Elevating Music and Messages: A Conversation with Vineet Singh Hukmani
DECCAN CHRONICLE | Sachin Prasad
Could you share a bit about your musical journey? How did you get started in the world of music, and what inspired you to pursue a career as a music artist?
I have always been a musician at heart right from the age of 14 or 15 when I discovered the ‘being on stage’ experience. But life and its responsibilities shifted my focus to being an engineer and Harvard Business School alumnus. This led to many successful stints in the corporate world finally leading to the radio station network, 94.3 Radio One which I co-founded and ran as MD & CEO for over 12 years. We sold this business to a large media house in 2019 and only then for the first time did I have the time to dedicate solely to music.
However, I did approach this new music stage of my life with creativity, consistency and genre precision, thanks to my agent in the USA. This helped me secure a world record for the 9 number 1 singles in one year in 2021 and made me well-versed in almost every genre of global popular music on global radio. I am so grateful for the many Grammy submissions and learnings that have come from each one of them.
New Delhi is known for its diverse music scene. How has the city and its culture influenced your music and artistic style?
My geographical location has been Delhi NCR and that's it. My foray into global music has made me a citizen of the world and each genre of music that I have created has helped me understand a certain region of the world better. Being an English artist, it is important to understand genres, cultures and expression of the many music pockets in the world. Consciously I have been focussing on the global music trade. However, for the first time with my new single ‘Elevate’, I was able to enrich the sound with a distinct garnishing of an Indian semi-classical sound design, the song as a whole being very much a global pop song. My influences have largely been global music artists and of course I have immense respect for musicians that have taken Indian music to the global stage.
Your music covers various genres. Can you describe your creative process when it comes to songwriting and composing music that spans different styles?
When you create for a commercial purpose, the common thing outlining all genres is that the song must have ‘repeat listening value’, for it to be played on lakhs of radio stations around the world. So I create the chorus and hook of the song first and I work the hardest on this aspect. I then write the rest of the song around this chorus.
Each genre like Pop 40, Hip Hop, Retro Synth Pop, Adult contemporary, Rock, Country, Electro Dance & now World Music that I have created songs in, requires at first, to understand the emotive landscape of each genre. The lyrics and their delivery require the right diction for authenticity, for which I have received a lot of training. Then the technical aspects of recording, mixing and mastering kick in, for which also I have been trained.
Finally comes the video making process again which I have learnt. So not only was it about a multitude of genres but also how I could learn and become proficient in doing everything all by myself, so that I could keep costs low, thereby finding a way to sustain my music at a global scale.
Collaborations are common in the music industry. Is there a particular artist or musician you dream of collaborating with, and if so, what kind of project would you envision?
From the earlier artists I would love to collaborate with the lyrical greatness of Sting. From the current ones, I dream of a duet with Adele. I would love to sing a pop 40 funky song with Bruno Mars or do something ‘dancy’ with Dua Lipa. But there is one band I would love to join, a band that has stood the test of time which is Duran Duran. My vocal idols who I have tried to emulate in the earlier days of music, are all classic rockers like David Coverdale, Sammy Hagar & Ronnie James Dio.
Music often serves as a platform for social commentary. Are there any social or cultural issues that you feel strongly about and try to address through your music?
All my songs always have a strong undercurrent of optimism. It is the most needed thing socially, as our environment poses many challenges for every age group. In my new song ‘Elevate’ I have expressed the need for unity and harmony in a world that is constantly being subjected to division and polarisation. I think my music allows me first to mirror small motivational changes to myself and then that amplifies to the audience. I am not trying to change the world but I do try to give my listeners a positive energy pill, to consume, so that they can handle the world better!
In today's digital age, artists have more direct access to their fans. How has social media and streaming platforms affected your career, and how do you engage with your audience online?
The most desirable thing for an artist is to remove the middlemen and have direct contact with one’s audience. This is the essence of being an independent artist. The most crucial aspect for an artist is ‘discovery’ of new music and global radio is a powerhouse for that aspect. Streaming is the best method for ‘any time access’ of music that a person has already discovered. Social media is a marketplace to sell one’s persona, of course entwined with one’s creation. Each of these has its own role to play. The issue is everyone has access to all these things so it really boils down to 3 things. How is your core content different? How does it cater to a particular audience (You can’t target everyone)? And how does your artist profile amplify with your every achievement? An artist needs experts to help them with these 3 things. ‘Engagement’ is a reward for things done right and is not really an objective!
