Finding Your Light

Written by on in Informative

Namaste,Dear Music Lover,

Spotted on set”

In the field of the entertainment, there are many levels and areas to explore… whether one views oneself as an artist, a host, a DJ, a TV reporter, a writer, a musician, a producer or a talent manager, etc.

Perhaps selling promotional swag (like tour gear [t-shirts, hats, etc.]) or working in a production role is to you more appealing… not everyone loves being in the spotlight! Some employed in the field of music work with string, wind or percussion instrument repair/technology. Occasionally [in sound checks or recording session gear preps], the techs can ‘wail/shred’ on instruments they’re setting up and testing/dialing in, and via the production’s sound/DJ gear, they may garner attention from early arrivals and among each other.

Unless and until they have a fully prepared number or set, it’s not anything to worry over. Everyone needs to have a little fun. Audiences tend to be fairly aware who the actual headline performers are. While I’m not recommending such impromptu acts for more than their own decompression and fun, one never knows where future emerging talents will appear. I’ve known artists who began in assistant roles and later got involved as artists themselves.

I think as people pursue the field of entertainment it’s very important to avoid pigeonholing them in only one type of job function or role. Audiences will prove themselves the final arbiter of which artist reaches what heights of fame, and regarding when and why people “arrive” in the sense of “making a name” for themselves, there are myriad ways a work history can evolve (hopefully by building upon success after success).

Or on a movie shoot, maybe catering food/meals is one’s chosen endeavor. When exploring any paid work opportunities, the skills required should be among the first things established. Also, no two employers (and no two jobs) are identical; it’s good to know who’s hiring… and within limits, to learn how working there is, in order to decide if it’s worth the effort to inquire and possibly pursue a position. If nothing so far you’ve tried seems to fully excite your passions, keep looking for whatever may!

Marketing is a critical part of entertainment—especially for movie promotions or artist bookings. Beyond marketing jobs, various allied fields involve so many other skills and people… directing, sets, costumes, audio/tech, staging/props, cameras, lighting, etc.

Lighting is an art.

My goal in this post is to help others to not merely seek out a stage-lighting or perhaps a background music performing niche (if that’s the best use of their skills), it’s to remind them that in nearly every field of work, there are so many and varied niches, including work that doesn’t get heralded as the top starring roles of a given production, yet all are key and valued jobs.

Without countless supporting roles, even top headliners’ impressive well-promoted shows (produced live or recorded) can tend to disappoint. Take this advice from a woman who’s enjoyed various roles as a singer and producer of musical talent. (Some singers’ best roles in shows aren’t strictly lead vocals. The same is easily true for musicians, dancers and actors! But it’s all still showbiz, and the show must go on.)

Most casual observers of the movie production process probably haven’t explored the role of a script supervisor, or how continuity factors into a movie shoot. In the post-production (“posting”) phase, we find multiple lesser-known specialists supporting editors and other somewhat unknown key movie professionals like colourists, as well as those expert in audio (e.g., sound mixers). As a larger team enterprise, it takes a village of specialists to produce a feature presentation, whether on celluloid or strictly the digital domain.

It’s also worth noting that many film directors wear multiple hats, like that of screenwriter, sometimes even acting in the random role, as well as director. Hollywood film pioneer Charles Chaplin even composed the music for several movies in which he also acted, wrote and directed. My point here is that creative pursuits like movie making sometimes stretch notions of versatility to their practical limits, especially when budget constraints make doing multiple roles/tasks imperative (or at least seemingly so).

Busy enough?

While reflecting (yes, we still pun here) upon the topic of set lighting, for people exploring careers in the “lively arts” something else involving light comes to mind. Some in cosmology (and yes, cosmetology) are keenly attuned to light‘s importance… and how it’s best made and used. In fact, cosmological theories typically begin with a light flash/Big Bang marking creation of the known universe. Multiple creation stories exist, and starlight figures prominently, though here we’re talking about theatrical stage lights. The only stars in such scenarios were/are human performers. There are countless other effects, scenery, and lights to be operated, also (depending upon the show, and we’ve seen live TV produce full theatrical scenes live, or nearly so (often with post-production additions extras like on-screen visuals, titles and sound effects).

Before modern (ca. 1915) electrical movie/camera and stage lights, indoor and nighttime theatre/concerts (in milder temperatures), early stage set lights used multiple candles focused by mirrors, or burning calcium oxide called limelight positioned at the foot of the stage-front. Hence the literal expressions upstaging (moving to stage-front to catch more intensely-white light and/or audience attention) and being in the limelight.

