Appearance: it’s important, but not everything.

Written by on in India

Namaste, Dear Music Lover,

Appearance. We all have various states of appearance and the other meaning of the word that refers more generally to visibility, meaning showing up to be seen (and/or heard) somewhere.

Singers appear at various places for varied reasons: rehearsal or practice rooms for learning and preparation (these can be in one’s home or elsewhere), at private or public events (performances/shows). Not implying this is news, Dear Music Lover.

Countless private studios exist for musicians to track in a pro studio setting; now on something as affordable as a modern smartphone, tablet or laptop, anyone can suddenly operate their own ‘studio’ of sorts using apps, plus various live performance venues where we’re accustomed to allowing time for setup, rehearsal, or sound check prior to a live show. When the show runs at multiple times, like a stage play running for weeks or months, a full/dress rehearsal generally only happens before the first public performance).

One big drawback of private studios is that often their mics aren’t state-of-the-art. But surely the home studios of Sir Paul McCartney and of Dr. Stevie Wonder aren’t hurting for hardware (or skillful staff to use it, like Prince would do, recording and salting away original music now awaiting curation for eventual release [in line with Prince’s and his family’s, friends’ and collaborators’ wishes]).

Kesariya” (Brahmāstra/Star Studios 2022)

Back to our topic here of appearance (of the concert/studio performance type), if such things as practise, exercises and warm-ups feel like bothers, perhaps the performing arts field (/grind) is not your cup of chai. I mention this because even top stars are expected to show up for rehearsals even in wide-release (often for multiple-dance) motion pictures.

Movies have their own process, beginning with what’s termed story development (which can and usually does require an existing book or screenplay designated as a starting point), then other elements such as leading actors are included to ensure that audiences will show up to [indirectly] finance the project. Getting to a finished feature release to theaters involves a long chain of processes with multiple very skilled professionals. Hence their typically months- to years-long production timelines. (Especially when historical script research and detailed staging are done.)

What’s termed the principal photography (a number of scenes featuring the leading cast characters are filmed, either literally on physical film stock in the older methods or as virtually all new productions are shot on digital video) ensues, until the directors and producers are satisfied that the script and director’s vision have been given their due in order to propel the story/show; then the production crew work as a team to drill down to a Final Cut (not to be confused with the ubiquitous scriptwriting software Final Cut Pro) in sophisticated editing processes, or a set of multiple edited versions for release (e.g., in different languages or dialects for various audiences).

After some “shooting days” when most or all of the cast is filmed in various locations to capture scenes with the optimal lighting conditions, the scenes are eventually assembled and edited along with the soundtrack recording with (in nearly all modern Bollywood feature films) music and dance numbers… but here we have only noted and glossed over several of the key personnel and technical details to achieve a final edit version of the movie, which may have multiple versions in different languages, usually overdubbed by special voiceover actors, sometimes with speech/dialect experts helping to help ensure that the final product meets high audience expectations.

Often, the total number of participants in a movie is impressive (see the credits that can roll on screen for minutes before/after the movie), especially in dance numbers where we may see ADs (assistant directors) and camera, sound and light crew members as on-screen extras). So, many big-production releases are made by crews of hundreds ending up maybe as monster box-office hits, possibly including one or more hit songs or sometimes as monumental box office flops.

There is more than the obvious-to-viewers elements to creating a Bollywood song & dance number… beyond hair & makeup, costumes (and now, even some of these can be simulated in post-production) for the entire cast, lights, sound & sync to music cues (a technical term), choreography, special effects/CGI (/animation), cinematography including special camera angles & shots, etc. Actors are still expected to tell a story that’s believable—at least in a Bollywood fantasy context.

Few presentations in professional show-business proceed to audiences without any type of run-through (or at least a script read-through). Usually, for songwriters and musicians not every note is written or expected verbatim (without any new touches), meaning that some degree of improvisation not only keeps a take fresh, it’s part of India’s Hindustani music traditions (e.g., in performing spiritually-inspired ragas). Western audiences can confuse the spiritual Hindu religion with the primary Indian language Hindi based on Sanskrit.

