In Conversation With Ananya Birla On Her Music, Being Part Of The Industry and More
Ananya Birla arguably is one of India’s most successful pop artists. She made her first stage presence as a singer and songwriter with her 2016 top-of-the-chart release ‘Livin The Life’. Her music has racked up millions of streams on Spotify, and she has toured internationally with Wiz Khalifa and the likes of Jason Derulo, Pitbull, and Demi Lovato. In her freshly exciting musical career, she has performed at major Indian concerts including Global Citizen, Oktoberfest, and Sunburn. Having a flair for songwriting, Ananya is the only Indian artist whose English singles have hit back-to-back double platinum. Ananya began her musical journey at the age of 8 with Santoor, a traditional Indian instrument, and began releasing her own songs soon after graduating from Oxford University.
In addition to her musical career, Ananya Birla is a successful entrepreneur. She is the founder and chairperson of Svatantra Microfinance, a microfinance organization that works to address the income gap that exists in India. Her family has a long history of business, so it’s no surprise that Birla has taken her place as one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs. Over the years, she has been vocal about mental health and several social causes through her initiatives Ananya Birla Foundation, Ikai Asai and Mpower.
Having come from a family of privilege, Ananya says she has worked hard to make her own mark in the world. Ananya recently released her latest song in collaboration with artist Ankur Tewari and what could have been a better opportunity than this to have her in the pages of The Indian Music Diaries.
Read more from the interview below.
1. What has your experience been like in the music industry?
It’s been an amazing experience, I have had to work really hard to earn my spot, and I believe that’s how it should be. Initially, people didn’t understand me, but now I sense they do, and that experience has made my journey so much more enjoyable, fruitful and meaningful. Everyone has been lovely to me, whether it is the Indian music industry or the labels that I have worked with. We have the collective responsibility of taking Indian and Indian sound and music to the world and I think together we can.
2. Do you think it has been easier for you to navigate the music scene considering your position/influence?
I feel it’s a double-edged sword because people tend to ignore your talent and focus more on your background. But I feel I am very lucky because of my family and friends who have been super supportive of my dreams and what I want to do. So I feel very blessed to be in this position.
3. What are some of the struggles you’ve faced in your music journey?
I wouldn’t put them down as struggles but as a learning process. I learn every day and hopefully improve every day. I knew from day one, that at the end of the day it all boils down to how good your music really is and whether you are able to connect with your audience and be vulnerable and authentic enough so that the audience can understand you. You need to give your fans what they want, and they want nothing but to know who you really are.
4. You recently released ‘Kya Karein’ in collaboration with Ankur Tewari. What was it that made you and Ankur feel this was the right time to work together?
Ankur is super talented and I have always wanted to work with him. I find him very inspiring and I feel his songwriting process is genius. We met just casually to understand each other’s vibe but it felt like we had been friends forever. If you want to write honest music then I believe that it is very important to be vulnerable and speak from your heart and voice out experiences with your co-writers and producers. Ankur and I spoke about everything from my existential anxiety to what I think about the constitution of time, to my songwriting process, and to what music means to both of us. Then suddenly we stumbled upon the topic of love and I said something about how love makes the world go round but currently I am in a love-hate relationship with love itself and I am unsure about falling in love with the same intensity as before. He held onto that thought and met me after two weeks. He mentioned that he had been living like Ananya for two weeks and he had a song ready to play for me. It is almost like he was an instrument for bringing all my real emotions out. He literally wrote the entire song and we wrote the bridge together. I am so grateful for this beautiful experience with Ankur. We felt it would be cool for other people to hear this song and hopefully make someone feel less alone in this world.
5. How does a day off from work and productivity look like for you?
I try to take half a day off in the entire week, because I love my work, and my work is my therapy. I also try to take small breaks throughout each day, which works better for me than taking the entire weekend off. I love to meditate and I do yoga and exercise and unwind with games night and friends. For some reason I find it very relaxing to sit and play chess, I also spend time with family and my pets, listen to music, and watch reality TV shows.
6. Which musician from the independent music scene do you admire the most or you are looking forward to work with?
Everyone is amazing, I love Prateek, and would love to work with Ankur again.
7. What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about that you think we should be?
If something is not being talked about, I’m sure it is for a reason. Perhaps female-led labels would be great, India doesn’t have a vogue pop icon as such, and more female artists in the Indian pop scene will be great to have.
8. How do you think your upbringing influenced the kind of music you make?
I learned how to play the santoor at age 8, with MasterJi, and was listening to a lot of Bollywood music growing up. I also loved Elton John, Abba, and later Eminem and Rihanna. So the influences are all mixed up, and the root remains that I want to take Indian music and Indian sounds all across the world. In my upcoming English music, you will hear a lot of Indian sounds in a cool way. I guess my roots have inspired me and influenced me in my music this way.