Artist Session: Vinayak^a (India): Preserving the Art of Music with the Pursuit of Crafting One Great Song

Artist Session: Vinayak^a  (India): Preserving the Art of Music with the Pursuit of Crafting One Great Song

I was introduced to the world of dance music during my early twenties in Delhi, where I first discovered Vinayak^a many years ago. What set Vinayak^a apart was his exceptional skills in crafting soundscapes that had the power to transport you to entirely different realms. Recently, his name resurfaced as he returned from a hiatus, not only from live performances but also from releasing music. His album, "Andar Bandar," captivated me by immersing me in the serene rural landscapes of Bengal. Furthermore, he embarked on a unique project with a tribe from Assam, uniting folk music, soundscapes, and dance music. Having followed his journey for years, it's the perfect moment to share his story here!

Srishti Das: I'd like to ask you what about the music industry's current state that brings you joy, and could you share your journey with us

Vinayak^a: The music brings me happiness, but the industry is different. Initially, I ventured into this field due to my deep passion for music and sound. The industry wasn't my primary focus at the outset. I come from a musical background, particularly in the classical genre. My mother was a Rabindra Sangeet singer, and I hail from eastern India, Jamshedpur. I believe it was a point in my life when I realised I needed to pursue something I was passionate about, and I couldn't envision myself working or studying in any other field besides music. This was around 23 - 24 years ago, and when I reflect on it, I can hardly recall what my thought process was at that time. Opportunities were limited, and the internet was less widespread than today, although it did exist. It was the music that drew me in, and that's what has fueled my journey. 

Srishti Das: There's a noticeable post-pandemic resurgence in people attending shows and a resurgence in Dance music. What's your take on this trend's sustainability and impact on your music-making approach, especially with a new generation hitting the dance floors?

Vinayak^a: ​​For me, not much has changed. I've been creating music consistently from the very beginning, even through the pandemic. Let's acknowledge that everything is a part of the entertainment industry, and it is a massive field. No matter how much fuel prices rise, people will still purchase fuel. Similarly, regardless of what's on TV or the events happening, people will attend because it's a personal necessity for human beings.

During the pandemic, people were indoors for two years, which isn't natural for us as social beings. Now, everyone is living like there's no tomorrow. It all comes down to the fact that people have the financial means when it comes to entertainment. When it comes to Dance music, some might not be familiar with it, some may just be getting acquainted, and some have already been through it and moved on. We're just entering this scene, and everyone starts at the bottom of the ladder. You climb your way up step by step, gradually getting accustomed to electronic music, from the basics to the more advanced aspects.

The pandemic had its pros and cons for many. Change was inevitable at some point, and this pandemic catalysed it. We can't say whether it's good or bad, but the change was overdue, and we've experienced it.

Srishti Das: How has this changing landscape affected your music-making? Has it influenced your approach, or do you consider it insignificant? What has this period been like for you?

Vinayak^a: It doesn't really matter to me. I'm not one to follow trends. I don't think about releasing music for a specific audience when I create it. It's more about my personal journey. For example, my latest release, "Andar Bandar" was a compilation of tracks produced over the past seven to eight years. My last official release was around 2013, and I've been crafting music daily without getting distracted by genres or styles. We have the tools, technology, and creativity; it's about letting the music evolve on its own. As I've grown older, I've stopped worrying about conforming to industry norms. It's all about self-belief, and self-validation is more crucial to me than external validation.

Srishti Das: Indeed, it contributes to the longevity of the music. I've had Andar Bandar on loop for many days, specially 'Tagore Said It' is my personal favorite from your entire catalogue. Making music solely to follow a trend is quite common these days. It's not even about creating a full-length song anymore. Most tracks are as short as two minutes. 

Vinayak^a: It would be great to have longer songs, but people's attention spans have decreased. The truth is, we don't buy music like we used to. I remember the days when we'd go to a music store to listen to the tracks before buying them. I recall a music store on Park Street in Calcutta where you could listen to what you would purchase. Back then, owning music had value and emotion attached to it. Spending 100 or 500 Rupees (approx $1-5) on a CD meant something. But things are changing rapidly. The internet and technology have opened doors for many but have also diminished the exclusivity of certain things. You won't find epic Rock compositions like "November Rain" anymore. 

