Saturday, December 26, 2009

Record labels: the necessary evil, not any more (?)

The one thing that most musicians share (apart from the passion for music of course) is a bit of "fear" of the future. Where will my music go from here? Will people continue to listen to it? Will I be able to live on just a career in music?

For a budding unsigned musician , the goal is - How can I make my music heard? Especially in the 50's - 70's till now, the hunt for a record label was on. After a lot of begging and "trying to prove", if you get a label to even acknowledge you, it's a big deal. Okay, say the label agrees to sign you up. Here starts a long journey - of achievements and a term of "master/slave" relationship. What starts of and could be a symbiotic relationship can turn into something difficult depending on the contract. Following rules of a contract, giving away rights to one's own music, being told what kind of music to make and release can be rather demotivating and distracting for a creative musician. An example of this is greatly publicized feud between Prince and Warner Bros.

For becoming successful in the past, signing a label was compulsory. However, now the internet is changing the music industry where artists are able to freely distribute their music through file sharing. Recently, Nine inch Nails and Radiohead announced an end to their respective contracts with their record labels and have opted for "pay your own price". Now the question is, this will continue to work for already established bands. How about independent not so well artists with great potential but no exposure? Scott Perry, owner of New Music Tipsheet and Sperry Media, says. "The core roles of record labels will never change -- facilitating the marketing and distribution of an artist's work is essential," he said. "However, the rights and revenues split will be vastly different, and that will affect the role the label plays in distribution and marketing."

Research shows some nice companies like Weathervanemusic and Modlife who claim to be concerned about true musicians and undertake responsibility in promoting them on the basis of trust and goodwill. Hopefully this will change the future of the recording industry and put an end to the master/slave relationship making - record labels "helpful" for promoting artists and not a "necessary evil".

Friday, November 06, 2009

Rare ARR interview

If you are an A R Rehman fan, this video should be of interest to you.

It was aired on the tv show "Surabhi", back in the early days on India's Doordarshan channel. It also has a rare interview of Sridhar the brilliant sound engineer who sadly passed away recently. Sridhar talks about ARR's high need for sound quality.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

1910: The year it began in the west.

I always tend to look back in time and ask myself , "when did this begin?" "when was the first time it happened" "who was the first person to achieve this?". Do you do that too? Okay No, I dont live in the past all the time. But I think my fascination with history keeps a part of me alive. With that said, everytime I am at an indian classical or world music concert in new york city or san francisco, I am extremely curious about how indian classical music has gotten so popular in the west. Post 1950's western musicians were being open to the indian music concept of horizontal, melodic improvisation methods and the spiritual beliefs that music brought.
In the 1960's, the Beatles made history with their album "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart club band" which had Ravi Shankar influences, Grateful Head drummer Mickey Hart was studying rhythm techniques under tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha. In the 70's Mclaughin's Mahavishnu orchestra and Shakti stunned the west with fresh, cross cultural music. In the 90's - 2000's Talvin Singh, Cheb i Sabbah continue to use indian music for western audiences; but, when exactly did this all begin?
I decided to find out. Recently, during my research on this, I stumbled upon a book titled "The Dawn of Indian Music in the West" by Peter Lavezzoli. On a personal note, it is by far the most interesting and informative material on this topic. I tried to gather some information from the book to share with you.

The most popular notion is that the first recording of indian music is of sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan back in 1955 for the album "Morning and Evening Ragas". However it was back in 1910 when Hazrat Inayat Khan, a sufi music veena player, performed at Columbia University. There is no record of what his performance consisted of, but apparently that was one of the first formal performances of indian classical music in the west. For some reason it did not make an impact until Ali Akbar Khan's "Bhairavi" recording in 1955. Hazrat Inayat Khan was a descendant of warrior Tippu Sultan's uncle. His family was traditionally muslim, but he also believed in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism. Apparently, he did not create the impact he was hoping for in the west and had artistic frustrations. But he practised sufism to a great extent and spread sufi music and eventually died in 1927. I wish I were a part of the 1910 audience to have witnessed the very first formal performance of indian music here in the west. Sigh. Alright, let me not live in the past.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Veda Chakra - why the name?

I have a strange trait, something that you probably share too - Always ask the question(s) "Why" and "Why not". It can be rather distracting,frustrating at times - if you know what I mean. So anyway, as I was brushing up some music theory regarding minor scales, I could not help up wonder why the three minor scales are from the same chakra called "Veda". Okay, one reason(and perhaps the only) is that it is the fourth chakra and there are four vedas. But my wicked mind cant help wondering - Perhaps the "vedas" were so important and this chakra was named so? I really don't know. By this, I don't mean the other melakarta ragams are not important. It's just the minor scales are so "HUGE", you know?

In any case, here are some facts.

The Veda chakra comprises of 19-24th melakartas in the carnatic school of music. Of the 6 melakartas in this chakra, three are most popular, even in the western school of music - what are called the "minor" scales.

Melakarta 20 - natabhairavi = natural minor
Melakarta 21 - keeravAni = harmonic minor
Melakarta 23 - gowrimanOhari = melodic minor

Note however that the melodic minor is gowri manohari while ascending and back to natabhairavi while descending.

In my future posts, I will probably write about "blue oyster cult" using natabhairavi as their favorite scale ;o)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hamsanandi: brings tears

If you know me on a personal level, you know that Hamsanandi is one of my most favourite ragams. I feel so closely attached to it. For years I have been so fascinated by how it stirs me. Hamsanandi or Sohni(as it's called in hindustani music) is usually synonymous with Adi Narayana Rao's brilliant "Kuhu Kuhu Bole koyaliya". It tops the list of my most favourite compositions. The devarnama "Kunidado Krishna" is also an amazing composition.

