Over the past few weeks, some interesting developments have taken place in Hindi non-film music. Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan, the two leading female film playback singers, have come out with private songs.
While the former has done the duet Judaiyaan with Darshan Rawal, Chauhan and music director Daboo Malik have teamed up after a decade on Kuchh Khwab. Interestingly, Chauhan has also forayed into Bengali music by releasing the peppy Durga Puja song Dugga Dugga.
The story doesn’t end there. Sonu Nigam has collaborated with music director Shamir Tandon and lyricist Sameer Anjaan on Ishwar Ka Vo Sacha Banda, a Hindi version of Narsinh Mehta’s iconic bhajan Vaishava Jan To.
Music composer Amit Trivedi, who a decade ago was touted as the successor to A.R. Rahman, has released the EP Songs Of Trance under his own label AT Azaad. It features singers Shilpa Rao, Sharmistha Chatterjee, Poorvi Koutish, Hriday Gattani, and others.
Another music director Jeet Gannguli, who had some songs in the huge film hit Aashiqui 2 in 2013, has churned out the melodious Ae Mere Dil with Universal Music’s VYRL Originals.
Artists and Their Labels
Another trend is that of film musicians forming labels to promote non-film music. Music directors Salim-Sulaiman have set up Merchant Records, and they are composing music for many songs there.
Even Nigam, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Arijit Singh are backing non-film music by starting labels.
While one may attribute this trend to the fact that film music has been badly affected after lockdown, the truth is that these aren’t the early instances.
A senior-executive of an established music label said on condition of anonymity that even before, film musicians have always looked at non-film projects simultaneously if they got good and lucrative offers or collaborated with corporate brands.
There have been quite a few cases before the lockdown was announced in March. Last year, singer Arijit Singh and music composer Mithoon teamed up with singer Asees Kaur on Intezaar.
Shaan got together with his protege Mustafa on Main Sach Bolda. Even Ghoshal had a non-film release in Na Woh Main earlier this year. Rahman, who always did some work outside films, forayed into newer areas, creating a trendy dance number in You Got Me.
However, with five instances in a few weeks, one sees that the trend is becoming stronger and that more such cases are likely. Considering that many singles are announced at short notice, one isn’t sure how many more singers or music directors will create non-film music. A few things are very obvious, though.
The first is that Hindi film music is going through a very low phase. The situation was bad enough in terms of quality and commercial success at the beginning of the year, and COVID-19 has only made things worse.
Many film projects have been shelved or put off, and that has affected film music. There have been very few music releases, and with films not being screened in theatres, the music has taken a bit. It will take some time for things to return to normal.
With fewer opportunities, it is natural for those associated with film music to look at non-film options.
The label executive says,
“Since singles are less time-consuming and offer more individual freedom, many are likely to get into that territory and keep themselves in the limelight. Many do not consider money as a deciding factor, as at the moment, they just want to be in the news. Eventually, one is hoping that the film music scenario will improve and this is only a temporary phase.”
The other factor is that many film musicians already are established names. Unlike newcomers with little fame or experience, they don’t have to work that extra bit to be recognised. Their songs are likely to be more successful, though it may lead to a negative effect if they produce something inferior.
Point No. 3 is the effect such film singers will have on the burgeoning indie scene. Over the past year or so, many new independent artistes have blossomed, and a large chunk is talented. However, the entry of too many people has also led to clutter. Songs just come and go, and barring a few exceptions, one has found it difficult to stand out in the rat race.
Anybody Can Do Non-Film?
Today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach the level of say, Divine, Prateek Kuhad, or Parvaaz. Only a few musicians have maintained a balance between film and non-film work, a good example being singer Jonita Gandhi. And with film musicians doing private songs, it will be even more difficult for new independent artistes to breakthrough.
With artistes relying heavily on streaming platforms, the playlists play a big role.
The natural tendency will be to highlight the known names, most of who are established in film music.
Yet, the streaming sites are trying to ensure that both film musicians and independent artistes get an equal chance.
Says Padmanabhan N.S., Spotify Artists & Label Partnerships Head, India,
“Spotify has a democratic approach to playlisting for both film and non-film music, and we’ve definitely seen the traditional film artistes release more non-film music over the last few months.”
Padmanabhan says that from a curation perspective, Spotify is focused on creating listening experiences for users, while giving artistes the opportunity to feature in the right playlists for their music.
“We will therefore have playlists that feature independent artistes such as Osho Jain alongside mainstream artistes such as Rahman,” he explains.
If independent musicians have been creating many diverse and fresh sounds, the question is whether film musicians will offer something new. The label executive says film musicians tend to concentrate on romantic numbers or peppy dance tracks. Says the label executive, “Unless they are willing to experiment, they won’t be able to produce anything different from the routine Bollywood fare.” For the next couple of months, one can only wait and watch.