While rehearsing can become tedious (and some might conclude unnecessary when dealing with very-experienced artists), few who do music for a living wholly avoid all individual or group practise, preparation for staging run-throughs, and so on. Most pros at all levels recognize the benefits of rehearsing, and do it in order to benefit the final outcome, mastering their own roles while not blocking or holding back others.

Having said the preceding, for stage and film actors, the technical term blocking may seem trivial, until such time as the director points out a botched camera angle [ruining hours of, or a full day’s work] or an awkward stage/set action [movements of actors] that detracts from a stage [screen]play’s flow (or a set, whether shooting on a location or in a soundstage or studio).

So, rather than burden the entire production with endless re-dos and repairs, some rehearsal may be prescribed to avoid common mistakes and to smooth the presentation’s pacing (flow). After some rehearsal(s), takes usually work out better.

I won’t list usual mistakes to be avoided here; just be advised that anything detracting from the quality of a show or movie can be anathema (disastrous) to its producers, and may lead to larger issues or the entire show being put on hold or scrapped entirely (yes, sadly; it has happened, and it was especially difficult for studios wanting to release movies during the pandemic—when production industry-wide was halted for over a year [during a time when audiences were looking for quality entertainment to ease their lack of work and fill the hours]).

We imagine that when any external distractions are too impactful, producers become less excited about the project or may view it as unworkable and in such instances the entire show is canceled before a single ticket sale)… this means that everyone associated with the movie or play gets notified that the entire venture is (or will soon be) no more!

Many times producers of motion pictures have “shelved” entire projects even after completion, choosing to fund the marketing and distribution of another movie that is regarded to have better box-office potential. Actually this practice is more common in Hollywood where there are so few major theater chains that the overall distribution opportunities have shrunk, and competition to reach screens is increasingly hard-fought.

One reason often cited for a movie release being delayed or shelved long-term is the matter of “timing”—which, in this context, refers to times when surrounding potentially impactful events like natural disasters, wars, etc. arise, and the given movie story (or any controversial subject matter in the movie) becomes or may be in conflict with the notion of responsibility to society at large, or with powerful possible adversarial forces. If the producers conclude that the timing is not right given unavoidable circumstances, the given feature may well be delayed or shelved indefinitely (in theory, until a more propitious moment, or perhaps forever).

When film professionals are asked about their willingness to take part in rehearsals, the expected response is “Gladly, yes.” Then, if the process ever bogs down into lengthy tedious work sessions (where it seems little is accomplished on film, but other technical issues [e.g., makeup, costumes, sets, lights or sound] are addressed), at least one’s willing attitude won’t be blamed for any failures to dial in the performances in accord with the project’s directorial vision and roadmap [so to speak, meaning shooting script or music score]!

But rehearsals aside for a moment, as I often do, I’ve opened a few rather large topics here that are about more than one consideration and may have proponents of multiple viewpoints. These pro tips and tidbits (more to come in future posts, and we hope via the Discussion Forum Antara’s Bollywood Takes that will eventually be hosted here) are meant to inform and inspire aspiring, emerging playback singers to be and do their best possible work, and to allow anyone with deep knowledge and/or strongly held views or beliefs to share them with others on

Movies are a form of entertainment that, given their complex and multi-skilled staffing and production requirements, tend to outlive everyone who is involved in making them! This is why I say, “If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing right!” I don’t know who coined that expression, but it’s especially true in cinema (and certain other fields, like production manufacturing and certainly medicine—another occupational field that nearly became my vocation; by the way, my footman Joe, who is also the lead developer of this site, previously worked in production manufacturing).

Now, to carry on about the other type of “appearance” (meaning looks, stage presence, wardrobe & makeup and all things fashionable, trendy and so on)… Looking “good” or “looking the part” often means different things to different observers. How one dresses, from footwear to hair styles, eyeglasses or hats (if any), is an aspect of show business in which many performers take great pains/pride to “get the right look” in order to have a certain measure of attractiveness [or as the role one plays at the time, whatever the character would wear in the scene], perhaps in a word, either sexy or sophisticated (presumably non-mutually-exclusive options), or to present some other impactful impression [e.g., haggard, playful, or however else their character/role would be expected to appear]. Fortunately, the nature of playback singing makes how one sounds the main objective, not merely one’s physical looks. Most playback singers don’t show up to recording sessions dressed in formal wear, to put it politely.

