A deep conversation/QnA session with Prabhtoj Singh (Producer//Singer-Songwriter) as The Showrunners exclusive pick of the week
I know the time when I met Prabhtoj for the first time. I can proudly say a fact that Prabhtoj is a people’s man. He knows how to make his way out in any given situation and his witty behavior is what makes him a chiller. He’s one of the most talented and versatile musicians I know in town. Prabhjot is a hustler and determined musician who sets an example of hard work. Today we’ll be taking a deep look into his life and musical journey. I hope you will enjoy this conversation.
1. Tell us about your early days of music? How did you start getting into music? Also a little bit about your school life?
I started out as a singer when I was 6 years old. I sang in the school choir and that’s my first ever musical experience as far as I can recall. I continued casually singing over the years, mostly to myself until I joined Tagore international school in 2007. I started learning guitar in 2008 and that’s when my interest grew into music even more. I remember struggling to play ‘Let it be’ by The Beatles when my music teacher realised I could sing well and he gave me a chance to sing for the school band. I started exploring rock music for the first time and started winning a lot of school competitions with my band. I was awarded the best vocalist award at M-Xtasy, Modern School Vasant Vihar 4 times in a row every year till 2011. All those competitions gave me confidence to sing and learn more music and take it even more seriously.
My school has the biggest role to play in my musical journey and all the music that I discovered during that time shaped my early musical knowledge. My school life was mostly about sports and music and extra curricular activities. I was also fortunate to have role models like Suhail Yusuf Khan (Advaita), Them clones etc who were my school seniors and inspired me to work harder.
2. Tell us about your experience and the hustle of being an established part of the Delhi music scene? What’s the difference b/w that time and the current music scene according to you?
I think I have been hustling ever since 2011–12. I didn’t realise it at that point in time. I was just going to a lot of gigs, trying to understand and learn what the scene was all about and mostly because I liked certain Indie bands like Them clones, Five8, Advaita, Adil and Vasudhara etc. My experience with Musoc, the music society of Kirori Mal college taught me a lot in my college years. Being associated with some of the best musicians in DU helped me push my endeavours further in the music scene of Delhi. I was working for three acts simultaneously. My singer-songwriter band, The Copycats and Evenodd which is a prog-rock act.
Attending a lot of gigs built my network wider. Music is a very social thing I feel and networking is an important aspect of it. I only realised this a couple of years back when I was looking back at my journey. I started managing my band and started getting a lot of shows after college. We weren’t very picky about our shows earlier and performed a lot of shows back in the day. Our performance rates also kept rising with our increasing popularity both in the club and wedding scene. Hence I was fortunately able to make a place for myself in the Delhi music scene.
There is a visible difference in the music scene for sure. More and more musicians are taking up music as a full-time job. With the increasing number of venues and opportunities, there was a point when I could give up my teaching jobs and focus entirely on my music and my other bands.
I somehow feel that there were more bands committed to playing their original songs back in the day. There is a bigger demand for cover bands sadly and you’ll find a cover band at almost every venue. Especially when it comes to the Bollywood/Sufi cover bands, the market is saturated.
Most of the musicians I knew who were playing their original music have stopped playing their music live because of the lack of musical appreciation in today’s time. This generation is happy with covers and that’s what venues are also demanding. That’s why we need more venues like The Piano Man Jazz Club, the only place in town where I can play my own music without getting pressured to play covers by the organisers or the audience.
3. How did you learn music? Did you attempt any formal music education? What’s your take on the importance of music education and how it helps?
I learned music mostly from the internet and books I found at the music school where I was learning and later started teaching at. I took some lessons at Aria music and theatre conservatory when I was a teenager. I also learned vocal techniques from Chayan Adhikari and Vasundhara Vee. I learned guitar from my friends and mostly through the internet.
All these lessons were informal in a way.
Music education is highly important if you plan to take up music as a profession. It makes the entire process of learning and communicating your ideas to other musicians much easier as well as exploring beyond what you already know much simpler. Music education enhances your skills and also encourages you to write and think more maturely. Most importantly, I feel it enables you to think more creatively and present ideas that are original and not recycled. For me, learning is a never ending process and I’m always excited to learn new things in the world of music.
4. You’ve been brainstorming a lot with music production lately. Please describe how was the entire process and experience of producing Collier’s ‘Moon River’?
Yes, I’ve been exploring music production for the last few years. Ever since I did my certificate crash course in music production from SACAC, I’ve been more inclined towards producing music on my own.
Producing a Jacob Collier cover sounded like a nice challenge during the lockdown. For the first time in a lot of years, I felt I wasn’t bound by time so I dived right into it. So here’s how I did it. Firstly, I did not transcribe it by myself. I found the transcription by June lee on YouTube. I downloaded it and started writing down the notes over it. Then I played it on the piano and saved the midi as a reference for tracking over it.
I tracked my vocals on it and by the time it came to mixing about 100 tracks, I was already exhausted. It took me a few more days to mix and experiment with the track as it was my first time mixing so many tracks together. The project taught me a lot of things about acapella production and how to streamline the entire process. I was happy to learn a lot of nuanced arrangement ideas and stacking chords over one another to get such a dense harmonic structure. It always sounded alien to my ears before but now I feel like I’ve internalised some of those ideas.
