It’s not easy producing independent albums with big players in the industry promoting only film music. Udhav Naig listens to the tunes and tribulations of talented youngsters

Getting hundreds of unsuspecting shoppers at a mall on your side as you sing from your debut album could seem a risky social experiment. Last week, ‘Super Singer’ Ajesh Ashok managed the feat as he unveiled his debut album Rain, College, Love — The Connect in front of a large audience at Express Avenue mall. Settling down for a chat after a performance that seemed to have got the audience hooting and whistling, Ajesh admits to have walked a difficult path.

“I have always dreamt of being an independent artiste,” he begins. Six months ago, Ajesh and his friend Raghav (who has written the lyrics for the album) started working on this album together. “I had to invest the money I had saved in producing the album, which consists of five songs. I also produced a video to go with it,” he says.

Probably around the same time, Ramshankar S. and Shilpa Natarajan, whose brief fling with fame came when they sung the popular number ‘Vanakkam Vazhavaikkum Chennai’ in Pandiraj’s Marina, digitally released their single ‘Thedal’. While Ajesh managed to get a big label on board, Ramshankar is “still trying to approach music labels to see if they will be interested in something such as this”. With labels heavily focussing on promoting and selling film music, a lot of aspiring young musicians lament they are completely invisible to the big players in the market.

The official position of the big music labels such as Saregama tends to lean towards the practical. About the independent music scene in Tamil Nadu, Adarsh Gupta, head, music business, HMV Saregama, says, “What ultimately matters is the metal in the music. Though some of what they say might be valid, there is a lot of empty rhetoric. There is a lot of bad content doing the rounds in the name of independent music.” How, then, does he scout for talent? “We have a very dynamic selection process. We look for talent popular in the market, and sometimes, we also have raw talent coming to us,” he says. This singles out the Internet as the most important tool available to gain the crucial critical mass required to grab the big labels by their collars. “Chennai doesn’t even have a night life,” says Ramshankar. “At least in cities such as Bangalore, there are enough pubs where bands are invited to play,” adds Shilpa.

Adhi, the lead singer of Hip Hop Tamizha, was someone who leveraged the power of the Internet. He became an Internet sensation when a video of him and his band members performing the controversial ‘Club Le Mubb Le’ in a radio station went viral. “It was only when the song became a hit on the Internet, did offers start pouring in,” he says. “The video amassed a million hits in a week, rare for a video of an independent artiste in Tamil Nadu,” says Adhi.

Even if someone can splash cash initially to produce the album and promote it incessantly on the Internet, the chances of the song dying a slow death in a few days’ time are high. “‘Club Le Mubb Le’ was picked up by FM channels only when it became a hit. Some of my other songs have not been played even once,” he says. Ask why independent music is not given adequate airspace, and several producers with FM radio stations cite lack of interest among listeners and inconsistent quality.

This is why singers such as Ajesh, who confesses he would work as an independent artiste if given a chance, are wary of giving up their career in playback singing. “Movies provide us with a huge platform and give us visibility,” he says. Adhi, too, decided to collaborate with music composer Anirudh in Edhir Neechal for precisely the same reason. “The popularity of Hip hop Thamizha was confined to the online space. But, today, after Edhir Neechal, a lot more people listen to my music. I now charge three times more than what I used to for private shows,” he says.

So, how do artistes keep themselves motivated? Adhi says, “What is important is to remain committed to the idea of staying afloat as an independent musician. Sooner or later, I am sure the doors will open.”

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Sound waves

The only radio station that hosts an exclusive show to feature independent artistes and their music is Radio City. The Freedom Hour, on air every Saturday at 5 p.m., has been well-received by the listeners, claims RJ Hasini, who hosted the show for a year. “The idea was to give something fresh to our listeners. Film music can’t go beyond a certain range of emotions as it is dictated by the movie script. No such straightjackets exist for independent artistes as they are free to explore fresh ideas and concepts. Our listeners tend to enquire about the songs composed/performed by the independent artistes. So, definitely, if the music is good, there are takers.”