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Turning your passion into a career

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Chasing your dream and turning it into your career is never easy, but singer-songwriter, Prateek Kuhad makes it look effortless. He talks to Tanishka Sodhi about his musical journey and profession

Choosing to follow your passion in the hope of turning it into a career, is quite simply, betting on yourself. It’s a gamble, where your life and future are on the table. At what point can you turn around and try to fathom if you were on the right side of the bet? Especially when this passion turned career is an art form? Although he is considered to be one of India’s best independent artists and has a fan base around the size of a small country, ‘decent’ is the word singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad uses to describe himself.

“I started off as shit and consider myself decent now; at least I am on the right path,” says Kuhad, shrugging off evidence that points to him being more than just decent. The 28-year-old singer took up music as a profession 5 years ago, after quitting his job as an analyst in New York. His tryst with music started off with a guitar at the age of 16, which soon expanded into song writing. “The more I made music, the more it became an important part of my life,” he said. “Music was never a professional plan, it was just something I was doing for myself, as a passion project. I knew I would try to pursue it at some point. I felt like there was potential, for the first time I thought that I was a decent songwriter.”

Quitting his day job in a city he loved and changing his life track, was as challenging and unraveling as you can think it to be. Kuhad returned to India and gave himself a year to give music a shot, with all he had. Did he ever feel like giving up? “Oh yes, of course. The first year is always the most difficult. It was slow and self-doubt was at its peak. I used to wonder what was wrong with me, spending all my savings and making nothing. But I knew I had to go through it,” says Kuhad, while also explaining how he got out of the swirls of self-doubt. “Usually after such a period, something small happens that encourages you. For me, it was the random people coming out to shows and singing along to my songs. I also started getting shows overseas. Although I didn’t know what I was doing then, my music made some noise organically. Looking back now, these are small things, but at that time, it really kept me going. I was also enjoying the whole process of making music a lot.”

Although he has done work for a few Bollywood movies, the most recent of them being for the Irfan Khan starrer Karwaan, Prateek’s fan base comes mostly from his personal projects. “Ten years ago, there was no middle ground. You could either be a struggling, financially failing artist or you could be working in Bollywood,” he said, opening up about the discrepancies in the scene. “Now, you don’t need that- the middle ground, which is where I am now, is growing phenomenally. The industry outside of Bollywood can be enough to sustain you if you’re smart about how you’re doing things, It's a good time right now, to be an artist. You have the freedom to pick what you want to do, depending on what you can add value to.”

According to Kuhad, this middle ground gives him, and other musicians in the space, freedom to do a good job at what they love. “It is why people become musicians in the first place. They’re passionate and want to make good music.” Whether or not this profession is a financially wise decision, depends from person to person, he says. “I didn’t get into this thinking I want to be a millionaire. Then again, I did not want to be a pauper either. There is a middle ground here too, where I can choose to work a certain way, depending where I think I can add my value to. Everybody has limitations as per their circumstances. Within these limitations, you should push as much as you can, and be selfish about how you want to function. Now, my limitations are a little more stretched - I can say no to things I am not  100% on board with. It all comes down to maintaining a balance between doing what’s good for you in the short term, while at the same time keeping sight of the long term.”

The ’Kho Gaye Hum Kaha’ (2016) singer has a very special relationship with his fans. So much so, that the announcement of his latest album Cold/Mess was released to the world though the subscribers of his mailing list. “After the release, I got a lot of messages from people telling me how my songs help them get through anxiety and depression at times. It’s a huge compliment, but also so much pressure. It’s very daunting because I’m just doing this because I like doing it. I never considered the implications it can have on people,”says Kuhad, who connects with his fans on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Although performing live is not his favorite part of the job, he likes singing in intimate house scenes. Following his latest EP, Kuhad toured country wide to sing for fans in intimate gatherings. “This was a fan centric tour. It was my way of giving back for people who had supported and loved my music. I am grateful for the appreciation they give my music,” he smiles.

Kuhad's personality matches his music perfectly. There is a gentle determination in his voice, honesty in his words, and an awkwardness that only adds to his charm.“If you’re waiting around for inspiration, you’re lazy. More than anything else, song writing is a skill. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Writing with inspiration is easier but to write in a deliberated manner (like I do for most Bollywood projects and ads) requires a certain skill set.” Most of his songs connect with listeners because of how personal they are. A good amount of them, are about heartbreak. When a song inspired under such circumstances does well, does he connect it with his muse every time he sings it? “For a while yes, but then it sizzles out.” Some people claim they can’t write when they are too happy. According to Kuhad, "That’s a bullshit reason. You can’t sit around and have your heart broken all the time. If you’re feeling something strongly, you will end up expressing it- but you can’t rely on it."

His busy schedule pushes him to write not just at his preferred spot - the corner of his bedroom and his recording studio - but everywhere he goes. He carries a diary and also writes down lines that come to him randomly, on his phone. The Tum Jab Pass (2017) singer admits that although the writing comes naturally a lot, sometimes, he has to push himself. His music style, although gravitating towards piano off late, is more or less uniform and can be easily identified. “As much as I want to grow, I don’t want to forcefully write something different for the sake of it. That would not feel real,” he says, being as honest as his music, “Two years later, if I’m not doing better than I am doing right now, I’ll either change the way I’m approaching my music or leave the scene all together. If you’re not growing in every way possible, what is the point of any of it?”

Instead of giving advice to up and coming musicians, Kuhad chooses to give a disclaimer. “Nobody should follow any type of advice blindly, it all depends on your circumstances. Things that worked for me may not work for you, and vice-versa. Do as much as you possibly can within your limitations. It’s tough, but important to be objective about your short-comings.”

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