Armaan Malik talks music business

Armaan Malik talks music business

In a candid chat with City Times, playback singer, composer and songwriter Armaan Malik reveals some harsh realities of the music industry in India ahead of his concert with AR Rahman in Dubai on January 26

By Enid Parker

Published: Mon 22 Jan 2018, 3:19 PM

Last updated: Sun 28 Jan 2018, 1:39 PM

More often than not, we Generation X-ers tend to have a less than favourable opinion of millennials (they're addicted to technology, they don't have to work as hard as we did, they speak in sms lingo, they use autotune, blah blah) but sometimes all it takes is a brief telephonic conversation to change everything. Chatting with 22-year-old Armaan Malik, scion of a famous musical family (his father Daboo Malik and uncle Anu Malik are Bollywood composers and grandfather Sardar Malik was a music director) turned out to be an eye-opening experience, one that definitely swings in the millennial generation's favour.

Empires and islands
Armaan, who will be in town on January 26 to perform with Grammy and Oscar-winning maestro AR Rahman at his concert, The Journey: Celebrating Music, being held at Bollywood Parks Dubai, is already a decade old in the Hindi film industry and one of its most promising vocalists. But there were both pros and cons of tasting success at such a young age, says the singer who first courted the limelight when he participated in the reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L'il Champs at the age of 10.
"My journey started very young, and somehow you lose a lot of your childhood during that process - I think that's the 'con'! But the 'pros' are that you get to know what life is very early on and you're prepared for it. And I feel that if you work from an early age, you can make an empire faster and then enjoy the rest of your life. You make as much money as possible and then when you're at the retirement age you don't need to worry as to where the next buck will come from. You can retire on an island of your own! (laughs)
"It is definitely amazing to have so much love and fame at an early age but it's not easy to handle. I mean, there is a lot of adulation around me, but I think my family has really kept me grounded, so I'm not fazed by it at all."
Speaking of family, did the fact that he belonged to a famous musical family make the process of entering the industry a little smoother, or were there higher expectations from him for the same reason?
"Well, I went to Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L'il Champs without my dad's permission. If he'd had his way he wouldn't have let me go on that show. But I told my mom that I wanted to prove to the world that I have talent and it's not just the family name that's backing me up. And I went on the show on my own merit; for the longest time no one knew I was Daboo Malik's son or Anu Malik's nephew. I was just Armaan. that's all. That's how I wanted it to be in the first half. Obviously eventually people came to know about my background. I wanted everyone to first know about me and my singing. And later, I got a lot of songs on my own steam. It's not because I had the family name."
Armaan's first song was as a child singer in Taare Zameen Par for Shankar Ehsaan Loy. He then did Mere Buddy for Bhootnath, which was a duet with Amitabh Bachchan with music by Vishal Shekhar. He believes he's made an impact in the music world through his individuality. "I have sung for quite a few composers when I was a child singer; I made my own path as a singer. Later on a lot of collaborations happened with me and my brother Amaal -  our songs did really well so I find our combo a hit combo, a successful combo."

A sprinkle of luck?
Despite having gained exposure through a reality show, Armaan says being on such programmes is not always a ticket to enter the industry or get good opportunities. "Winning a show doesn't guarantee you work, for sure. Because I've seen a lot of the winners of these competitions and after many years, I see them not in the singing field at all. It is sad. Look at where Arijit Singh has reached now, he participated in a show called Fame Gurukul in 2005 but couldn't make it to the finals. And the winner of that show is not even in the film industry right now."
Armaan doesn't believe winning a competition is a parameter of success. "I believe there's a little bit of luck involved as well. You can work hard till a point like 80-85% but then there's that 20-25% sprinkle of luck as well that is written or is not written. If you win a competition, the next day, people move on. They move on to the next reality show, and the next contestants and the next winners. And even though winners may be promised an album deal with a label, that doesn't do much for their careers.
"It's back to the drawing board for them, they have to go back to the composers, and show them how they sing again. Even though they have sung so many songs in the competition, people want to hear you on the mic in the studio. You know, many people can sing on stage, but singing inside a studio is a completely different ballgame."
Armaan, who has recently sung for films like Golmaal Again, Chef and Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, is of the opinion that playback singers have to be 'dynamic'.
"Many people have been singing on stage since a very young age, which I realised when I was in L'il Champs. I had not sung on stage so much; I had sung in recording studios a lot. So my voice was dynamic; it could be as soft and loud as I wanted it to. But when stage singers perform, from the word 'go' they are on a high pitch or a high volume. Because they are used to that atmosphere of performing in front of audiences and big crowds, so the throw of their voices is louder. But playback singers need to be dynamic singers. They need to go with the emotion of the song. It needs to be soft, when the emotion is soft; it needs to be shouted out, if the emotion demands."

