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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Prateek Kuhad: ‘I don’t think even a single label is doing a good job with its musicians in India’

Prateek Kuhad opens up on how Bollywood influenced his music, why he didn't sign any music label in India, what the future with Elektra Records means to him and the need of a separate music industry.

Written by A. Kameshwari | New Delhi |
August 17, 2021 8:28:00 am
Prateek Kuhad on his new songsPrateek Kuhad spoke about how Guru Dutt's Pyaasa has a big impact on his Hindi compositions. (Photo: Vansh Virmani, Express Archive)

After Cold/Mess and Kasoor, Prateek Kuhad released his new EP titled Shehron Ke Raaz, which also marked his debut collection with Elektra Records. As he embarks on a new journey, spoke to the singer-writer about his influences, why he stays aloof from Bollywood, his future with Elektra Records and much more. Here are the excerpts from the conversation:

Your new EP Shehron Ke Raaz has very old-school romance feels. My personal favourite is Tere Hi Hum.

Even I love Tere Hi Hum. That was the first song of the EP and it inspired its mood too. When I wrote it, I was really excited about it. I wrote it last year, and I just wanted to put it out with EP. With Shehron Ke Raaz, I attempted to explore concepts of love, which are pretty timeless. It’s a pretty light-hearted EP that should be consumed with a sense of ease.

Listen to Shehron Ke Raaz:

It also feels influenced by old music.

Definitely, I have been influenced by old music. Honestly, my music influences are quiet all over the place. Some of the impactful stuff that I have heard is older, especially with my Hindi songwriting. The romanticism in it comes from the film Pyaasa. The film had a deep impact on me. It is the creative and greatest film of this century for me. I have a lot of romanticism (in my songs), which is not all that common today. Maybe that’s why some of my music feels old.

Was there a pressure to make music as per fans expectation?

I don’t care about that, and I have been this way since the beginning. I care about me liking them. I’m very hard on myself. I am the biggest critic of myself. Sometimes the songs that people end up loving, I don’t like them. I’m never going to write songs for people.

Listen to Tere Hi Hum

Is there a Prateek Kuhad song that you don’t like?

Probably my first 30 songs were really bad. They were horrible. And that’s why I never really put most of them out. I did put some of those 30 songs out. I believe that only after 20 or 30 songs, I started writing songs that were acceptable to me. But most of them, I would hear a year later and think to myself, ‘Oh my god, what was I thinking!’ So that happens a lot.

So, you just want to focus on yourself.

I want to grow as a writer and as a person because all of that reflects in your music and your art eventually. I’m just trying to grow and become a better person and a better musician, which I think is very hard.

Do you know people tag you as one of the artists who is shifting music scenes in India?

I’m glad but it is not just me. There are a few others who are doing really good work in the independent scene and doing work outside of the framework of Bollywood, which I think is important. It is also a good change because it makes it possible for the music industry to be its own thing and not just an industry that is attached to Bollywood as almost like a sidekick.

Growing up, a lot of my favorite songs were from films and that was because it was the only music we had to consume, especially when it comes to Hindi music. Outside Bollywood, we had Lucky Ali, Euphoria, Strings and others. Then even they started churning out Bollywood music. So, there was a phase, which started to die down. My problem is not with the music. My problem is how Bollywood is still a benchmark.

So, it wasn’t a benchmark or a dream for you?

For me, Bollywood was never really a benchmark because philosophically I don’t relate to its framework/working style. All over the world, the music industry is its own thing. There is a music industry and then there is the film industry, and sometimes they interact with each other. There are big artists like Rihanna, Beyonce, Kanye West, Taylor Swift and others who put out their own records and have a huge fan following. (In the West) Music industry is separate where artists also have the freedom to make music for films if they want. You can do soundtrack music or write for films. There are a bunch of people who do that as well. There’s space for everybody. But in India, it’s just only one thing.

I tried too. I reached out to my friends and my family to ask if anybody had a connection or are working in Bollywood but I realised there’s not a lot of space for what I was doing. I wanted to write, compose and sing. I wanted to put out the song the way I wanted, not in the context of a film. There needs to be space for musicians and that can only happen if there is a music industry, which almost doesn’t exist in India. Right now, the only space that exists for musicians is the independent music space, which is very small but growing.

Listen to Kasoor:

You signed up with Elektra Records. How do you see the collab impacting the music scene in India?

I don’t know, I didn’t think about it. Hopefully, if I do well, and my songs do well, it’ll help the world to look at musicians from India in a different context. If you go speak to people anywhere in the world, Indian music for them is about the sitar or Pandit Ravi Shankar and the likes. It is beautiful music but there’s so much more happening in India, which people are unaware of. People’s thoughts about Indian music is very cliched or boxed. People need to start looking at musicians from South Asia from a different and more realistic lens of who we are today and what we’re doing.

Your association is surely being celebrated across the country.

But a label is not an achievement. Yes, it can be beneficial to any musicians’ career but that’s not the only thing. There are a lot of independent musicians today who are not with a label but are doing well. So there’s no right or wrong. And I think 30 years ago, it was crucial. If you were a musician or wanted to be a musician, you needed to have support because there was just no ecosystem. There were no professionals who were doing it for independent musicians. There was no way to distribute your music or make your music. But today, you can make a whole album just on your computer. And then as you grow, you will find people, you will find managers and companies who will help you. I did that for a while. Associating with a label steers your career in the direction where you want to take it, which is an advantage. But instead of trying to chase a deal, focus on making really good music, making really good records and growing your career, because you can do it yourself.

Listen to Khone Do:

But why you kept yourself away from signing Indian labels?

I don’t know a good Indian label, to be honest. Most of the labels are associated with big film production houses. I didn’t even like really reach out to anybody because I don’t think even a single label is doing a good job with its musicians in India. And even if there is an opportunity, it is specific for Bollywood. Ultimately, it’s not about the label. It’s about the people in the label who are working with you. At Elecktra, people are good and have experience. They inspire a lot of confidence. So I’m excited about that. But I didn’t have the same experience in India.

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