In movie music, we have the concept of talented performers coming into the apex of their craft… in part, this involves one taking bold steps to become known by the music-consuming audience. Obviously given a venue, the artist must step up and deliver memorable work.

In movie making, there may be some time and budget set aside for soundtrack expertise, but as in all budgets, those controlling the purse strings aren’t looking for excuses why money was spent but a final mix was not done exactly to the director’s liking. As in medicine, movie making is a field with little to no error tolerance.

The music department of a movie itself has a number of staffers tasked with bringing the music director’s vision to life. While in some movies the songs are simply added to the soundtrack long after they were produced, in fact they’re often being repurposed quite skillfully for a film.

In Bollywood, many soundtrack album songs are composed specifically for the movies in which they’re used; their lyrics mesh exactly with the movie’s plot and action (by purposeful intent). Movie singers can be established within the industry, or may be comparative unknowns. If Safety is Job 1, Quality is Job 2.

One consideration in this regard is when to best seek a larger audience. If an artist is unprepared to step onto a stage or into a vocal booth at a recording studio, it’s best to get back to preparation and training. Learning a skill can happen “on the job”, but more often, those who hire others want people who can come in and get it all done now, and well. This is equally true in business, academia, healthcare, in fact all industries. Like the remarkable Shreya ji, (whose singing is always so on-point):

Shreya Ghoshal

Doing movie songs is generally not where emerging talents begin their careers. Other gigs are surely more conducive to OJT (on-the-job training). I’ve noted this fact more than once here, that Bollywood music directors need singers who can “hit the ground running” meaning they can knock out vocal tracks in few takes (or one solid, well-planned and -executed  take).

Those who arrive at work only looking to learn how others do their parts (so it will be easier to step into similar roles—even potentially taking other’s roles [hence often being seen as competitors rather than colleagues]), may learn less on new skills and more on how to find another gig—while their parts are covered by someone more prepared.

The preceding isn’t meant to insinuate that all of singing works like reality TV—where elimination looms at every turn. But music especially and entertainment/cultural arts in general are fields where very little is guaranteed. In movie gigs, really nothing is. Being confidently grounded in one’s training and practice (and experience—which if limited until date, will likely also follow) is a solid, workable starting place.

So what we’re driving at here about timing is important for the of entertainment field and those new to it must pay attention to how and when to get out in front of others who can appreciate what they can bring to the process. If all goes well, new & exciting opportunities often follow. There are times to stay in the shadows and if one is ready, to step into the light! By all means, when you’re confident and ready, it’s time to work on getting experience (and so doing, also getting paid)!

When doing movie work, one nice perk is the studio wardrobe/costume staff. I’ve been so fortunate to be amidst very skilled creative costumers and hair/makeup people at Sony Entertainment TV and various film crews at major Mumbai movie production lots, and to wear several very nice outfits that I might otherwise never have managed to find/buy! It’s so nice to rock some lovely outfits for public appearances, and occasionally to even get professional help for a humidity/temperature hair crisis. Sometimes thanks to the producers, my costumes are provided to match the sets or show themes in general. (TV/concert stage audiences have come to expect us to not just sing well, but to also look sharp in performances.)

So what do I mean by finding your light? Some call it showing your inner strength or purpose (also called one’s musical gifts or God-given talent), connecting with your core, hitting your mark, or knowing you’re ready. However we choose to label it, the concept is simple: we need to move toward our next vocal opportunity assured that we’re ready to give our best and to be seen and heard by people who may not know much or anything about us. As noted above (and it bears repeating).

I like to describe the process of coming into your own glow as finding your way, or finding your light. The light is as much metaphor as physical energy. Much of the right energy actually comes from sources not always credited. One such source is the audience; as performers, we need to exude some joy and light!

If this all sounds crazy to you, maybe singing is just not your bailiwick. It doesn’t mean that you’re less than, or we’re superior, but I can assure you that if it never feels magical, the hard work preceding those few moments “in the light” may not seem worthwhile. As many before me have said, it’s not about the destination anyhow. It’s more about the journey or shared (or even spiritual) experiences. Movies surely can be among life’s great shared experiences. This goes for various types of live shows like concerts, too.

So if you sing, finding your light is a good way to share your gifts with audiences, and to feel content as the center of attention. (However, it’s seldom wise to try to show off all of your skills in one go—even if your aim is to convince new observers that you’re a special artist for them experience or to hire. For most of us, building a career requires years or decades. Most audiences expect to hear a few songs sung expertly before fully embracing show performers , too. Some may argue that big city audiences are spoiled by overabundant available talent in major fields and local major shows, venues or tours. The corollary to this is that better shows result and a tradition of excellence is borne from the process, too.)

