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Cloning is not talent. But Talent must clone!

(Published in "Studio Systems" Sept-Oct 1999)

In a nation of a billion people, how come it is so difficult to come up with talent that can produce non film hits consistently? When will we get our very own "Sting" or "Alainis Morrissete". Is cloning the great singers of yesteryears the only thing we are good at? We are overrun with talent shows of the Sa re ga ma and Meri Awaaz Suno category. Is there anything wrong with this? What happens to all these people who come wide eyed to Mumbai expecting the doors of fortune to open to them, and then realise that nothing really changes after they win except their expectations. All these questions and many more haunt the minds of the well-wishers of the Indi-Pop Scene in India yet there seems to be no answer in sight. There can be no doubt, looking at the talent banks of "Sa Re Ga Ma" and " Meri Awaz suno" that all is well with the people of this country in the music field. The singing talent is truly awesome, but these people have somehow not been able to translate this into effective music. They seem to be stuck in a musical merry go round, doing the same thing over and over again.

One thing that is obvious, is that, there is little importance placed on Music composing and Lyric writing. The singers can only sing the song after it is composed and written, but it is the singer that seems to get all the glory and the money in this country. This anomaly has caused many a composer to sing his own songs and others, to wish that they could do so! But why is it that the West does not face similar problems. The Music industry there, seem to throw up great talent every year . Singing talent as well as the song writing and music composing type. For one thing, song writers are paid very handsomely in the west. At times, they earn far more than the singers of their songs, as their repertoire is recorded over and over again by different singers. The music publishing industry has a corporate structure, and is very strong and professional. Also the copyright laws are very strict and income sources are manifold. Traditionally, the Music industry in India started in very similar ways to the west. Music begins with the people, and folk and religious music was the first to be recorded everywhere. In fact, to date it continues to be the staple of many recording companies both in the West and India. However, the big numbers were elsewhere, and the recording companies in the West, started their quest for talent who had far more than just great voices. They also had to be colourful personalities, with great presence, lively stage shows, interesting sex lives. Also, they sometimes wrote their own lyrics and music, as the artistes soon realised that there was huge money to be made there. All this made the artistes very real to the masses, and took them beyond the artificial medium of vinyl and cassette. Effectively, their music had to carry their personalities with them, so that when people listened to these artistes, they felt the pain and the joys that they went through in their personal lives. Fan clubs mushroomed of singers in the west, and they are till today, important opinion makers in society.

In India, however, with playback singing, the singers were relegated to backstage boys, who's job was to make the pretty actors and actresses look good in the eyes of the masses. Sometimes, it was just on the strength of the songs that the actors were successful; but the music fraternity always got a raw deal as the movie was judged on it's box office returns. It's only in the last five years that the music sales of the film have become so important as to warrant the importance of a major territory (in film distribution parlance) and the Music Industry has finally got it's due. In the old days, the songs were composed, written and sung by different people, all great talent which, till today, entertain us with their immemorial songs. However, the artistes themselves had no compulsions to be "interesting". Maybe this focus only on talent, resulted in giving us some of the legends of the music world, names like Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Shanker Jaikishan, Madan Mohan and countless others. All the energies of these artistes were focused in developing their art. Today, the focus has totally changed. The mass media has made it imperative for people in all fields to be media savvy and image conscious. So then, what happens to the countless talent who have grown up cloning these singers of yesteryears, and who are not trained to function in today's world? They have grown up idolising the past, and are totally out of sync with the demands of the market of today. In fact, they are frustrated with today's scenario, and some have wished that they never took part in these competitions, as it builds up false expectations. So then, does this mean that all hope is lost for these singers? I do not think so! It's about time the artistes and the recording companies wake up to the realities of the market, and harness the talent out there in order to realise the enormous potential it possesses. The artistes, on their part, should grow up from being just clones of the past masters. At best, such artistes can sing only versions, which I must say is great practice, but can only serve as a stepping stone to real success. They would have to create their own style. All great artistes have, in the early stages of their careers, copied the masters of their generation(Lata Mangeshkar was greatly influenced by Noorjehan, Kishore Kumar by Saigal) but they have moved on after that to develop into mature artistes, with strong identities of their own. I know that this is easier said than done, but the effort has to come from the artiste if he hopes to grow. One of the ways that I could suggest, is by singing songs of different artistes, instead of specialising in just one. This would mean copying the nuances of different styles which, when coupled with some ideas of your own, and with time, develop into a new identity. It is very important for the artiste to be passionate about his art, and constantly think about improvements. He cannot rest only on what his talent can do for him. Also, I feel that all artistes should have some other interests besides Music, as this would make them well rounded individuals. More artistes need to develop other interests which would help their art far more than hurt it.

The Recording Companies on their part have to pick artistes, who display individualities that differentiate them from other artistes. They should recognise their strengths and weaknesses, and test market the artistes in live situations, where audience reactions can be gauged. The song writing skills of the artistes themselves should be exploited further, so that there is more of the artiste in their music. Also, it is important not to be too clever in taking all these decisions. It is more important to be more truthful. The market cannot be fooled easily! The personalities of the potential stars have to be exploited, along with their singing skills, and the videos should serve to represent the personality of the artiste, instead of some Hindi film influenced, story based videos that are jamming our airwaves. There is no need for the singers to be good actors, unless they have a strong interest in it, in which case, it becomes an integral part of their personality. The Indi Pop Industry can never in their wildest dream hope to take on the Hindi Film Industry by copying it, and that too at 1/10 the cost! There is no point giving people more of the same thing. The Indian Film Industry has done a fantastic job with song picturisations for more than fifty years, and the people of India have seen these for years, unlike the people in the west. Our video directors will have to come up with artiste based, song based, issue based video ideas that are totally divorced from the film industry ethos. Also, the look of the videos have to be totally different. Is this such a tall order? Again, I do not think so! In fact, some great Indian videos have already been done, and they are by people who having nothing to do with the Hindi Film Industry. Unfortunately, because of budget constraints, some of our most talented people are working for either the Advertising Industry or the Hindi Film Industry. Their talent is wasted in these industries, where they have to follow rigid guidelines laid down by clients, agencies, producers and other market realities. The format of the Music video would truly be a liberating experience for these people and their services are sorely missed. These would be some of my ideas for throwing up some great, long- lasting talent in the present scenario in Indi-Pop Music Industry. It would take some time and a lot of effort, but it would all be worth it! Just think of the great music that we would get to hear………… Happy listening!

Nandu Bhende

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