| 26 May 2022
Where did all the talent come from?

Artist Aloud associate VP Soumini Sridhara Paul:

Indian Cinema is celebrating its centenary this year. But, if one listens to the 12 CD box set that was released to commemorate the same, you can only hear songs from a handful of artists such as Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar. Hence when you heard a song in those days, you could instantly recognize the voice. Today, that is not the case. Unless you read the credits in an inlay or on a website, it is very tough to identify the voice. Do you ever wonder what the reason is for this? Was there no talent in the early days? Is it suddenly in abundance? I believe it is not so. If you were to ask me I think it is more about freedom and opportunity now.

Let me elaborate. In the good old days, everyone enjoyed watching our films, but one would not want to see their own sons and daughters choosing it as a profession. Add to that, there was also a huge legacy of artists like Lataji and Rafi Saheb that were unbeatable. This of course was in Bollywood. But nobody noticed the parallel universe that was growing on the side. Ghazal singers like Pankaj Udhas, Jagjit Singh and a few others started making a place and building a fan base for themselves outside of the film industry. But they again for a long time were the only names that people got to hear of again and again and till today they have loyalists that swears by their music.

Simultaneously while the television industry was growing and creating different entertainment formats, music found a new best friend in them. Thus began the search for talent to create a business out of music beyond films. Of course the pioneers of non-film albums were the new players who did not have access to Bollywood – namely Crescendo and Magnasound. But when they started creating hits out of completely new talent, all record labels started hiring A&R representatives who were supposed have an ear and eye for talent. This trend discovered talents like Shankar Mahadevan, Mika, Shaan, KK, Euphoria, Daler Mehndi, Alisha Chenoy, etc. Even with all this opportunity, it wasn’t that everyone had a chance to bring their talent to the main foray. There still was a major screening process and the person on the A&R’s seat had to be convinced to release the music. Thus for those who did not get an opportunity to be handpicked by an A&R head there were reality shows. Some of the biggest success stories of reality show
s are Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghosal.

After 6-7 years of success (1996 – 2002), the non-film music industry did not know what to do next because while they were working with the music channels ensuring adequate airplay for their artists to make them popular, Bollywood also started using television as its promotional tool. And we all know what happened after that. Films, especially Bollywood with its mega stars again took precedence over non-film music. Record Labels could not generate revenue out of the non-film albums, but artists who became popular because of television started building another industry – Live shows and Events. So artists made money through live performances but record labels didn’t as their contracts did not include revenue through anything else but album sales.  Of course record labels started including a share of live performances as recovery but that did not go too well with some of the bigger artists and thus began the end of non-film albums through record labels. Now record labels were only releasing albums, if at all, if
the artist came with a readymade product to be put on the CD racks. Not all artistes were open to that and many did not have the funds for it.

As they say, when one door closes, another opens. The door opened to the internet with platforms like MySpace, Reverbnation, YouTube, etc. Here there was no one telling the artist if he was good enough or not to put out his music. The artist was free to do what he wants and get feedback from a true audience - the listeners and fans. This also began the consumption of music digitally and CDs were being used for burning compilations created from the internet.  And for the artist and his live performance the internet became the live showreel that allowed event companies to screen new acts that would be fresh and in some cases cost effective.

Towards 2009, came platforms like Artist Aloud that offered what was not available to artists easily, in spite of freedom – an official release. You may ask – why bother for an official release when you can put it out on your own. Well that’s because artists want to focus only on one thing – their music. That followed other players to also build their platforms around supporting music such as NH7,, etc. On the other side the artist who suddenly was aware and less inhibited about his talent, was getting opportunities to showcase this talent devoid of a record label or an official release through venues like Hard Rock Cafe, Blue Frog, etc who might have been running an F&B business but indirectly were helping three other industries – artists, events and music industry through licenses.

2012 has suddenly seen a surge of talent but that is not an overnight phenomenon. The talent was always there. What actually is the overnight phenomenon are the platforms and avenues. NH7 Festival across three cities, Sunburn, Live from the Console, Artist Aloud Music Day, Indigo Live, etc. are all platforms that have the distinction of giving new talent a platform. But the reality is that all these platforms exist because the large pool of great talent also does already exist. We are today in an era where a platform and artiste can live in blissful co-existence. Without these platforms, we could well go back to the good old days where only a handful of voices were heard.