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Tell your story, its your music after all

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We need relevant music in India. Music that young people can get behind. Music that represents them, made by them and for them. Of course, this type of music already exists but there is not nearly enough of it.

We have loads of great music but most of it is not relevant, most of it won’t change behaviour or provoke thought or even stimulate an emotional reaction. Most of it is beautifully produced, deliciously delivered, world-class pop music, and that is the problem, its pop. I fear we have far too much pop music and not enough music of relevance in India today.

Ok, so music artists will never simply use their talent to sing or operate an instrument on a recording, they take the song and put a bit of themselves into it, make the song their’s and make it personal. When more people get involved the focus of the song may get blurred and lose its potency. And when a singer is singing lyrics they have not written and are being guided how to sing by yet another person, even if the song sounds succulent, it is now a very blunt object.

You will see the opposite of this the most on the sharp underground genres but not so much when the genres surface, then they slowly become pop. Look at grunge in the late 80s and how it fizzled by 1995n with maximum media exposure and commercial interest from the music industry. Look at the big hip-hop songs through the ’00s and how today hip-hop is a brand new genre born as a chemical reaction out of the flames of hip-hop-gone-pop.

We have our own Desi hip-hop and its fantastic in its potential if not current achievements. I feel many of our hip-hop artists who used to rap about their own experiences and points of view today are more focused on dissing each other as if they were on Splitsvilla. But at least the numbers are good hence the potential. MC Stan’s January release crossed ten million YouTube views in less than 3 weeks and I think I know why. Fans knew the video and song would piss older people off and that was enough to get them to generate the buzz needed to cross ten million views. It is a great track, confrontational, irreverent and in-your-face, exactly what hip-hop should be, this is not pop.

Pop is not a genre or a sound, it is the primary objective for which the song is being produced that makes it pop or not. In the balance is the need to tell a story and the need to sell the music. Relevant music does not have to be non-commercial it is just harder to identify than pop which is usually by comparison to whatever other music is currently popular. If Dr. Dre had produced Straight Outta Compton based on the sounds of the time we would never have heard it. Same for Nirvana’s Teen Spirit, Kurt made music to make money sure, but never at the cost of compromising his story.

But relevant music does not have to be aggressive or loud, it can be sweet, commercially viable and lush at the same time and still not really be pop. Take ABBA, those of us who lived through all of ABBA’s albums as they were released, lived through the relationships and careers vicariously, feeling the joy, love, sadness, and pain they went through. This is not pop.

When they met as 4 established stars and formed ABBA around ’72, Agnetha and Björn started a relationship and so did Benny and Frida. They produced an album every year from ’73 – 75, Ring Ring, Waterloo and ABBA which formed the foundation of their reputation and sent them into superstardom. The music in these albums reflect their reality of becoming worldwide household names and also what they were going through as two couples. The lyrics, written in English as their second language, the glow of innocence, fun and happiness much like the start of all deep relationships.

 

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Their subsequent albums are mature, tense and introspective. They seem deliberate attempts to make sense of their new reality having achieved career and financial success while their relationships were clearly under strain. These songs are brilliant but very sad.

This is not what pop musicians did, now or ever. Pop is a commercially produced distraction from reality while ABBA deliberately reflected their own triumphs and upheavals for the source of their music and this was relevant to all of us. They were marketed as pop but really were not pop at all, think Boney M by comparison, they were a pop act.

Abba was a tight team and this allowed them to create their own sound. So the creative team should be small, preferably centered on a 1-4 people and what they want to say. This requires a different approach, rather than produce songs they need to tell stories because we all love stories. Musical collaborations should aim to get the best out of each artist rather than each simply doing the best things they do.

Great music occurs not just when talented people make it but when they have a story to tell and use their talent to tell it. Pentagram is a great example of a band that tells stories, their own stories without apology or explanation. Their 2011 song Tomorrow’s Decided is a song that only they could write, produce and perform, it is so them.

From our side of the music industry, we need to encourage, identify and fertilise upcoming music artists instead of trying to monetise them at once. Instead of gauging the music quality we have checked the real impact quality on the ground because that’s what matters.

An older person’s opinion of the music is frankly irrelevant when the fans are all the artists’ age. This is the old record label model and even though we are technologically far away from that era it still makes sense to go back to the ’60s and 70’s when the record business was more speculation than activation as it is today. They would plant ten seeds and wait for just one to grow to cover the costs of the nine that didn’t and then some. They didn’t even try too hard to understand why one artist gained traction while others didn’t. I’ll go so far as to say, when older people and younger people enjoy the same music there is a problem or at least a huge opportunity loss.

Our young music artists should be told as soon as possible, they need to create fans out of their music if they have a fan following they will get signed for gigs and funded for music releases. They need to think of DIY. This is what I tell all my students and I hope they tell others. We need music artists to understand how the music industry ecosystem works and change our expectations of them. If they have a choice of making pop music that sounds similar to whatever is current or producing music with relevant stories, they should tell the story!

 

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Abhishek Singh

Author: Abhishek Singh

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