Talking about the digital age, your single 'Elevate' blends technology and artistry. Could you elaborate on the artistic choices you made in terms of lyrics, composition, and visual elements in the video?
Artistically I needed ‘Elevate’ to be distinct so that it is accepted in the global ethnic pop genre. Lyrically, I needed the words to be universal in their message of unity and harmony. Musically, I needed the sound to have a global sound design and yet stand out with touches of Indian semi-classical music. I am a technology geek so for the video I learnt the use of many AI software tools to bring to life the great teachers of unity and harmony, namely Mahatma Gandhi ji, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and others. Even In my earlier song ‘Run Run Run’, I used an immersive technique to bring the song, a new superhero Run Storm, a comic book to create a multiversal experience. Technology is the assistant that your creativity needs to take audience experiences to the next level.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the song, what does it signify, and what message or emotions are you trying to convey through this track?
Elevate is a simple call out to everyone to remember that the things that unite us all are far more important than the things that divide us. However it is very difficult to unite and very easy to polarise. I needed people to realise the beauty of unity and see how far they are moving from it, so that they can revert to that joyful state. Personally, this is the most moving song that I have written as it contains the goodness that I have learnt from my parents and the powerful teachings of the world’s most revered teachers of unity are also integrated into the meaning of the song. Music is the best way to fix a broken world and I am only doing my part!
Music often reflects personal experiences. Were there any personal anecdotes or stories that influenced the creation of this song?
I belong to a global minority community/ religion. However I feel that if I assimilate with the larger unified good, I feel stronger not isolating myself and that has held me in good stead with the world of listeners. Finally, we are all humans wanting to look after our families and live lives of dignity and happiness. We have to ‘elevate’ to that one-ness. That's the real only way to join and contribute to a human happiness movement
Live performances are a significant part of many artists' careers. Can you share some memorable experiences from your live shows or tours?
All my LIVE performances are really from before my professional foray into music. Live is truly mesmerising as you can feel the energy of your audience. However in this music ecommerce generation where it is possible to earn from your music in multiple ways, my artist management team has found it better for me to concentrate on music catalogue creation and monetization. There are many artists that we listen to but have never seen them LIVE. In fact that would apply to the majority of the artists we love. I do hope to one day be able to go back to performing LIVE but right now I have to focus on what is working for my music. LIVE is like the retail side of the music business. My strategy is more online and ecommerce led.
What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a music artist, and conversely, what are some of the challenges you face in the industry?
The most rewarding aspect of being an independent musician is to be able to express what you need to, when you need to. I have learnt so much in such little time from so many people across the world. For this I feel blessed. The challenges are that music is now a free commodity and just releasing music in a unidimensional manner cannot guarantee anything. You have to target better, be differentiated and disruptive and be consistent at it to make a mark. You also need many touch points for your music to increase its revenue potential. I don’t understand much about how Bollywood music functions. My experiences are more relevant to English artists in the global music space.
Many emerging artists look up to established musicians for guidance. What advice would you give to aspiring musicians, especially those trying to make a name for themselves in New Delhi's music scene?
My advice here would only be relevant to English music artists trying to make it on to a global stage. Firstly, and this is the hardest part, as I can tell you from personal experience... Be willing to believe that you would need to start from scratch and that you really know nothing about what truly works at a global scale on radio. That will open your mind to learn the trade from experts and what kind of creativity is needed to function in that global trade. Secondly, you need to upgrade your music, lyrical, singing & technical skills to match the quality of established label artists as played on global radio. This is a constant process from song to song and this consistency is critical. Thirdly, you need experts to help build your profile of achievements so that new doors open for you. All this is needed, if you want to make a mark in the commercial aspect of music. If you are making music for your soul and you really have no goals then you don't need any rules. Do what makes you happy!
What's in store for your future in music? Are there any upcoming projects or goals you'd like to share with your fans and the broader music community?
After a world record, multiple grammy submissions, topping the DRT mainstream charts, being listed on Billboard, European and World music charts AND having two books doing well on the Amazon charts, all in a period of 3 years - I want to step back for a little while and rejuvenate my creativity. I want to evaluate the good things I have done and the mistakes I have made and come back stronger in 2024. It is a dream to do a song in ‘Hindi’, my first professionally, but I need a powerful reason/motivation and subject to inspire me. I hope I find that soon! My message to everyone is find your motivations, your inspirations and keep writing good songs. Be consistent and the world will find you!