Or in the extreme, let’s say this appearance where we “show our stuff” to new people is actually for an audience of directors and producers (so maybe this applies to actors and dancers more than music talent)… certainly, one hopes to put one’s best foot forward, and to build solidly and steadily upon one’s earned successes. Rome wasn’t built in one day. A good way to cope with a failed audition: another one is being held soon for (an)other role(s)! Practice makes perfect, and with the practice that begets a great performance, every new song’s downbeat or count-off is another opportunity to delight an audience!

In your hypothetical audience, there could be people who want to cast let’s say a female vocalist with a certain tone (vocal timbre) or manner of delivering lyrics. Obviously in such a situation, the pressure is greater to shine. To spark interest, possibly leading to some new opportunities (bearing in mind that new ones don’t always occur each time we perform).

When working toward “a break” in movie work, it’s best not to allow one’s hopes to build in eager anticipation. To reiterate, playback is a very specialised field. Too many factors are involved to take it all very personally. While any potential employer may have valid concerns that we aren’t a spot-on obvious choice for a scene/song/dance number, it’s also worth noting that when auditioning several new singers, they may also have (a) certain ‘known’ singer or singers in mind (or already auditioned/recorded). In certain scenarios, a music director may ask more than one playback singer to record a part (just as action directors do with actors or stunt people), but they select only one of their multiple options for the final cut. This is why, Dear Music Lover, we generally must give our best efforts to every one of our takes! No gifted artist hopes that their work will end up on a cutting room floor (so-to-speak, if it’s only 1s and 0s).

When the pressure is intense, experience will separate a pro from a novice/amateur. A pro knows that: a) no one has time to train their coworkers while in the actual music production process, and b) this moment is fleeting, not to return soon. In fact, most live or sound stage performance are one chance to do one’s best. If we miss it, too bad! There are only very rarely second takes in live venues/shows, and they only tend to occur when some unavoidable phenomenon like rain or wind interrupts a performance.

If we “blew” it, we may not get another take. So, if the final product looks like great fun, but a long journey reaching there seems unappealing, I would suggest that this work may not be for you. Rehearsals, blocking sessions, levels testing in studio, tweaking sound-sync for editing… none of these are “fun” activities, they can seemingly grind on for hours even when they’re not that long. For many of us, music is a family passion passed endlessly from each generation to the next. That tradition itself can help to sustain you while you’re mastering the skills or pursuing work. It’s really not very different from pursuing an acting career—which has often been ridiculed as only for insane people!

Please note that while I asserted above that rehearsals aren’t fun, at times they can be, so it’s pointless to generalise and bluntly characterise any pro work experience. Sometimes even an unpaid rehearsal can lead to a great performance, and as I often suggest: preparation is one of the most critical keys to success.

So, if long late-night work sessions just aren’t something you can imagine getting pumped-up to endure, then your path into the light may be to lights in another field. I wish you all the best whatever you decide. If your decision is to pursue music, please be sure to listen to the advice of those who really know about things like pitch control and breath support. If you have major struggles in such areas, your path to success could be especially challenging. However, don’t let any non-professional artist or teacher kill your dreams!

I hope you will endeavor to see the light (at the end of the proverbial tunnel, if applicable). More often than not, the act of seeing where the light shines makes getting closer to it easier. One simply walks there with a smile (unless it’s a funeral or other somber occasion, obviously), stands tall and gives one’s best performance.

When the basic ingredients are in play and the session/show is in progress, there really isn’t a lot more to say. Things can go on a scale from great to disastrous, and with more good work experience under one’s belt, that scale may have some solid ‘bumpers’ between which your performance levels will easily fit. In Bollywood, the standards are rather strict. But there are other places where singers fit well into the workflow, and the expertise levels aren’t so limited to seasoned pros.

We’ve seen it on reality TV contest shows… raw talent is volatile yet exciting. But it’s often uncontrolled, so not necessarily marketable like some musical skills (e.g. accompanying) or other types of talent.

What I want inculcate in this post in order to share a bit of hope built upon a solid base is the simple idea that performing, while not a rote or robotic act that’s either right or wrong, the range of excellence within which artists move and express ourselves need not be a scary, emotionally draining target. It can be one’s fun zone or so-called sweet spot. In other words, a very capable talent amped up to give a great performance can step up to where they know is their place in the program with confidence and hit a metaphorical sports run ‘over the fence’. Or, obviously one could get overwhelmed by focusing on the fact that millions of eyes will see their moment and given past fails, this could be where it becomes clear that being a pro/playback singer may not be possible for a person (for any of several reasons).

