Kamakshi Khanna is a 28-year-old singer and songwriter from Delhi. In 2015, she was one of the top six contestants on India’s first English singing reality show, ‘The Stage’, and has since also released a few Hindi tracks in ‘Duur’, ‘Qareeb’, and ‘Taare’. Kamakshi’s warm dulcet tones are a product of immense love and care for her craft, having spent the last 14 years learning music. The artist, who began as a choir singer, completed a solo tour of the US in 2017, and has also collaborated with well-renowned artists from across the country, including Karsh Kale, Tarana Marwah, Euphoria, Tejas Menon and several others. In this interview with Art Beat, she shares a little bit about her process, and a few ever-relevant nuggets of wisdom, like how making music that takes care of the bills will only help you write that song you really love.
Art Beat (AB): You started your career in Delhi, how has that helped you get to where you are today?
Kamakshi Khanna (KK): I’m very happy and grateful that I started in Delhi, and I keep going back. It’s still my home, a place where I feel rooted as an artist and Delhi has a very strong community of artists. When I was growing up, there was something called Artistes Unlimited, where a bunch of artists would sing and perform together at these massive productions. If I wasn’t from Delhi, and if I hadn’t made those connections or been around those people, I don’t know if I would be motivated and happy doing what I do now. That’s why your roots really matter in your artistic process, because where you are is where you make your connections. Without collaborating with people and learning from those around you, art can be really boring.
AB: Has it become easier than ever before to start a career in music?
KK: If you are a musician and you want to release your content to the world, everything is so accessible now. Anyone can record music at home and put it on Spotify or Apple Music. I had this really interesting conversation with an Uber driver who heard me singing. He told me that he’s a musician as well and that he would dedicate two hours every day to writing music on his phone, using an app. He would pick a movie and write a musical score for it as if it were his own! That was really cool. He may not have had the resources, but he used whatever resources he had. You never know what hits off, you can put one video on Instagram and people spot you and want to work with you. But at the same time, there’s so much information floating around. The kind of attention that music used to get, where people would wait months for an album, is something our generation experienced but now it’s just, “Yeah cool, next, next”. It’s become hard to hold on to something, which is sad for the music and entertainment industry.
AB: How did you go about making music that a larger Indian audience would appreciate?
KK: As an artist, I don’t know what will appeal to the audience. I’ve been in situations where I put something out and thought that it will be really well liked, and I’ve been surprised by how people responded.
In Bollywood, you might love Arijit Singh’s music, but you don’t know how many composers, lyricists, producers, mixing engineers, the whole army that went into making that song. There are formulas to making a hit – put together a really cool beat, four bars of intro, chorus, and it’ll be a hit song, that’s a fact. They have algorithms for best songs and templates for making hits, it’s a very different process that’s really thinking about audience appeal in a calculated way.
As an artist, and I cannot stress this enough, it’s really, really important to love everything you put out there. If you do that, then people will see that you like what you do and that energy will transfer to the audience. I go without any expectations and people often end up liking a song different than the one I thought they would, which is how I’ve been finding music that appeals to the audience.
AB: Have house concerts been a boon to independent artists?
KK: When you’re at a venue, you’re motivated to have a drink and meet people. There’s lots of freedom to move and you’re not really as attentive. But in a house, it’s so personal, so intimate. That’s why I love house concerts. I feel like I’ve connected the most with people at house parties in the last two years. People can listen to every line in the song, I can even hear people laughing at some parts of the song.
With someone like a Prateek Kuhad, you can go big and throw a huge concert. But how do you familiarize people with newer artists coming up? That’s where curated events and house concerts come in.
AB: How do you strike a balance between creative fulfillment and making music that pays the bills?
KK: I feel most artists go through this struggle of balancing work you do because you love it and work you do to pay the bills and feed your stomach. There’s this whole idea of ‘making it’, you know. The one rule I have for myself is that I feel I’ve made it if I’m doing something I love, paying my bills, and I’m still able to love it at the end of the day. It’s as simple as that. There are some things you do because you love them, and there are some things you do to pay the bills. There’s a lot of work that you may not feel as creatively fulfilling personally but you need to be able to put that investment into your music. A lot of times you have to do it because it’ll help you write the song that you love.
The one rule I have for myself is that I feel I’ve made it if I’m doing something I love, paying my bills, and I’m still able to love it at the end of the day.
AB: How does having a manager help you and your process?
KK: When I started, I didn’t have a manager. I released my first EP independently and I’m glad I did that. Even if I had really good management, I don’t think I would’ve learnt how things work as well as I did without them. Understanding the business side was really fun for me – what does it take to release your music, how do you reach out to people, how do you draft emails. I kind of managed myself as an artist and people showed up!
I started working with Big Bad Wolf after I went to this show called ‘The Stage’, that’s when people got to know about me and recognized me. It really changed the game for me as an artist. I now have so much time to think about my art and not really worry about things like coordination, planning etc. I also don’t feel as alone as you do when you’re trying to do everything on your own. It can be tricky sometimes, as if you’re losing control of your artistry a little bit entrusting someone else with it, which is not easy to do when you’re so attached to your work. No one’s going to care more about your work than you, someday your fans will, but till then you’re still the person who has to love and care the most for what you do. I think it’s highly recommended to find a good manager to help you through the process. That’s the whole point of management, to guide you through the process, not just book you gigs. They manage you as a whole.
No one’s going to care more about your work than you, someday your fans will, but till then you’re still the person who has to love and care the most for what you do.
AB: Which direction do you want to see the music industry heading in?
KK: I want my parents to see that it’s possible for an independent artist to get more than ten thousand people to come for a gig. It’s tough, it takes a lot of work and a lot of patience to get there, but it’s possible. At some point, it was literally a fact that if you’re not doing Bollywood, you won’t become successful. But there are people who have broken that rule, who challenged these perspectives. Now, people are not as excited about an International Artist coming and performing in English as much as they are interested in seeing some of their own perform – think Divine, Prateek Kuhad, Rajakumari. India is a superpower when it comes to art and it has the potential to have everyone’s attention in the world, I really believe in that.