I was born in a place in the world where Michael Jackson never knew he had an enormous following. To a point where he probably would have the greatest fan ever. Thriller was the first cassette I ever bought and “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Thriller” made me feel that music can be magic. In fact, when my daughter was born, Billie Jean was the first thing I played in her ear.
I started playing piano when I was 12 but in Karachi, Pakistan less than 0.2% households have piano or any form of keyboards so to say. So I was fortunate to find a friend in school who knew how to play and during recess time I used to practice the lessons he gave me. I used to hide my Casio PT-10 in my bag and played Air Wolf and Knight Rider. I used to wonder what the lyrics of Billie Jean actually were and used to sing in gibberish as there were no yearbooks, no Google but an unfathomable love for the craft of MJ.
Later I picked up guitar too but all my life even before piano I used to sing at the house and school parties. While I was sitting at Bangkok Airport on June 10th, 2009 I was wondering what I was looking forward too going back home and this idea struck of recording Billie Jean in rock. We recorded and it was an instant hit across the globe. Thanks to YouTube.
Mysteriously, MJ passed away on June 25th and I was asked by many people to record a full length rock tribute, which I did and is available on all online stores.
1.) What made you want to get into the music business in the first place?
I loved music. I used to sing even before I spoke properly, that’s what my elders told me. Then I learned the piano and guitars. I am a professional copywriter and poet so it became easy to write songs. And I had no reason to look back and not convert my potential into 10x.
2.) Did anyone influence you to do music?
Pakistan despite its shortcomings, has tremendous musicians, artists, singers, rare and distinct. We had a fraternity at Tariq Road, which produced some top stars of the industry. These friends directly and indirectly inspired me to take it seriously. Besides that I like MJ, Phil Collins, and Bryan Adams. I was fortunate enough to meet Adams who gave me his guitar plectrum after he heard me screaming his songs at top of my lungs from the crowd. He came up to me and that was deja vu.
3.) Role Models?
There are numerous and incredible. Yet I firmly believe that some of the greatest musicians never see the limelight. Some of the greatest singers are out there on the streets and those are my role models. They do it solely for the love of music and nothing to do with showmanship.
4.) Unfortunately the music industry is full of talented individuals who just don’t get any recognition for their talent and/or work. What do you plan to do to make sure you stand out and get noticed?
Actually, after spending so much time studying the scenario I firmly believe that audio is a two way process. Irrespective of how talented you are, you can’t change the world simply playing in your garage, bedroom or basement.
You need to put your artistry in the line of fire and out there to gauge its potential. You need to adjust and align your talent with the norms of the market. MJ had six flopped solo albums with Motown who wouldn’t let him produce things his own way.
The moment he shifted with Song and Quincy, things turned around. The lesson is go big – smaller pie of a big amount is still more that 100% of anything.
Fortunately, these days we have social media at our disposal to connect with our audience. I sing my songs on Facebook live just like the guy in the subway. I feel proud to be able to share my talent and art.
Likewise, the new business model of online radios and music stores provide complete autonomy to artists and independency in terms of creativity. Anybody can afford a studio, release his album and collect all royalties.
There was never a time better than this. Music is part art and part physics – these two make good business. Unfortunately, we are drifting more into physics and business than art. That’s where the gap is and that’s where every now and then a new artist scores.
5.) Would you rather be on a major label or would you rather stay independent? Why or why not?
Well I have released one of my albums with Universal Music India and the other with my independent label. The question remains what is effective. I would say it is all about advertising and putting your stuff out there. Making it reach the people. Fortunately, today we have many tools such as YouTube and Facebook to showcase our talent. Good thing is music is both advertising and a product. So if you believe in your stuff it’s win/win if you promote it good.
Having a label that doesn’t do anything to promote your stuff is as good as having your deal. The shelf life has decreased in this phone driven music age.
6.) Do you think that the traditional music industry model as we know it is dead? Why or why not?
It is dead in a way. That we rarely come across old artists still giving hits. In terms of creativity we are still stuck in 1965, 1988 and 1991. The three years where music culminated its peak. Mid 60s with Elvis, Beatles and Hendrix. While 80s brought us Sting, GnR, Metallica, George Michael and of course MJ. While early 90s gave us Nirvana, Pearl Jam and roots to Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against The Machine and System of a Down. Beyonce and Bruno Mars are still an extension of MJ movement.
If you look at them, you will see that oldies are still getting shows such as Elton John, Madonna, Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper. I also want to blame the hard-drive based vs. spool based warm recordings. The new music misses the dynamic range, the vibe and just that metaphysical touch so that’s why people still recycle Beatles, Led Zepplin and Stevie Wonder. People are making money but in the industry if you look at what the Grammys, they are facing the same downturn that it once saw in the early 80s before Off The Wall. Post Donna Summers things looks really bleak.
7.) How do you think the internet and social media affected the music industry and how musicians are able to market themselves?
It’s a great thing. On one hand the artist has to be isolated to create original stuff but on a level he/she must strike a balance as to what is needed to strike that magical note or chord. So new media definitely plays that role. And there is no reason to not utilize it. That’s the reason Akon has more followers on social media than Obama and Trump.
8.) What is the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in life and has that had any effect on your path to becoming a musician?
I have sacrificed a lot. I have paid a huge psychological price. I severed my ties with people who obstructed my path emotionally, financially and/or professionally. But I grew. I believe in order to make new connections, you need to let go of some of the useless ones to maintain the bandwidth. There were people who wanted me to live the 9-5 safe life. I proved them wrong with my perseverance and here I am still going strong talking to you. Recently set up my own studio facility which I can access anytime. It’s at my disposal, I worked for it and I got it. I don’t have to wait for a studio owner to give me a go ahead – after I pay his booking fee and cut loose my creativity. I used to save tips from my Front Desk job at Sheraton so I could record songs. Those days are gone. And I will never be hungry again. I lived 5 years in a downtown hotel because my family wouldn’t subscribe to my ambitions, I let so many partners go just because they wanted to own my artist. Here I am now with a wonderful person and kids who loves me exactly for who I am and not what they want me to be. I provide them all they need and want but with no guilt or opportunity cost. Life has become a paid vacation.
9.) Artists who try to make music for the general public and make more money are usually seen as “sell-outs.” Do you see it that way and if so, what do you plan to do to make sure you make music that is true to your brand and make a good living at the same time without having to “sell out”?
Music is really a very crude and very realistic art form. In the sense that it doesn’t require much on the side of the audience to embrace it. For me artists should be like Lenny Kravitz and Prince – who did their own thing yet became mainstream. It is all about ideas and as long as you have good production ideas that click and are also creative than anybody can become the next Adele. But that requires determination, conviction, dedication and a mindset of freedom. Or else you can burn out like MJ, Prince, George Michael or Chris Cornell – in the end art is bigger than the artist. There are artists who are like Gaga – creative, experimental, audacious and still sellable. It is a marketing and hype link but most of these days provide perishable material. Both in terms of bands and solo artists. The industry must create legends with every release and music carries a huge metaphysical responsibility to touch the lives of people. For some selling the tours is as important as selling records – the experience should be out of body. Every time, you play the same record, that’s tough but that makes sure songs never go old.
10.) When you do music, what would you like your listeners to get out of your music?
Points to ponder. Feel the gravity of chords and reciprocity of words with music. That’s what I want them to feel. I want to be able to transit them through the same emotional journey I had to weather to create this song. This joyride I want them to come with me; every time I render the song is something of unique essence. I am sure not many people feel this way both as artists and listeners. That’s why I think I am a lost soul of the hippie era, the mid 60’s, and the love revolution in the Summer of 69, the summer of love.