Srishti Das: It's like the "goldfish economy." How has the shift from traditional sales-focused music distribution to streaming platforms like Spotify affected your approach to creating and sharing your music, and what challenges and opportunities do you see in this evolving music industry landscape?

Vinayak^a: The rise of streaming platforms like Spotify has opened doors and closed others. Artists used to anticipate sales, but now they focus on play counts. Initially, I celebrated reaching a million plays on Spotify, but eventually, I realised that the numbers are just a means to measure music. How can art be measured? I never truly cared about the statistics, but for many artists, it's a sensitive topic. It takes time to reconcile the artistic and business aspects. I've been aware of this shift for about six or seven years, where the music business is heading. Artists often aim to make a change, but I've concentrated on creating good music. Whether it makes a significant impact remains to be seen.

Regarding the shorter track durations, it's a matter of convenience in today's fast-paced world. In the past, physical formats like CDs and cassettes involved significant costs and a proper setup. Today, technology, particularly with Mac and software, has simplified music production. AI has emerged as a powerful tool, similar to how DJs once used records or CDs. The internet has democratised access to music information and production tools, allowing more people to enter the industry. It's a dynamic landscape, and while change is constant, the key is to adapt and utilise these tools effectively. Music creation is evolving, and I embrace the transformation while continuing to follow my heart in crafting music.

Srishti Das: I've noticed a significant shift in your music over the past few years. It focuses more on sound design and offers a different experience than straightforward, high-energy dance or party tracks. Given your classical background, what was your initial vision or inspiration when you started in music? Can you share the image or soundscape you had in your mind initially?

Vinayak^a: Instrumental music differs from writing songs with lyrics that convey emotions or messages. It's different from writing a song about a social issue, breakups, heartaches, etc. For music like that, people connect to the lyrics. Instrumental music primarily relies on sound and the mood one experiences at the moment of creation. I didn't overthink it; I let the music move me. 

I come from a music background, but I listened to many different artists and genres growing up, and I still do, maybe at a different intensity. We also evolve and change as we grow up. At one point, I listened to so much rock music and said, “Pop music sucks”. But then I started to discover some Pop music and found something I liked, and then went back to classical music. I was going all over the place to understand how these artists expressed themselves. Now, we have so many subgenres, and these names excite some people. But when you look at it, there is a musical distinction in all these subgenres. Seeing how these musical sub-genres shape how people experience music is exciting. Instrumental music is like a blank canvas, where listeners can project their own emotions and experiences onto the music, much like how lyrics can guide the emotional context of a song. The absence of lyrics allows instrumental music to be more open to interpretation and can resonate with people in various ways.

Srishti Das: For artists who are determined to focus solely on making music rather than DJing, what's the formula for maintaining sustainability in their careers?

Vinayak^a: It's essential to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Once you identify your strengths, it can answer many questions about your path. I realised that my strength lies in creating music, and DJing was a way to enjoy and make some income on the side. It's a constant struggle, and the word "sustainable" doesn't guarantee a lifelong career in this industry; it's ever-changing. New talents are emerging at competitive prices, and one must adapt to current trends. Understanding and catering to your strengths can provide insights and guide your career decisions. Personally, when people contact me, I tend to prioritise my passion for making music. I don't push myself as hard to go out because I've realised that my main focus is creating and experimenting with music. I occasionally take on gigs and DJing, which I still thoroughly enjoy but less frequently than I used to.

Srishti Das: Last year, you worked on a project “The Forgotten Songs Collective” project with the Biate tribe from Assam. I enjoyed it very much. How did the project come to be, and how easy or difficult was it for you to collaborate with these artists? 

