Composer Karan Kulkarni and singer Kamakshi Rai talk to Megh Rao of SoundboxIndia about the start of their musical careers. The Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota music-maker reveals how technology has affected the music industry and promoted original content in Bollywood. Meanwhile, Kamakshi shares her journey from being a reality show contestant to singing for Bollywood and doing regional songs....
Q: The rise in digital technology - how has it affected your musical career?
Kamakshi Rai: I think music has just become a lot more accessible, so whatever you want to listen to in whatever language or genre, you can go online and search for it. For me as a listener, it's way easier to have access to the kind of music I like.
Kartik Kulkarni: I think a lot of people are getting the chance to experiment and do exactly what they want, and it opens up a lot of things with less pressure from the powers that be in the music industry. So you get to do a lot more and the listeners get to listen to a lot more original content as well.
Kamakshi Rai: That’s right, you don’t have to rely on anyone else. You can just start up your own channel and put your own music out, which is great for us as musicians.
Q: How has it affected live music?
Rai: I think it’s just easier to put your music out, so whether it's your show reels or any sort of music that you do, it’s easier to get gigs now, because people don’t have to go via 100 others. They can look you up online and contact you directly. I think because of the covers that I uploaded on YouTube, I did a bunch of gigs right after the show I was on – The Stage. It made things very very easy. I didn’t have to rely on an agent to get me gigs, because my music was just out there.
Kulkarni: It's made it a lot easier. You have laptops on stage now and things like that. So that kind of changed - earlier you had to be a DJ, for example, to make electronic music. But now you can actually take your studio live and create it over there. Bands have started to incorporate that here. People were doing it abroad even 10-20 years ago, and people are doing it here now.
Rai: Yes, we did that at my last gig! We had some backing stuff and tracks going on. There was a proper five piece live band as well. It was fun, because it was different from the usual – only band and minus one track kind of gig you do.
Q: What was the first song you worked on in the studio?
Kulkarni: It was probably an ad!
Rai: Definitely an ad. We did the Tanishque one. Oh, but we worked before the Tanishque - I'm sure I have it written in my work spreadsheet somewhere.
Kulkarni: I think the Tanishque one was the first.
Rai: The Tanishque one was a really super cute jingle and recently I was doing a radio interview in Kolkata and they made me sing it. So I actually sang the jingle on air!. I remember everything, the words and all.
Kulkarni: Oh yes, the tune …it comes to my mind.
Q: As a composer, which was the first musical instrument that got your attention?
Kulkarni: It was the guitar! When I was in school, I started listening to heavier bands like rock. I was like, I want to do that too. But it was always like it’s a band – some guys abroad playing these instruments that we listen to. When I got out of school, I asked my dad for a guitar and I just fell in love with it and played all day…so I think, yeah, the guitar is the first one.
Rai: For me, I have always been more of a vocalist than an instrumentalist. But I started writing music when I was 16 or 17 years old. It was kind of easy to do that, it was facilitated because I played the guitar. You know, when I was in school, I begged and got my guitar. I got a really crappy guitar. It was one of those fake brands that have like a super thin body and a really wonky neck. The name was like Reynolds or something like a pen brand.. (laughs) and I used to play and my fingers used to bleed and I would still play it. Then my mum looked at me and was like, "Okay, you are serious about this one." So she got me a decent guitar. Although now I play the ukulele more, cause I can carry it around everywhere. It’s like my little friend.
Q: What took you (Kamakshi) so long to enter Bollywood?
Rai: I did The Stage in 2015 – 2016 and then I started doing a lot of gigs, because suddenly people were like ‘Oh, okay, this singer exists’ and 'Let's call her for live shows'. So a lot of private events and corporate shows and things like that - I did that for about a year and I did a lot of jingles and that’s where I majorly got into singing. Later on, I got into the musical theatre, which happened by accident, because I wasn’t an actor until then, I had never thought of acting. I got a call out of the blue saying, ‘WizCraft is looking for the lead for their musical called Balle Balle and would you like to come and try out? We have seen all your videos and we really like you’. And I’m like, ‘Bro I am not an actor, I think you have the wrong number.’ He said, ‘ No, we have seen you, you have a great stage presence, come and it will be fun.’ I said ‘Okay, try karne main kya jata hai’. So I went there and they made me dance a little bit and sing a little bit. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and they clearly liked what I did, because I got the part and I ended up playing the female lead for their Bombay season of Balle Balle, which lasted three months. Then I got Sing India Sing, because the makers of the show watched me in Balle Balle and they had also seen me on The Stage. So for two years, I was just prepping. They trained me how to act, how to dance, how to sing and how to sing and dance simultaneously on stage – for which you literally have to be like a racehorse. I was playing the role of a dancer who sings and dances - not just a regular dancer, but full-on dancing. So I used to be running on the treadmill and singing at the top of my lungs – that was my training. I guess that was like an incubation period, along with performing shows and now I am ready for anything.