Indian indie musicians never have it easy. There are vicious stereotypes and fundamental issues with the mindset of people that need to be tackled. Battling all these, Chinmayi Tripathi, a singer- songwriter based in Delhi, has proved that it is only talent that matters at the end of it all. She is also one of the co-founder of Songdew, which is India’s largest online platform for musicians. Chinmayi tells us about her experiences as an independent musician and her association with Songdew in this candid interview with IMR.
IMR: Please tell us something about yourself.
Chinmayi Tripathi: Hi, I’m Chinmayi Tripathi. I’m a singer-songwriter based in New Delhi. I compose and write my own songs and I have trained in Hindustani classical singing for almost 7 years. I’m also an MBA by profession. I finished my studies around 2009, after which I started writing my own songs. I was approached by a record labels after they heard one of my songs on the internet. The song got good reviews on MySpace as well. So they decided to record an album with me and that is when I wrote more songs and worked on the composition part. Unfortunately, that album never got recorded. But this episode made me realize that I had potential as an independent musician. So I recorded my album Sun Zara in 2012 on my own. Recently I recorded my second album called Mann Bawra.
IMR: Songdew recently launched Aircel Free The Music campaign. What was the motive behind it and how did it turn out?
Chinmayi Tripathi: Free The Music is the 1st initiative of Songdew to help talented musicians find a bigger and better audience. Five Indian bands and 1 Pakistani band were selected for this campaign. There music has been released in a very unique method, as we wanted their music to actually reach out to the listeners. We selected these musicians from Songdew on the basis of the quality of their music and popularity amongst Songdew users. We chose Tungzten from Pune- which is one of the best bands In India, North East Breeze from Guwahati which is an Assamese folk group, Pratigya- a Sufi rock band from Delhi, Joel- a terrific singer-songwriter from Kolkata, and Badnaam, which is a heavy Sufi rock band from Pakistan. And one of the artists is me. The campaign was successful as not only did we get a good response and praises from the fans, but even the corporate and several big names pitched in their support. More such campaigns are planned in the future. 9X Media was our TV partner, Radio City came in as the radio partner, and several good venues like Ten Downing Street and Hard Rock Café ensured that we got a good place to start off with. The Idea is to make this event bigger this year onwards.
IMR: What was the idea behind Songdew and how did you get associated with it?
Chinmayi Tripathi: Songdew was conceptualized around two years back. A lot of research went into it. Based on that, we decided what features should be included on the website. It was in beta mode for a long time because we wanted to be hundred percent sure about our idea. In January 2013, Songdew was formally launched. Today, Songdew has over 25,000 artistes and bands from India and around the world. It is a small number compared to the actual number of artistes in India and the neighbouring countries, which is in millions. We have just started off and we are growing rapidly. We don’t want to be just another website that promises a lot but delivers nothing. Instead, we have big plans and we want to do something big. Social networks are the next revolution and it can be easily said they are also an independent musician’s best friend for promotion. Songdew is the brainchild of Mr. Sunil Khanna. I joined Songdew because I had always wanted to do something in the field of music. What better place could have I have asked for besides Songdew, a place where I can utilize my knowledge of music and MBA degree at the same time!
IMR: Is Delhi a good place to be for an independent artist? How is it in comparison to the rest of the country?
Chinmayi Tripathi: The time that we are currently in, is awesome for an indie artist. There are a lot more opportunities now then there ever were. In Delhi and NCR, new venues are opening up every day. The ‘scene’ is getting more and more vibrant with the addition of newer artists and fans. And it is only going to become better. I feel things are on the right track. Bollywood still rules the roost though. At some point of time, all musicians would somehow be like to be associated with it. But even without that, an artist can thrive. There are lots of them doing that, like Parikrama, Raghu Dixit and Indian Ocean. All you need is an avenue, a stage. It does not matter if you are a rock band or a Ghazal singer, people will listen to you if you are good. It’s just that you have to create avenues, or platforms for such talented and independent artistes to rise.
IMR: Since you just mentioned Bollywood, one could think of it in two ways- that Bollywood has given an opportunity to lots of people, or that it has killed off the career of many others. Which view do you support?
Chinmayi Tripathi: I definitely agree to the first view. The only thing is that Bollywood will always remain movie centric, not music centric. Labels are happier selling ringtones because they are making money off it. So they don’t really bother to help indie musicians. This is the thing in India. Outside, it’s the other way round- labels promote music, and new musicians, not movies. There, movies are made on music. Here the opposite is true. Bollywood is not the problem; it is the labels that are money minded. They have never dared to look beyond film music as a source of income. Despite that, I don’t think any country has such a musical variety as India. It is our cultural heritage. The flip side is that here musicians cannot really express themselves. They are almost always limited by the movie script, budget, audience taste etc. Despite that, they are making pretty good music.
IMR: Do you think reality shows really help in creating new artists and showcasing talent?
Chinmayi Tripathi: Reality shows are good as far as the singers are concerned. Such shows go on to prove that India is full of talent. But people should realize that simply participating or even winning in such shows is not going to change their lives. That’s never going to happen. You can get a platform, but you have to make it on your own from there. These shows are just sources of TRP for a channel. The participants should look upon reality shows as a stage to present themselves, not as a ticket to fame.
IMR: What kind of music do you like to make?
Chinmayi Tripathi: Whatever I have done is fusion basically. Since I am a trained classical singer, you will notice the use of classical vocal styles in all the songs. So there is a lot of classical element. But the music is all contemporary. There is a song, Parinda in which I have used dubstep. There are a couple of songs with Arabic elements in them. So you can classify my music as a rich fusion of Indian Classical and modern music. And I think that is important for any musician. You have to be true to your culture and at the same time embrace modern trends to stay relevant.
IMR: Do you write your own songs? Who all have you collaborated with till now?
Chinmayi Tripathi: Yes, I write and compose my own songs. I find it to be a lot more comfortable to work on my own songs. But I am always open to collaboration. In the album which I recently released, there is a song Aali which was produced by Gaurav Dayal. There are a couple of songs which were produced by a really talented duo Deepak and Nihar. In the album Mann Bawra, there is a song that was produced by Joel, who is a singer-songwriter from Kolkata. The song Fakira is sung partly by Rahul Ram.
IMR: What are your songs mostly about?
Chinmayi Tripathi: Music is always an expression of who a person is, and what he or she has gone through in life. Mann Bawra is about freedom in life. The song Fakira is inspired by my childhood dream to become a ‘fakeer’! As a child I’d always think what a great thing it must be to roam around and have no tension in life. Somehow that thought turned into a song. The title track Mann Bawra came in my mind when I was travelling in Delhi metro. I looked at people and thought, why do we run around every day looking for god knows what? Whatever we are looking for is inside us but we still choose to run. So such day to day philosophies are what inspire my music and lyrics to a great extent.
IMR: What are your and Songdew’s future plans?
Chinmayi Tripathi: Songdew aims to become the largest social network for musicians in India. It already is, but we want to make it bigger. We want to help as many indie musicians as possible. Our target is to have a million plus registered artists on Songdew by the end of 2014. We want not just Indian artists, but also musicians from other countries because music is after all a global language. Eventually, we plan to make Songdew one of the biggest music networks in the world. As for me, my plan is to keep writing and recording more and more music. I also want to keep learning because you can always be better then you were yesterday. Performing regularly is also a high priority task for me. Live music gives you a kick like nothing else.