I was blown by this piece today. S.Balachander's rendering of hamsanandi has to be one of the most soulful I have ever listened to. It played with my feelings. I hope you enjoy it too!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

the nightshift terror

My blog 'nAda' is usually about music. But I had to write this today as I think we must do something about this.

I am sad, terrified and angry (about) - a recent disappearance of a young IT professional in India at 3 am after his night shift. A few months ago, in Bangalore, a 24 year old woman was attacked and killed by a cab driver during her night shift. The driver pretended to be the late night driver of her company transport. The innocent call center employee rode along not realizing that the driver was a killer. She was found dead a few days later. As usual, this story was in the news but buried as time went by. There was no action taken by the employer.

There are many several cases where Indian IT professionals who work "off shore time" are attacked/killed because they are out late at night and cannot reach out for help. When are we going to learn? Firstly what is the need to be a slave to a company, to sacrifice safe and normal living? Offshore jobs seem to be the pride of many locals so they might claim that they are working for an multinational or who are desperately seeking opportunities in bigger cities and for big bucks. Some may argue that working offshore shifts give fathers a chance to attend their child's school events or not spend money on day care. What about the young single individuals and their safety? There have been too many incidents the last few years that have proven that it is NOT entirely safe for a young 20 year old girl/boy to be out on the streets at 2 am in a city like Bangalore. Is the money worth it??

It has been proven that night workers get less sleep and get less restful sleep. Chronic lack of sleep harms a person's health and safety. But apart from all health reasons, it is just very unsafe. Companies *have* to take responsibility in peoples lives. They have to believe that their employees are not slaves. As employees, we have to make it clear that we are not here to be driven by them. We must not succumb to their rules if it is a matter of our safety and health. If we don't speak out, no one else will for us. One thing is changing the law, which seems to be an non-penetrable task for the common man. The least we could do is spread the word as it ultimately lies in our hands. We got to do something about this. If you are reading this and agree with me, I hope you will spread the word too and let people know that they do not have to live life dictated by their employer, and its not really something to be proud of. My heart goes out to those families that have been affected by this already.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Songwriting: why it never gets done.

Considering myself a part musician and song writer I have always been fascinated by how a song never gets finished. Ideas flow in. Motivation sets in. Excitement begins. And when I sit with my piano/recording equipment and clear my voice and sing; I just dont like where its going. The melody doesnt fit. The recording is not clear. The words are that of an amateur. Everything that will enable me to create vanishes into thin air. Then I take a walk, go to the gym or stroll around a mall. Thats the end of the story. The guilt builds.

If you are still reading this post, it means you are a somewhat creative person who shares this frustration. Read on.

I cannot get myself to understand what it is that takes/took for successful song writers to be where they are today. (success is a subjective word, so I will leave it at that) How did they do it? One day, as part of my routine unsuccessful attempts to record/finish a song, I went to the library, I came across a book called "The craft and business of song writing" by John Braheny. I could not put the book down. I felt it was "me" in the book. The book begins by how the author instantly connects with the reader by saying "you are not alone". This may sound like one of the "self help" books. Well. Do I care? No. I could understand how songs are to be written. I have never and will never believe in rules for music. Hence, there are some aspects of the book that I will not fall for. But overall, its amazing what an art this is.

There is one excerpt in the book which is an interview of Paul McCartney for the LASS Musepaper in 1984. He says "So when my hand didnt know what to put on the paper, my head just said to my hand, "Write! Put it down." I got this method of just forcing my hand to write, no matter what it was............
...there are two aspects to a creative act. One was to create, just do it. The other was judicial, checking everything. the biggest mistake everyone makes is to try to do the two at once. And then suddenly - ding! - thats exactly what my problem is."

The external pressures that prevent creativity are: 1)Evaluation (concern with what someone else will think) 2)Surveillance (if someone is watching you, you cannot create) 3) Reward 4) Competition 5) Restricted choice (focus more on restrictions rather than freedom to achieve a goal)

Apart from these, there is so much analysis this book presents. Its quite a fascinating read. It will hopefully continue to inspire me and you too.

Monday, January 05, 2009

marghazhi ragam

Over 10 years ago (possibly more), as part of my regular visits to Odakkattoor mutt kutcheri season in Bangalore, I happened to go to concert of a newcomer called TM Krishna. We had not heard of this singer, but decided to be open minded. In contrast to a regular veena gayatri or a TV Sankaranarayanan concert, where we barely get place to stand, I was sitting in the second row right under his nose. I heard TMK render an aalaapanai in raaga kalyani I will never forget for the rest of my life. He had a unique personality, RTP's with utmost devotion to the ragam, a warm smile in between his songs, and very piercing eye contact giving you a feeling that you are the only listener. He has since, captivated so many listeners, is very vocal with his opinions and taking so to speak - classical music to a region with no boundaries.

To be honest, I dont know what to think of "Marghazhi Ragam". It is supposed to be a new movie - in the form of a carnatic classical concert. The comments I read call it "mindblowing", " innovative" etc. I cant seem to form an opinion with the hardly 3 minute trailer on the website.
But what I can say is - I am excited to watch it and hope it is as fresh as people say it to be. It should be thrilling considering H Sridhar and PC Sreeram have also been involved in its creation.

Someday if it is released in San francisco theaters, I will have a larger blogpost refecting my opinions about it.

For now, find out for yourself here -