Vinayak^a: Oh, yes, indeed. Some very close friends with similar interests have often been on the road documenting various cultures and tribes. The project was initiated by Piyush Goswami and Akshata Shetty, who run a non-profit NGO called Rest of My Family that captures stories of various rural and tribal areas in India. During one of their journeys to the Northeast, they encountered a tribe with a particularly unique musical tradition involving exciting sounds. They told me, "Look, we've met this tribe, and they have something remarkable. We believe we can create something special with it."

I was intrigued and decided to collaborate with them, but I wanted to take an unconventional approach. I wanted our project to have a meaningful impact on both their community and our own. Instead of simply layering sounds in a conventional way, I aimed for our creation to be something that resonates deeply with our listeners. When I connected with them, it felt like we communicated through the universal language of music. It was so easy in that space as well.

They were immersed in their culture, and I was dedicated to my craft. In a sense, I followed their lead because they came from a background where the primary focus was not performing in front of large audiences or partying. Instead, they were farmers and forest dwellers committed to preserving their natural surroundings. Their music was a form of entertainment for themselves, reflecting their innocence. It wasn't confined to genres or categories. People often categorise music today, but it's essential to remember that music transcends labels and genres. It's a language of its own, and it should be appreciated as such.

Vinayak^a: It's not just about where they rank on the charts; music is often categorised in a way that's similar to how people categorise each other based on religion or other criteria. That's the nature of our country, and it can take some time for people to grasp something until they find a connection or relevance to it. The music falls into this category, and it can be a subject of debate on its own. When I connected with these five tribal artists, our focus was on letting the music do the talking. We enjoyed each other's company and didn't put excessive pressure on ourselves. We embraced imperfections because they added a unique quality to the music. None of us are perfect; we're constantly evolving as a species. Our collaboration was a surprise in many ways, even to ourselves. Surprising oneself is a remarkable feeling, and it's something we experienced during our showcase at Magnetic Fields.

Srishti Das: Are you planning to do more work with the same tribe or even explore some more?

Vinayak^a: In India, there's a wealth of unexplored and untouched cultural sounds, music, and cuisine. Many of these treasures remain unknown to us, waiting to be discovered. My passion for seeking the most intriguing sounds that can tell powerful stories has been the driving force behind my journey in electronic music. This quest continues, and I'm always on the lookout for unique sounds that have yet to be explored. I like to think of myself as a sonic explorer, using my metaphorical walking stick to uncover these hidden gems.

Srishti Das: So what is more important to you? Preservation or progression?

Vinayak^a: Preservation is vital for any art form to endure. With the technology available to us, it's essential that we both progress and preserve. We are mere participants in a collective legacy of art passed down through generations. It's not a matter of being the first music maker or writer; it's about contributing to this ongoing tradition. We must safeguard these artistic expressions in the best way possible, ensuring that they inspire future generations. Every art form holds immense importance and is a constant struggle, for nothing worthwhile comes easily in life. We must remember the importance of preserving while we progress. It's like asking whether water or air is more crucial – we need both. Life evolves, and with each generation, the cost, values, and perspectives change. We must adapt to the flow of time rather than resist it. Finding the balance between progression and preservation is essential.

Srishti Das: What would you say to budding producers and songwriters today?

Vinayak^a: Good music naturally finds its way to appreciative ears; it doesn't require force. Music should be approached more like food; you can't force someone to eat when they're not hungry, but they'll seek it out if they're hungry. So, as a music maker, listener, appreciator, and preserver, I believe this is how one can truly connect with music. When you dig deep within yourself, you'll find a way forward through music. 

Srishti Das: Thank you! Last question: what is next for you?

Vinayak^a: I will continue to focus on making music without worrying about style or genre; I want to enjoy myself. Since I had my little one, I've started to appreciate life more, and now, when I create music, my goal is simply to make music, whether it becomes a big hit or not. That's my approach. I'm in constant pursuit of making one great song.

As for changing something in the world, I wouldn't change anything. Sometimes, we may have complaints, but, for instance, even if the Gods returned, they might go back to sleep because they can’t change anything anymore.

You can follow Vinayak^a on Instagram or Facebook.

To stream his music, check him out on YouTube, Spotify or Apple Music