Still, because the outcome can be so important to one’s future, most singers facing an audience can sense this, and they/we will “step up” to the moment with full confidence and aptitude (or not, as I noted before). But one fail does not a career end. Just ask the phenomenal pop singer Mariah Carey, who despite a career spangled with #1 hits, had just one holiday performance where her pitch suffered a bit—and wow, the press and maybe a few (jealous?) music fans jumped at the chance to criticize and to some quite troubling and hasty conclusions/criticisms. Had this legendary star suddenly lost her edge??

If Mariah ji had not already established her credentials, a bad outing could’ve been career-ending. But being the superstar she is/was, Ms Carey moved on to her next gig and was back on track as if the one rough performance had never happened.

So… also, not every singer gets a nearly immediate chance for redemption after missing a few notes. The listening public tends to be moody, or somewhat brittle and unforgiving. But truly professional artists know how to get back to their own happy places and recharge, to be ready for the next curtain call (with all that entails). Being on point in rehearsals, as when one of the others on the show may be struggling with their part needs support and understanding, or when taking a moment to sense the acoustics of a new room or PA system during sound check (which can prove the difference between a big success and a very disappointing critical media review). No artist works in a vacuum (or even a simulation of one)! Therefore, getting acquainted with the acoustics at a venue and/or the sound system being used can make a big difference in the final outcome!

While, as I often say, most of our artistic endeavors come from something more like alchemy than pure chemistry or other exact science, it’s also rarely very mysterious when it is all working well (vs when the production has real problems).

Please, please, Dear Music Lover: don’t get into patterns of denial or indifference. Those can really set one back. Blame games are even worse (often because they’re targeting the wrong person(s))! Maybe that’s the ugliest form of denial: pointing at others while failing to see one’s own failures.

I don’t think I need to dwell too much on any possible negativity regarding making excuses for say, losing an audition for a part in some production when it’s still in development. While they’re definitely rare exceptions, sometimes people who, sent away, are invited back (like “wild card” contestants on game shows returning to stir the pot a little). Still, the safer approach is to have one’s goals in mind and be prepared for any outcome. Maybe your appearance wasn’t what the casting director had already decided was best for the role. That doesn’t mean that musically speaking, you “failed”. I must remind my fans again that in life, when a door is closed to us, another one will eventually open that could prove far better than the door we expected to open. Sometimes we can open/close doors, while at other times, others may decide where we go. Part of the life of any artist is finding one’s tribe (and with luck, being ready when an opportunity arrives).

There are many stories about gifted talents being faced with disappointment only to reach greater heights unexpectedly. So let’s not get too far ahead of our mode of transportation! Let’s stand on the proverbial platform as and where it is, and first catch the train before trying to drive it! Once we’re on board, we can look into what is available for snacks, meals and possible long-term work. But if we’re obsessed with buying snacks when the train first arrives, we could end up missing our ride or a place to sit when in motion, and then lose half of a day plus be reprimanded. Simply through flawed plans, impatience or another easily avoided mistake (and yes, art imitates life, with all of its frustrations and imperfections).

Now, hitting that mark in itself is easy. It’s the preparation before we’re on stage that requires major time and effort. So when we say preparation’s key to hitting the mark, all of the preparation that precedes hitting it is equally key as well.

Even standout standup comics who are gifted with impressive stage presence can hit their marks and still “totally bomb out” with an audience, if, for example they chose a few of the wrong jokes for the current audience (or for a singer, the wrong songs). Being right where the sound techs positioned a mic stand is only a small factor in giving a best performance. Everything else must be in place… the band mustn’t skip too many beats throwing each other (and then us) off. The guitarist’s amplifier that needs a new tube or switch can fail at any moment, and that riff we used to use as a cue could be missed, throwing us off. Any number of other factors (like outdoor, it starts to rain with no warning) could interfere.

Or one could swallow water wrong and begin to choke right before it’s time to sing. All levels of problems could ruin any performance. However equally possible in every case is that we’ll hit every note, we’ll lock in with the others on stage and rock the house!! One sure-fire method to succeed is to surround oneself with the best possible collaborators (like Pritam da and Arijit ji).

But one can only pass through a doorway after one reaches it. So it’s incumbent upon us as artists to first have a map to read and follow to our next destination. The idea that we can rely on sketchy directions is not a good one to test out at show time. Sometimes personal referrals pan out, other times maybe not.

So I want to leave you with this: no matter how great your actual skills are when you’re feeling your best and everything else lines up almost magically to support you, in many instances you’re still one accidentally unplugged cable or burnt-out light from possible major issues. But take heart and fear not!

