Till about a decade ago, the credits list of almost every music album that hit the stands stuck to a predictable formula- the music director and technicians were a pick from the small handful who were popular at the time, and the singers a standard mix of well-established constants ( how easy is it to pick an album from the 90s that did not feature the likes of SPB/Chitra?!). The unfamiliar and new names were as rare as they come.
Getting a break as a singer in the music industry involved tirelessly approaching the offices of music directors with sample recordings, hoping that the recording would somehow reach the ears of the director, make him take notice and impress him enough to actually reach out to the singer to offer him/her a chance to sing for his movie.
Given how slim the chances were for a full execution of this routine, the struggle to "get noticed" was almost as hard as establishing oneself as a popular name in the industry and eventually, amongst the audience.
And then a revolution happened that completely turned the tables - television channels entered the equation with a new variable called reality shows. They started out in the mid-90s as just music competitions that would give talented singers a media forum but the format rapidly grew very popular, attracting talent from across the country, who quickly became household favourites and catapulted to fame.
Remember the early days of Shreya Ghoshal at Zee TV's SaReGaMa and Chinmayi Sripada at Sun TV's Sapthaswarangal? Soon channels across languages came up with their own reality shows, vying with each other by involving eminent musicians in the field, roping in huge corporate sponsorships and introducing novelties like drawing winners on the basis on public voting, flying contestants abroad for finale performances, assuring winners playback opportunities (not to mention posh villas and hefty cheques).
Whether all this commercialization eventually tilted the flavour of these shows more towards glamour and showmanship than real projection of talent is a debate for another day. However, shows like Super Singer (Vijay TV), Star Singer (Asianet), Paadutha Theeyaga (ETV), Indian Idol (Sony) and many other talent hunts for singers have continued to remain the most popular shows on their respective channels right from the time they were introduced. Naturally, these shows have become a default pit-stop in the road map for singers aspiring to reach destination filmdom.
Jithin's song from Malayalam film Munthirivallikal Thalirkumbol.
Speaking to The News Minute, Jithin, runner-up at the show Indian Voice on the Malayalam channel, Mazhavil Manorama points out that since television viewers all over the world watch contestants perform through a season, for say 10-12 months, they become very invested in the capabilities of each singer.
This public visibility helps the singers by honing their performance skills and offering them numerous opportunities to perform in shows all over India and abroad, which is a significant step in their journey, both economically and in getting noticed.
Jithin has since gone on to sing popular songs for reputed music directors like D Imman in Tamil, Vidyasagar and Jayachandran in Malayalam. He feels that while these reality shows offer one an opportunity to showcase talent, a singer actually bagging chances to sing in films depends on many other factors like the voice timbre being suited to studio/playback singing (as against a live stage performance), his/her professional contacts in the industry, persistence in pursuing opportunities and not in the least, luck.
Anand Aravindakshan also echoes these thoughts, talking about his arduous efforts at gaining a solid foothold in the film music industry, till he shot to fame and emerged the title winner in the Tamil reality show Super Singer on Vijay TV last year.
Anand's song from Tamil film Kodi.
Though opportunities were aplenty, it is hard for a singer to catch and remain in the public eye by singing in just an album or two, with the mushrooming number of composers and singers.
Determined to further his musical journey, Anand decided to take the reality show route: “I feel that the audience reach that one can achieve through these shows is terrific, and it is gratifying to be widely recognized as a talent to reckon with, right from college-goers, people in remote villages in the state to reputed names in the industry.”
Some of the most well-established singers in the music circuit today, like Arijit Singh, Naresh Iyer, Neeti Mohan and Sunidhi Chauhan kickstarted their careers through Indian reality shows.
In addition to the obvious popularity that comes with these shows, Anand also reflects that if a singer can manage to be grounded through the process, the learning is tremendous.
"There is something to admire in every co-contestant that motivates you. Above all, it pushes you to explore your own strengths. For instance, being a trained carnatic vocalist, I always thought that classical singing was my forte, but the show made me realise that my vocal expression in songs was my biggest asset,” he says.
Considering most of these shows cycle round the year, with a new crop of talent emerging season after season, how does one sustain the limelight? The key lies in leveraging social media and YouTube; going "viral" on social media has become an accepted parameter of success, and blitz plays almost as big a role as talent.
Anand, who recently released a unique acapella piece that went viral, agrees that this is a reality in the music scene as well. While reality shows are a great stepping stone, if a singer wants to remain in the radar of the public and the industry, s/he needs to constantly stay on top of the game by coming up with creative, unique experiments in music.
"As a musician, my bottom-line aspiration is to be a better musician tomorrow than I am today, but that progress is largely fuelled by acknowledgement, appreciation and encouragement of my effort and talent, and in that regard, my reality show journey has been life changing,” he concludes.