Some artists (e.g. pop/rock stars like Madonna and Peter Gabriel) have gone to great lengths (including several costume changes per show) to add carefully-planned theatrical aspects to their live music shows. I long ago learned from my loving family that maintaining one’s professional integrity in both interpersonal deportment and behaviors is so important that it cannot be accomplished on whims or casually. Now we’re referring to the concepts of reliability and trustworthiness; the appearance of integrity flows naturally from simply practising its precepts daily.

It’s also important to realize that because entertainment is not medical science (i.e., an actual “life-or-death experience” is not part of the process, at least we hope not, although it’s occurred!), one appearance could be postponed or canceled without extensive impacts. No one wants to disappoint an audience, so as the saying goes: “the show must go on”; however, certain rare events like very bad weather or “acts of god” like earthquakes can/may intervene.

For singers performing in recital or concert without a narrative storyline, appearance often means ‘flashy stage clothes and/or heavy stage makeup’ (including thick/other garish eyeliner or skin-covering makeup) to achieve their definition of impactful live-performance onstage beauty. Want to see truly heavy stage makeup? See TV-news reporters doing live or recorded remotes, or Broadway (NY stage) actors; some ‘talking heads’ and/or show hosts really pile it on for strong visual impact (not always by their own preference, as visual impact is highly valued in TV production).

I don’t obsess over detailed makeup (and I can typically prep my face in a few minutes; not as if I instantly look good, but I use time and energy for other ways than how I look to help my performance). By these, I mean the aforementioned individual practice, rehearsal [best with all involved], warm-ups, blocking or other prep (like lights or audio) as called for by the director(s).

As noted in a previous post, dealing with tech matters like wireless mics and venue PAs (public address systems, not to be conflated with personal assistants) may also involve some performer learning curves. The sooner we learn the ropes (as in stage hands becoming familiar with scenery flats and other rigging), the more we can focus on substance and storytelling.

In television, there’s usually some sort of runthrough, maybe to iron out tech issues like flying-act rigging, musical instrument setups/players, maybe music stands/lights; as the same accepted workflow isn’t used by all trades—so my best advice to you, Dear Music Lover, is to be patient and flexible; don’t offer “suggestions” or demand an “artiste’s requirements” rider to complicate the process! Even if you have detailed knowledge or expertise, it’s seldom wise to offer uninvited advice to others about how they should do their jobs. Even experienced directors tend to refrain from micromanaging the work of others, choosing to maintain the workday’s momentum rather than stopping to discuss or criticize their coworkers about less-important issues whenever they occur or seem imminent.

While marquee-topping big-name/touring music stars can and often do add certain practical requirements for their dressing rooms, unless your name is Adele or Ed Sheeran (two rather down-to-earth Brit superstars), having a contract rider for special types of water or fancy sweets, etc. in your dressing room accommodations may prove more of a distraction to the people welcoming you than of any real benefit to a “celebrity performer” and FYI, I still don’t have a backstage requirements rider for my shows; in fact, I try to avoid being la prima donna (who can as easily spoil as elevate an audience’s moods).

So while it is optional, any singer likes a nice bottle of Evian/etc. to cool down their voice, pre-, mid- and post-performance. It’s nice when organizers or show producers think to provide refreshments to the staff. (It’s the sort of thing easily forgotten or ignored, but in my experience those hosting/directing the production, or the heads of Craft Services who “know their stuff” tend to have most catering details well in hand prior to the big event, even when the event is merely a routine lunch break during filming.)

Public event organizers and promoters generally have enough pressing matters to manage without adding more trivial ones to their lists! I can usually bring my own water (and remember, singers: we are each responsible for our own nutrition and hydration—not our show hosts)!

So does all of this willing worker’s/yeoman’s healthy attitude business extend to every aspect of an artist’s appearance? Should all performing artists be obsessive about how we look and dress, and do our hair and makeup? Is beauty per se a primary activity that should occupy a high place in our thoughts, and also be one of the main things we focus upon—because they seem to be especially important to audiences?

(This is my footman’s favorite photo of me—he says that’s because I look so happy!)