While it’s not always possible to be 100% ready for anything, the people who given past experience can adapt and still do well have a serious advantage over the artists who cannot readily adapt (and who seek to blame others when issues arise). Let me just add that any artist thinking they’re flawless isn’t living in reality. We all have flaws. Knowing how to work around them is better than pretending they don’t exist or can have no impact on our work.

Every voice has a break in it. That’s undeniable anatomy/physics. Hence, every singer has a break or non-smooth pitch-production transition in his or her range. It’s part of being human, not something to pretend is unimportant. Likewise, if one’s gown has an issue, it may be seen as a problem if one points it out, or if handled with aplomb, it may seem more like a creative designer’s choice and actually appreciated. Some “flaws” are subtle enough as to be easily disguised or faded/edited out… others, maybe not so much!

I’m not pretending that any flaw is easily concealed, nor suggesting that you ignore them when e.g., an accompanying musician hits wrong notes (or modulates to the wrong key or misses note/chord changes). (Certain facts are undeniable. Hence they shouldn’t be denied. Better to show your versatility by adapting and improvising as needed.)

One undeniably good fact is that finding one’s support system is an important part of sustaining oneself as a performer. That’s because despite our mad skills (plus those of everyone else involved), best efforts and years of preparation, not every show is guaranteed to go off without a hitch. Handling such moments gracefully will show that you’re one of the real valued troopers, not a one-shot mercenary sniper. Remember: there’s no i in team. (A team will get us to a win/possible standing O. Not a killer solo!)

Consistency is something that comes with experience (and practice/ongoing preparation). The more we do it, the more it seems to become easier. It may continue to be difficult, but not to the initiated, and that’s why those people are chosen time and again to step in and step up to challenges.

I want to close by noting that most of us who choose to pursue music as a vocation (especially in the Bollywood movie realm) have real clarity about why we’re where we are, and no illusions about how rarefied of opportunities exist. If your dreams are similar to ours, then you realize that we’re not doing this for ourselves. We do it for our listeners (/movie viewers).

The energy (love) that audiences bring when we sing these songs live is beyond what I could imagine when I first dreamed of singing in movie soundtracks. The love we artists feel singing the great songs we’re given by Pritam et al. comes from such warm, loving audiences (no matter where we perform). I find that it helps to get feedback from those who can be fully (even if a tad brutal at times) honest about our performances, especially when overconfidence could stem from a string of hit movies/shows.

To say we love it (the movie industry) is faint praise. We have only so many days in this life to bring something meaningful to the stage (or movie, or planet, for that matter), and the incredible receptions we experience along our journeys bringing music to audiences here and abroad are each so memorable. They make all of the hard work and travel totally worth it!!

That connection with our audiences is unlike anything I can think of. Memories of our beloved fans who wait in line to buy tickets to see and hear us really do sustain us to remain focused and prepared to return to the stages and the tours leading to them. But again, we do it all for you, our wonderful audiences.

Not all “music lovers” are aspiring singers. But in my experience all singers are music lovers. Moreover, we’re people lovers. We do every part of this to offer something of interest and we hope to comfort those who can benefit from a bit of an escape from the mundane everyday existence to a fantasy realm where beautiful actors bring our songs to life in amazing, visually appealing ways. I feel so honored to be where I am. I view the enjoyment that art brings as potentially quite therapeutic (much like medicine). As I often say, there were often struggles that preceded the final cut where the directors and editors worked out every song and scene to maximize the movie viewers’ experience. But like real life in general, the struggles often pay off. Audiences ultimately remain the arbiters of the value of our recorded/live work!

Please stay safe and blessed in the knowledge that you too are indeed very loved. Always love and respect yourself. Also, do the right things to survive this awful pandemic, and by so doing, you’ll save others. Thanks!

If life ever seems too difficult, and you feel hopeless, I suggest looking to masters of life like Tagore for insight and inspiration. We in the Bangla community take great comfort in his gentle yet profound wisdom, and the perspectives Tagore offers on the totality of the so-called known universe continue to delight and inspire us nearly 8 decades after his spirit left this Earthly-life journey.

As we all seek to find our own paths into the light from the dark and dreary depths of a troubled planet struggling to recover from wars, disease, rising oceans, earthquakes and hurricanes, and social ills like human exploitation and abuses of individuals and nations… one of my prayers is that, however it’s best for you, I pray that finding your way to the light is blessed by both good mental and physical health (and that if you’re in need of help, you’ll find the right ways to get it)!

There are some movies in various aspects of production here, it’s true, and Bollywood will come back to bring you more great stories, music and dance—so we do hope to be here for you… and pray that you’ll all find our upcoming movies and songs—when the timing for release and showing is right!

Namaste,

AM

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