5. Being a Singer-Songwriter yourself, How do you approach your writing process? Also, We often see the word ‘Singer-Songwriter’ losing its essence and respect. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t really have a set method to write songs. Whatever comes naturally to me, I try to preserve and present it using my influences and ideas that come along the way. Most of the time it’s a feeling or a thought that I feel an urge to write about. And sometimes it’s just a musical idea, a groove, a progression or even a sound that influences me to write. I end up writing lyrics most of the time and then I come up with chord progressions and rhythms that would suit the aesthetic of my lyrical mood. Melody usually comes in later. At times I’ve also written songs when I had just the melody and some words in my head. So basically, anything can come first in terms of Melody, harmony, rhythm, lyrics or sounds. I try to keep my music true to my nature essentially and as I’m growing, I feel I’m less afraid to sound vulnerable or stupid with my songs.
I don’t really see the phrase singer-songwriter losing its respect anywhere. Of Course, there are a lot of upcoming singer-songwriters in the scene now and everyone thinks they can probably write a hit song with simple chords and lyrics. But most people don’t realise that songwriting is also an art and people can’t keep recycling progressions and productions all the time. For eg. a lot of songwriters want to sound like Prateek Kuhad these days. All this leads to saturation where everyone starts sounding the same. So I feel that’s why ‘singer-songwriter’ has become synonymous with a certain kind of sound and some people are kinda bored of listening to music presented in that over-saturated manner over and over again.
Q6. Are you writing any new music? Tell us about your favorite collaborations in the past?
Yes, I’m currently writing and producing some new songs in my studio. My new song ‘Lovesick Puppy’ is coming out on 25th July 2020. I got to collaborate with my friend Aman Sagar aka A.S.J. on this one.
Recently I collaborated with Sanjeeta Bhattacharya on her latest song Everything’s fine as an arranger and producer which has reached 30K+ streams on Spotify. I have been exploring different genres like Bossa Nova, Folk and Rnb music with her and we are planning to release some more songs in the future.
7. What’s on your playlist these days? Tell us about your current influences and Any top 10 albums you would like to recommend?
My playlist has the following artists these days.
Jacob Collier, Bruno Major, Maro, Theo Katzman, Vulfpeck Adam Melchor, Dirty Loops, Tom Misch, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Lianne La Havas, 1975, Guthrie Govan, Hiatus Kaiyote and Kacey Musgraves.
Top albums I’d recommend :
Djesse vol 1 & 2 — Jacob Collier
In my room — Jacob Collier
A song for every moon — Bruno Major
To let a good thing die — Bruno Major
Sound Awake — Karnivool
Geography — Tom Misch
Freudian — Daniel Caesar
Golden Hour — Kacey Musgraves
Heartbreak Hits — Theo Katzman
It’s OK — Maro
8. What do you generally promote through your craft? How did music affect your life and what’s your definition of living a life with music?
I try to promote self-expression and ideas through my craft. If my songs are relatable and bring a smile to people’s faces, I feel like I have fulfilled my purpose and also expressed myself at the same time. Music gave me a purpose, life goals and a medium to express things I cannot express by just talking about it. Music also helped me bring out the best in myself and also helped through my worst. I like to learn and grow both as a person and as an artist.
Music encourages me to learn, grow and keep on chasing my dreams. Even my religion seems to propagate that. I’m a Sikh and that literally translates to being a student. I feel like you can express anything through music, from the simplest to the most complex thoughts and emotions. I’m not bound by any genre or style. Every genre/style has something to offer and I love experiencing every kind of style/genre. It’s like experiencing life. There’s a lot to discover and experience both in the realms of music and human life and I enjoy doing that. Never stop chasing your dreams, that’s the motto I live by.
9. If you have a chance to change or improve a few things about musicians in India, what would you like to improve/change?
I would emphasize on quality music education firstly. There is a lot of talent in India but it needs to be nurtured well. You’ll find more privileged sections of the society doing well in the independent music scene while the less privileged spend half of their lives trying to figure out how to even make money out of music. Music education that transcends class and privilege is what we need. There is a lot of potential in the artists of our country and we need to provide them with resources and exposure to realize their actual potential. All of this starts at the grassroots level. Better music education in public and private schools can bring a big change.
I would love it if there were more venues and festivals that supported live original music as well so that musicians would not lose the inspiration/drive to make original music in our country.
10. (Last question) Any message would you like to give to the musicians before signing off on this interview?
I believe music is a powerful form of expression. It is not a sport. It’s not a race. Don’t get too caught up in competing lol. If you’re wise enough you’d probably understand the point I’m trying to make here. Be ambitious, keep learning and practicing, and never forget why you started doing music in the first place. Whatever your reasons may be, it will always guide you and keep you grounded and firm in your journey. Keep exploring, encouraging and supporting your peers in the industry as well :)
A soulful singer and a blazing performer, Prabhtoj Singh has become increasingly popular in the Independent music circles of New Delhi. Known for the past 6 years for his involvement in projects such as PAN!C, EVENODD, The CopyCats, That 80’s Project, Yellow Brick Project, and House of Symphony with whom he played numerous concerts and club shows, Prabhtoj Singh is now regarded more and more for his skills as a songwriter and performer with a unique presence. Blending together skills that come naturally to him, Prabhtoj’s live act combines singing, dance, and a musical arrangement that is at once commercial and very artistic. This has proven to be a win for many brands that have chosen to associate with him such
as Jabong, Ballentines, Fosters, etc.
Owing to his command over many styles, Prabhtoj is often the first choice for tribute shows such as those hosted by 94.3 Radio One. He has also been invited to collaborate on studio projects and live shows by many independent artists like Vasundhara V, Them Clones, Five8, Red Mawkin, Advaita, Think Floyd, etc. Prabhtoj also mentors and teaches younger musicians, ensembles, and choirs across the city.
It was my pleasure to do a round of such an informative and insightful QnA session. I hope it helps and inspires every musician in any aspect of music.
That’s it for today. See you soon with another amazing musician in our next edition of The Showrunners exclusive pick of the week.