Training in the studio
He reveals that he learned these things "from a very young age."
"I did ads and commercials when I was 8 or 9 and I was in the studios before I came into reality shows and became famous. So my training has been in the studio. And not many people understand that when they come into the studio they have to re-learn everything. They've learnt so much singing on stage, and now they have to re-learn their singing and kind of break down their singing in the studio. And that's very tough for some of the singers to do. And that is why it's very important to do a lot of studio work, and probably assist composers.
"I worked very closely with Salim-Suleiman for a brief period of time when I was recording my debut album. So just working with them, knowing how they dub singers, how other singers come into the studio and sing, these are things that you learn from, and then you apply that and you get chances and you become better at singing. Obviously luck is a factor but there is a science to playback singing also. You could be a great singer on the mic on the stage, but when you come to a controlled atmosphere like a studio, you cannot completely shout because the mic will distort the sound. So there's a certain level of control you need to have over your voice. And that comes only with singing in a studio. The more practice happens in that environment the more you get better at it. I think that's been an advantage for me, at least in playback singing. Show singing you can always learn. Playback singing is something you can only learn with experience."

Use social media
He has some advice for aspiring singers, and that is to make full use of social media.
"Today social media has become a huge platform. Through avenues like YouTube and Instagram, a lot of new singers are coming up and are becoming popular. If you feel that you have the talent, you should shoot a video. even if it's like a basic video, it doesn't need to be well done, or a high scale shoot, it could be a normal video in your room. But you need to put content out there, you need the world to see who you are, how you sing. I think a lot of singers are coming up this way and are more popular than singers who have been singing in the industry for a long time.
"More and more people are logging onto digital devices now and discovering new talent - so they will know those people but they'll never know the playback singers who actually sing their favourite songs. Many people say stuff like, 'this song is really amazing, I love this song, but I don't know who the singer is'."

Music across borders
Armaan recently announced his debut show in the Netherlands in February. How does he feel knowing that his music is loved and admired beyond the subcontinent?
"I definitely feel music can transcend barriers and borders. There is no language barrier in music.The biggest example of that is the song Despacito - it's a Spanish cum English song and the whole world is dancing, singing, humming to that tune, not knowing what it means. It's amazing how in today's times, the growth of an artist is much more possible than it was before, because of the mediums that have come about, like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. They help you reach out to a larger audience and I probably wouldn't know that I have that many fans and listeners in so many different countries if it wasn't for these platforms. I'm really blessed to have touched hearts in different parts of the world."

'If I hadn't been able to sing...'
Did Armaan have it easy because he's from a famous musical family? No, he says. "There are two ways to look at it. Everyone from the outside when they look at your career, they feel that you've had an easier career platform than the other singers who usually have to struggle. But my way of looking at it is, probably I might have access to the door but when I open the door it's all up to me, it's all my talent. Maybe that's the only easier part that I got, that I got access to the door of opportunity, but when I opened the door if I hadn't been able to sing then I don't think I would have gone further."

Favourite songs
"There have been many favourites but if I had to break it down, one would be a non-film single called Main Rahoon Ya Na Rahoon, whose video featured Emraan Hashmi and Esha Gupta. It's reaching a 100 million views and it's one of the songs that's closest to my heart. Also, Bol Do Na Zara from the film Azhar is a big song of mine which I really, really love. Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi are legends of their time. I love Kishore's Hamein Tumse Pyar Kitna. As a singer I think Mohammed Rafi is someone I really really admire, because of the way he sings. I think it's very effortless. And he does, like, tough things but in a very easy way. That Golden Era cannot come back, definitely."

Why Armaan loves Dubai
"Dubai has always been a favourite place of mine. I've always enjoyed being there; there are a lot of music lovers, a lot of fans out there. And I'm getting an opportunity to perform with AR Rahman, that is a very big platform for me. Last year I sang my first song for him in Robo 2.0, called Mechanical Sundariya - the music of this film was launched in Dubai. So Dubai definitely has a special place in my heart. And there's no better way to show my love than come with AR Rahman and spread music and magic there. So I'm really looking forward to it.
"My favourite place in Dubai is The Walk at JBR. That whole stretch. I really enjoy soaking in what's happening around me. There's a lot of buzz and a lot of peace because it's the seaside. Also, no one can deny that Burj Khalifa is one of the main attractions in Dubai."

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