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The press release of Shaan’s latest song ‘Sniper’ alerts us that this will mark the reintroduction of the singer. The video of ‘Sniper’ explains what this might mean. Shaan is a gangster in a bath robe, he’s at a pool party, there are bikini-clad women having a good time, and he’s rapping in Punjabi. The singer explains that a part of the shock value of the video is to tell people he’s 48 and can still pull it off. And yet, there are some things he won’t change. “I may have made a video with girls in swim suits. But there are certain lines I won’t cross. I won’t belittle women in the lyrics. I have a certain integrity within which I’ll play it,” he says. 

There was a time in the early 2000s when Shaan was a symbol of the new wave in Hindi music. He had a successful career as a solo pop artist as well as a playback singer in Bollywood. Today, a fresh new talent in music also needs to be a social media influencer. At times this qualification may prove to be more vital than being a great singer.

We speak to Shaan about how he views this trend and creating a space for his kind of music with his own label.

The press release says that your song Sniper will re-introduce you in a never seen before avatar. Why did you feel you needed a reintroduction?

Oh, no no. I think I meant reinvention. People have been seeing me for so many years but never in a gangster look. Even audio wise, I haven’t done a Punjabi pop song in a long time. It’s a new avatar, maybe not a reintroduction. And this is a one off. It doesn’t mean I’ll only make Punjabi songs from now on. I am 48. I am having fun. And this video is a statement of sorts, that I can also put out something like this.

Was the video your idea?

I got conned into it! So when we made the audio, we made it like a hip hop Punjabi song, the kinds that do well nowadays. But it wasn’t done to  create a music video. I have my own YouTube channel and I thought soft romantic songs will keep coming. There should be something in there that’s disruptive. I was already shooting another music video for one of my other songs, and then before I knew it the (pool party) set up for this one was also ready. I guess I got a little carried away. But there wasn’t much planning. I just went with the flow. 

Everyone said this looks like someone else and I thought that’s great. I wanted to break the box. People today are happy to see the same things over and over again but as an artist it can get boring. When I put out the teaser for ‘Sniper’ I got a lot of comments saying ‘Shaan ji toh romantic gaana sunaate hain. Why do you need to do this’. And this is exactly why I wanted to (do this video). Why should I do the same thing over and over again?

A phrase a lot of artists use nowadays is ‘staying relevant’. It seems to be something everyone is battling with. What does it take to stay relevant? 

It starts with you accepting what is happening at the moment. You can’t get into that zone where you only talk about the past and look at everything today negatively, where you’re only looking down or disputing what is happening. See, of course, there are things that I would want vocalists today to not fall trap to. In the sense there is a certain energy that’s lacking in the singing. But at the same time what is working for the audience you cannot completely dismiss. You have to accept it and put your own spin on it. I don’t want to be a sellout and do whatever is relevant and not have my take on it. 

I am at a point in my life where they call me Shaan sir. That respect has become like an RIP respect. They don’t want to listen to anything you’ve done in the past 10 years, they just want to stick on to ‘Tanha Dil’ and ‘Chaand Sifarish’. They want to slot you in there and I want to break out of there.

Over the past few years, whenever you read interviews of people from the music industry, there’s a sense of disillusionment that comes through. Disillusionment with labels not giving composers a free hand, remixes, pressure to hit views… the list goes on. What is your sense of this? 

There are people who are doing the business of music and there are people who are doing music for creative satisfaction, and if you try to do both these things you’re going to feel disillusioned. There are many people who are still figuring out how to make money out of music because it’s become a free commodity. Streaming apps and YouTube are free. People on the business end are looking at sheer numbers and nothing else. So when they look at an artist – they see this person as an influencer on social media. So it’s not about the artist bringing in credibility as a performer but his or her social media clout that will bring views. They don’t care how good or bad you are. They are only looking at returns. 

So now when an artist is expecting a creative brief from the label, you will be disillusioned. When the model was about CDs and buying your music, it was very different. You didn’t need numbers but value addition to music to sell those CDs. 

Music companies that are being called mafias and the like, but don’t think it’s anything personal. Most of them are not public companies.  They are owned by individuals who run that company. So they think, ‘if I’m going to spend so many crores on building an artist why not invest it in my family? Why not make my wife and sister artists?’ And there is no point in complaining about this because it’s their money. 

That’s why I am putting out music from Shaan music – my own label. I am my own production house and publishing company. I don’t need to sit and bicker and complain about what’s going on. I know I can’t bring in the kind of views a music company can because they have that kind of clout. When you sell a commodity at wholesale rates you get better deals. we as artists are selling it like retailers. 

How have you processed analytics? You now know who is listening to your song, from which pocket of the country, what age group… Is this a bane or a boon? 

You can process it but to get a formulaic plan out of the process is next to impossible. You’ve got to keep trying stuff and then go back into the insights and see what TG (target group) have I gained, what have I lost. I’m loving this process. It’s brilliant. That’s the beauty of digital. 

But do you incorporate the findings into what you make next? 

Honestly, very little. It’s just fun. It’s just good to know what’s going on. See for a 20-something who is a discovery artist on YouTube and whose audience is between 16-24, people really relate to them. And these are personas, not just a voice. Like say an Armaan Malik or Darshan Raval. What happens is that they become your pop icons. People want to know what they are posting on social media, what they are eating… Now I am at a point in my life where they call me Shaan sir. That respect has become like an RIP respect. They don’t want to listen to anything you’ve done in the past 10 years, they just want to stick on to ‘Tanha Dil’ and ‘Chaand Sifarish’. They want to slot you in there and I want to break out of there. 

A lot of youngsters feel that youth is something to do with your age. But i think you can do anything as long as you can pull it off. I don’t want to come across as a dirty old man who is trying to act cool and leching at young girls. That’s obviously disgusting… But I feel young and at the peak of my human existence. 

I think it’s an open secret now that you can’t take YT views at face value. The label is putting money to push videos. Doesn’t this breed delusion among artists? How do they know if their work is actually good when it can be manipulated. Today every artist has a PR company. It’s a given. When this trend started I was pretty active. I made a conscious decision that I don’t want personal PR. I know when an article comes I haven’t paid for it. 

You’re talking about paid media coverage?

Yes, people spend a lot on this. So an artist coming out today feels like this is a part of the strategy. But it’s fake. You know you’ve paid for it, then how do you go out and say people love me? I mean, an artist saying I wanted to set a record for the fastest views so I paid for it… How does this make any sense?  

What’s next in your re-invention plans?

I’m very open to things. You never know what is next. I go with the flow. I’m not pro active. Life is too short. I want to enjoy.

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