| 01 Oct 2023
Rajeeta Hemwani: 'Bollywood is the biggest and best platform for non-film artiste'

With 17 years of experience in heading A&R for some of the biggest music labels in the country, Universal Music vice president - content A&R (artiste and repertoire) Rajeeta Hemwani has worked with renowned artiste and promoted new talents across all genres. In a candid, Hemwani (who is serving her notice period till 30 June) shares her experiences of heading A&R for various music labels and her views on the music scenario in India, with Poonam Ahuja.


From Times Music (War of the DJs) to Universal you have been in the music industry for more than a decade now, How has the journey been so far?

Every journey has its set of experiences and challenges and this has been no different. It's been an awesome run of working with best labels like Times, Tips, ABCL, Big and now Universal. Every label has its own requirements but the most interesting part is to launch new talent working around the strengths and weaknesses of the label. I have worked with singers across all age groups and genres and experienced the best.

The best thing about my experience is that I have worked with veterans and new artiste including Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, Abida Parveen, Gulzar, Pt. Jasraj, Asha Bhosle, Leslie Lewis, AR Rahman, Mohit Chauhan, RDB, Bombay Rockers, Stereo nation, Apache Indian, Raghav Mathur, Hard Kaur, Punjabi MC, Dr zeus ,DJ Suketu, Nasha and  loads of bubbling artiste across genres including electronica, new age, remixes, indi pop, sufirock, spiritual, ghazals and classical..., I think I have worked with the best and experienced the best.

The job of an A&R starts from unearthing the artiste to marketing and finally releasing the album, what kind of hurdles do you face to make labels believe in your project?

Majority labels work on bottom lines and check whether the project is monetarily viable or not. The most challenging situation for any A&R across the world is to convince a label about bubbling artiste which he foresees to be the Star of tomorrow, but it currently does not make monetary investment to a label.

Not often but there are times when the divisions of labels like sales, marketing and digital get involve with the creation of content. I think this can be a scary trend as all do not understand the nuances of A&R and how to maintain artiste relations, but end up deciding what will go out in the market.

I completely agree and follow what Universal Music COO Max Hole and Times Music ex president Arun Arora said, that talent should be signed by A&R, label heads and music should be created between the A&R and the artiste, and then comes the role of other system to market it to the best of it capacity.

How important is to develop and maintain relationships with artistes?

When you work with artistes over period of years, or even on a single album, it develops into a long term trusting relationship, which is an asset for any label and also for an artiste. A&R is about artiste relations to a great extent.

A&R is liable to showcase the real picture to the artiste and make promises that one can deliver, and with respecting the strengths of the artistes, an A&R is equally responsible to bring forward his weakness in terms of what content works for his voice/image etc. In our profession trust, respect and healthy relationships are required to deliver the best.

There are hardly any established A&R executives in our country and we need some more. I can't think of more than 2-3 names today who are established A&R experts with experience.

What were your key responsibilities in Universal?

I took over as head of A&R and Content in 2008 to revive the dormant UMG domestic frontline. Universal, currently is the most proactive national label in launching domestic non-film albums and our idea was to be national leaders and enter Punjab and Bengal regional market with a bang.

Tell us about some special projects in Universal?

I was part of special projects like AR Rahman - Connections, Mohit chauhan's Fitoor and other artiste include Raghav, Punjabi MC, Malkit Singh, RDB, Jagjit Singh, Bombay Rockers and Bhoomi recently. Few of our up coming albums are with Hard Kaur, Apache Indian, Rashid Ali and a crazy album of Bengals biggest bands.

Do you agree that along with Bollywood film industry, record labels are equally guilty for killing the independent pop music scene in India?

I dont think anybody was out to kill anybody here. Bollywood is the biggest and best platform for non-film artiste to enhance his musical career to the next level. There are tonnes of examples of non-film artiste who have joined bollywood as singers/composers and are doing very well for themselves.

In the late nineties and early 2000 there was influx of artistes and supply far exceeded the demand. To top it all, quality went for a toss except in few cases. Music Televisions changed strategies and Radio was available at a click of a button. The downward trend was bound to happen.

Great talent, Great music, New raw talent and New sounds if rightly done can change all that to a great extent. Infact, I currently find bollywood the biggest supporter of non-film music. They are giving opportunities to new talent, radical and otherwise, like never before.

Now-a-days independent artistes are promoting their music through various platforms like YouTube, Facebook etc, how can they generate revenues?

Digital revenue is still at a very nascent stage for non-film in India but the value add and the reach itself is a big advantage for the artiste. It is vital for the artiste to choose the right partners for the digital distribution of content which collates across the targeted segments.

According to you, which are the key areas that music labels need to ameliorate on?

A&R is the foundation of any label worldwide, so that should be very professional and strong. Music labels need to get out of the traditional formats of sale  Brand tie-ups, revenue sharing with TV and Radio to get optimum support, bollywood placements and encashing live gigs are very important for music labels.

What's next after Universal?

I am serving my notice period in Universal till 30 June post which I will evaluate and decide on the next option for my way forward.