Well, admittedly, that’s a loaded question. Some (often, younger) artists tend to focus on appearance from the visual/beauty/sexy-look standpoint more than others. One possible reason for this is the emphasis marketing experts associate with successful product positioning that focuses on pretty faces, fit or curvy physiques, and stylish clothes, as if these (or body art/accessories) matter more than character, professional skills and personal conduct. Many up-and-comers tend to obsess over materialistic things like fancy big-name designer fashions and the money associated with marketplace domination (especially in U.S. hip-hop circles, and I’m told much of that is fake or merely stage costumery intended to make a statement about consumerism more than to present the performer as being obsessed with jewelry or other peripheral things).

Lifelong-career pros tend to be more down-to-earth in making plans, dressing glamorously, and generally, in their aspirations for material success. Some designer fashions may be in their wardrobes but that’s not their most salient personal style factor.

Rather, they create entertainment movies, music, even advertising art for the masses (or fans of specific genres/languages). In most of our south Asian cultures, materialism as a personal or career pursuit, like amassing money solely for one’s own personal wealth as a main aspiration/goal (or personal trait) is generally not admired.

A noteworthy example of contrasts between legacy-established performers and more modern types is rapper-songwriter M.I.A., who boldly touts her south Asian and urban British roots and social justice themes in music tracks like “Bird Flu” that have been called topical and controversial (as was her 2012 Super Bowl act alongside pop music superstar Madonna), while in videos, her cultural influences are manifest in the diversity of social tropes and charmingly-diverse actions of her included dancers and other supporting characters seen in them. The similarities between M.I.A. and Madonna seem to end with tattered clothing of the feminine sort of ruffian survivor type, because whereas Madonna’s songs often flow from rather conventional stylistic roots, M.I.A. seems to relish her south Asian brothers and sisters and her music tracks use more modern versions of dance beats, sample audio clips, and rather edgy hip-hop or neo-pop frameworks for her lyrics.

We want to note in passing that impromptu analyses like the preceding may or may not comport with your personal opinions and experiences. The preceding represents exactly why we will offer visitors here the opportunity to more thoroughly break down their own personal opinions and evidence in an online discussion forum. Please check back here periodically, and when it drops, you, Dear Music Lover, can help this site to reach its ultimate potential.

One bit of anonymous wisdom holds that “young people tend to focus 80% on appearance, and 20% on substance,” meaning that their efforts are transitory and superficial at best. While no one can argue against being an artist with mass appeal (however that manifests in some mix of visual imagery and talent), the artist that obsesses over petty things like a single out-of-place hair, or the shine on their shoes may find that audiences would prefer to support artists with more sensible concerns (like gaining fluency in basic Western European classical music notation, ours as we may interpret it or others and returning to the suggestion implied above, how we look in a recording studio usually has little or zero effect on how our voices record for a movie soundtrack). There is no substitute for god-given talent, however our audiences also often prefer skills perfected by hard work and practice.

A final topic of consideration for this post is the notion of simulated appearance (whether what’s simulated pertains to physical looks, or in the case of recorded music, simulation via digital audio processing). There has also been some discussion of artists simulating their appearance via holography (a process that uses collimated laser-light to produce a very real-looking interference-pattern based 3-D image).

At least one artist (notably, hip-hop rapper Tupac Shakur) allegedly used holography for a live show, fueling the theory that he didn’t actually pass away as widely reported. Also not as widely reported was that hip-hop artist/impresario Dr. Dre (Andre Young) curated & financed the holographic Tupac Shakur spectacle specifically for a much-anticipated Coachella Festival appearance.

So to wrap this up, in recording sessions, quality vocal takes matter more than whether one’s hair looks cute. My footman Joe said ‘everyone likes tight buns’ (meaning 19th-century working lady hairdos, or certain other parts of their anatomies—or, simply well-baked wheat buns, as I’ve been known to bring and share).

Appearance: yes, it’s important, but not everything! Character, integrity—being good for one’s word and living up to serious life commitments—these are paramount. Hairdos and costumes are fixable. Flawed/criminal character isn’t.

(Despite all else, life‘s most superficial aspects tend to work out as they will. A very wise woman taught me the importance of balance in all aspects of personal and work/play relationships; it’s key to all virtually health concerns.)




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