It was in 2005 that the extensive use of pitch correctors had started. Like the use of steroids in sports, the use of pitch-correcting softwares such as Antares and Melodyne should be banned in music. But they are extensively used to correct voice that are not so much in-tune. They were used before 2005 as well, but not so extensively. A lot of non-singers turned into singers around 2005 — this included a lot of composers too. We do have some composers who are amazing singers such as Shankar Mahadevan, Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani, among others. But a lot of the others are not that great. We had practised and worked hard to follow in the footsteps of icons such as Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi. But we aspired to become like them through fairer means. I’m not against technology. It was 2005 onwards that many younger singers were scared and anxious, because they realised that there’s something out there that will demoralise the singers from working hard. That was the time when people who wouldn’t have ever imagined going behind the mic became singers.
Music composers were inspired to sing their own songs. They understood that there was no better source of income for them than doing recordings. Earlier, there were only a few composers such as Mahadevan who did concerts. Music directors realised that the event management business was flourishing and performing live was a good idea. Before 2005, many actors and actresses would travel for dance shows. Soon, all the singers started travelling too. Live concerts became a huge deal, and a lot of the credit for that goes to me. I was doing concerts left, right and centre.
Rise of radio
An important change that took place around a decade ago was that radio became really big. People stopped thinking which cassette or CD they should carry in their cars while travelling. That faded away because of the radio. It’s not just piracy that led to the downfall of music business in India; it was also because of the advent of radio. There were radio stations that played a variety of music. So, why would people buy cassettes or CDs? That was a huge reason for the downfall of independent music, because not everyone in India had access to the Internet to download music, but every rickshaw or taxi driver, who would earlier depend on an audio cassette, stopped buying them.
The music business has changed completely in the past decade, because when there was no sale of cassettes and CDs. Music became a tool to promote movies. The makers knew that irrespective of how good the music is, people won’t buy it. This was the time when songs such as ‘Munni badnaam’ (Dabangg; 2010)became popular. They were just meant to launch a film. There are good songs coming up today as well, but the focus of making a track changed from making good music to promoting a film.
In the past 10 years, composers switched from making typical Bollywood numbers to popular tracks. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, you knew the difference between a film song and a non-film track. But that line has disappeared now. Earlier, Bollywood sound had its own character. No music in the world sounded like Hindi film music. After 2006-07, the programming, sequencing and the sound became international. So, the typical Bollywood sound ceased to exist. Many good arrangers and programmers came in, which was a good sign. But that, in turn, put an end to the music that sounded like that of Nadeem-Shravan, Jatin-Lalit, Anand-Milind, etc.
A lot of new composers such as Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar came in. They made ‘abstract’ music, which was different. The demand for such music has increased over the past five years.
Rise of competition
The trend of music reality shows was big a couple of years ago. As a result, the competition in Hindi film music became steep. A huge crowd of new singers entered the industry. So, the event business (concerts) also became active, as everyone started performing at concerts. The newer singers didn’t have to struggle the way we did.
While there have been several positive changes over the years, the down part is that the longevity of artistes is suffering. Artistes come in knowing that they won’t sustain for more than two years. That’s why they record as much as possible and travel extensively for concerts. That is the kind of insecurity people come in with.
As told to Soumya Vajpayee Tiwari
(Sonu Nigam is a popular playback singer, who has been around in the industry for around three decades)