Composer and playback singer Nakul Abhyankar is widely known for his songs 'Love You Chinna' and 'Janumagale Kaayuve' from the Kannada hit Love Mocktail. The sequel to the film is underway, In an interview to Alekhya Devarakonda, he speaks about the song 'Ninadene Januma' from Love Mocktail 2, due for release on February 14 (Valentine's Day), his music-making process and working with the stars. Excerpts.
What does music mean to you and what is your favourite genre?
Music means everything to me. I used to be an engineer, but quit that profession and turned to music. I love classical music. Listening to masterpieces composed two centuries ago is inspiring. That music resonates with me.
How and when did you take that leap to becoming a musician?
Music was always a part of my life. As a kid I dreamt of becoming a singer or music director. It was a vague dream, because no one in my family is connected to the film industry. During my engineering days, I participated in TV reality shows such as ZEE Saregamapa in Kannada and Hindi. I won the competition in Kannada and stood ninth in the Hindi show.
Winning that show and the support of family and friends encouraged me. I got calls from music directors for a song or two, and this gave me the idea that I could do something in music. Also, I leaned more towards music than an office routine, and I took the leap.
You've worked with AR Rahman for 'Thumbi thullal' in Cobra, starring Vikram. What did you take back from that experience?
Working with Rahman Sir is like undertaking a new exercise every day. He's someone who is always updated with the latest. It's a great experience to watch him work. He is very friendly and if you make a mistake, he's there to point it out and teach you. He is very supportive of youngsters and likes to hang out with young people and teach them.
What brief do you take from a director when you're composing for a film?
As soon as I am on board a project, the first thing I ask for is the story. What are the characters like, how do they behave, what are the song situations they are looking for — these are things I ask them. Some directors give you complete freedom, some give references with respect to the theme or mood, and some others who know music are particular about the genre of the song.
Every movie is an experiment, and I don't follow any particular method of working. Like I said, the story is the deal. That helps me understand the film and its perspective. I believe in creating songs that matter to the story.
How do you deal with any creative differences with directors?
Well, if you want to become a music director, you leave behind your ego and focus on the music. Music is about perception, and it varies from person to person. If I visualise music in a certain way, it's because I see it that way. If a director's vision is different, I will try to create pieces that match those expectations. If my gut feeling tells me my version will work, I would try convincing the director. Because, it's not just some scenes in a song, it's about the film being in sync. All this is discussed much ahead, and we finetune things later.
You've received a lot of recognition for your singing for Frozen 2. How important is the crooning, chorus and hums for a song or background score?
They are very important because they strongly speak about the character of the film. Chorus is used in every song. I somehow feel the audience generally connects better to voices than instrumental music. The combination of a voice with meaningful words has far greater impact than an instrumental track. A musician or a music enthusiast might appreciate the music piece in a particular scene, but the audience always remembers a song.
How do you think the emergence of online music streaming platforms has changed the music industry?
The competition has become tougher now. There is extra pressure to compose something really effective so that a song stands out. Every day, thousands of songs are released. Unlike the earlier days when we had to wait for CDs, the enthusiasm of waiting for an album is gone. Also, the retention of a song on a streaming platform is very short. Technology too has changed the way we mix and match songs, because every two months, the trend changes. It's a great challenge to stay up to date.
On top of all this, musicians now also need to be entrepreneurs. One needs to know how digital platforms work, how views and money flow, how one can get maximum reach for a song. All this used to be unnecessary for an artiste. Now, they are mandatory.
What was the idea behind launching Logic Pro X Made Easy on YouTube?
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, upcoming singers and musicians couldn't go to studios. Since I had some free time, I thought I could put out some hacks that help people record themselves better. I am self-taught and know exactly where people go wrong. Instead of them learning from their mistakes and going through the difficulties I did, I thought I could give back to people through this. I got a good response for the videos.
You sing across languages. Do you think it is essential to understand the lyrics before one sings?
Yes, it is very important. Unless I know what the words mean, I won't be able to deliver the exact feel or might end up mispronouncing the word or stress on the wrong consonant. Generally, lyricists are present during recording and they explain the meaning of the song and take care of the little things.
What would your list of commandments be for someone trying to break into the film music scene?
Firstly, knowing music and being knowledgeable is very important. Being aware of technology and things related to programming are needed too. Understanding the perspective of the music director or producer is vital. Keep your ego aside. Update yourself about trends. Be punctual and respect a commitment.
What do you enjoy the most about music — being a listener, a singer, a composer or a music director?
Listening comes first, but I equally enjoy being all of them. Initially, when I took the plunge into music, my only aim was to be recognised as a complete musician. I don't want to be slotted. That said, I see myself as a musician whose predominant instrument is his voice.