. Yet she sells thousands of copies of her album online and gets the show bookings.

Zoë is the perfect example of how instrumental musicians can use technology and social media – the very same thing that they thought had threatened them and their career – to their advantage. For if they have music in them and want to build a career in it, nothing can take it away from them. Not even VST.

Categories: Entertainment, Music

Nilaa Nilaa Mizhiye (from Tournament)

It’s been a long long time since I have sung or recorded anything. The little one is taking most of my time, not that I am complaining. With him, life is so much different but in a very positive way that I forget the sleep interruptions, waking up early, spending time with him and all that. I just love being with him. 🙂 He is the most precious thing ever in my life. But last weekend, I took sometime off baby sitting with wifey’s permission and recorded this song. The thing is, I have not been singing much these days and music blogging is an excuse to get back to singing. To sing properly after a few months was really tiring but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Here is yet another gem from Deepak Dev. Let me know what you think and thanks for listening. 🙂

Categories: Entertainment, Music, My Songs

The Drop-out Syndrome

Steve Jobs did it. Mark Zuckerberg did it. So did I.

This is a typical dialogue that you might hear these days from the wannabe-entrepreneurs and 90% of them would say it with pride. Sometimes this often goes to a ‘call-for-action’ mode that you need to drop-out of school/college to succeed in life. But their denial of the role that proper education plays in forming a good career is misleading and misinformed.

First of all, not everyone is lucky or lucky accidents and the favors of randomness do not happen in everybody’s life. So there is no guarantee to your success even when you have a terrific idea to sell or have the right resources. So before you jump in to entrepreneurship, you need to make sure that you have the right tools to survive when you fail to make your venture a success. This is where education plays a big role. So you need to get the basic education right, do specialization and you could alternatively try selling your ideas.

I have seen many of these new age entrepreneurs risking their parents’ money to bet on their future through entrepreneurship. If you go that way, I would suggest that you alternatively study to get a Masters or something that you could use to build up your career in case if you fail in your venture. I have seen friends who use their parents’ money to start new ventures, one after another, and terribly fails, then justify their actions by stating that they have ‘learned something in the process’ (oh yeah, I know :-P). I would say it is better to complete your education and go for a job. If you still have the spirit and dedication, you will be able to fund yourself and build your dream part-time. That way, you won’t be a burden on anyone, even on yourself.

I am a college drop-out too. I dropped out in the second year of pre-degree. Not that I dropped out to do something of my own at the time though (I thought that a basic college degree alone wasn’t going to help me find a job). I used to be proud of getting a good job for myself or about being a freelancer for a long time. Based on my personal experience, I thought that when you have complete confidence of your ability, the academic qualification really does not matter. But I begin to realize that I am a fool to have thought in those lines. First of all, not all employers would be wise enough to think that it is what you can do that matters and not your qualification. Secondly, education would help improve your thought process even when you are unaware of it. Third, if you want to grow up in your career, nothing should put a limit on you, including the academic qualification.

I do not regret for not completing my basic studies because it has not made any effect in my career path but I will certainly not advice the youngsters to leave their class rooms to do something of their own. I mean, do something of your own, for sure, but also make sure you have all other tools to help you survive if your dreams do not work out. Also I am planning to take an open university bachelors degree. It’s never too late, you know. 🙂

Categories: Notes

A note to M Jayachandran, the music director

Dear M Jayachandran

I like your music because your songs are melodious. I have done some cover versions of your songs in my music blog because I loved them so much. And then I happened to read an interview of yours in Manorama newspaper and I have a problem with some of the things you have said there against singers. You, in an effort to paint yourself white has gone overboard with your comments on the singers. You were asked “why do you hate singers so much?” and there is something in your answer that I want to talk about here.

You said: “Singers see us as a ladder to fame. When the song becomes a hit they forget the ladder. Then they behave as they wish.”

I don’t get this. Of course, everybody in the industry is using everybody else for work. There are so many music directors out there who use singers to sing for them free of cost. These music directors don’t pay a single penny to the singers. Instead, they promise a hit. Obviously the singers would have the same attitude to music directors as well. And what exactly is your concern? The singers to whom you give songs don’t behave like slaves? That they need to treat you as if you are some colonial landlord or something? Times have changed, MJ.

You said: “I pay even the new singers. But they should be convinced that their performance was worthy of getting paid.”

First of all, it is not your generosity that you pay the new singers. I mean, what the heck! You choose a singer only after the audition rounds and when you are fully convinced that the singer can deliver what you want. And when you get the singer to sing your song, you are supposed to pay him/her the money that he/she earned with their time and effort. Your words, that you pay “even” the new singers, come from a cheap industry standard where you guys – music directors – do not pay the new singers for their efforts so that you can keep all the money that the producers give you. You do that in the name of giving them “a chance”. Shame on you!

You said: “Those who sing well in ganamelas (music troupes) would be like a cat in the water when it comes to recording in a studio. Because even the small mistakes would be audible in a recording studio”.

Singing well on a live stage show is not an easy thing. To dance when you sing is even harder. Singing in a studio and singing live are two different things. One has to learn the techniques of recording in a studio and it needs good preparation if they are inexperienced in studio singing. In fact, I don’t see any problem for a live singer to adapt to the studio recording techniques after a few tries. On the other hand, have you ever heard those “perfect” studio artists struggling to sing when they do live stage shows? Have you noticed how many of them do the lip-sync business on stage?

You said: “After the recording, we have to spend two days to correct their pitch. We have softwares available to do that. The great songs sung by Yesudas or Sujatha were not pitch-corrected this way.”

Do you believe all Yesudas songs were recorded in one take? I heard that in the early days, when there was no punch-in recording or multi-track recording, the whole team including the singer and orchestra had to repeatedly perform the entire song if there was a single mistake. The time and energy wasted on this was humongous, let alone the money that a producer has to pay for the studio time. With the advanced technology you can record the orchestra and singers separately, that too at the convenience of the music director and artists. This saves you time, helps you schedule your recording sessions better and to spend little time on correcting a specified line or word. So what is wrong in using the advantage of technology? Of course, I understand that the option to correct the pitch has made singers lazy and the singers have to work on their part to deliver their work perfectly, but your words seem just an excuse to not pay the singers.

You also mentioned that there are singers who offer to sing without getting paid. Likewise, I have heard of music directors approaching new movie directors with the offer to compose music for free. Ahem… Also I have heard of a music director often being described as the beacon of caste-politics in the Malayalam film music industry (the so called Nair spirit is what I am referring to). Any words on that? 😉

So here is what I really want to say. Clean your yard first and then talk.

Thank you.

Categories: Entertainment, Movies, Music