| 06 Feb 2023
Universal VP content and A&R Rajeeta Hemwani - The idea is to get the best and most innovative albums on the table

After being associated with top music labels in the past, Rajeeta Hemwani joined Universal eight months ago as vice president, content and A&R. She was the creative and marketing brain behind some of the albums of artistes like Gulzar, Jagjit Singh, Asha Bhonsle, Shubha Mudgal, Shankar Mahadevan, War of the DJs and DJ Suketu. Prior to Universal, she was head of content & Artiste and Repertoire at Reliance ADAG's Big Music after being associated with Times Music for ten years as Associate Vice President, Artiste and Repertoire. Also, she had planned to spearhead an independent music label, Monks of Music, an initiative which has been put on the back burner for the moment.

Rajeeta Hemwani in conversation with Radioandmusic's Anita Iyer offers her views on the status of the music industry, status of non-film music marketing as an indispensible tool and Universal's plans for the year ahead.

What's your focus at Universal now?

I have taken over the A & R section in Unviersal music after Shivaji Gupta retired about eight months ago. The brief given me by Universal MD Rajat Kakkar was that Universal music internationally is the pioneer in launching new genres, the biggest artistes and they wanted me to carry the same quotient to India. My aim would be to make Universal Music in India a benchmark for new sounds, artists, collaborations etc. After all, the idea is not to launch a certain number of albums in a year but to get the best and the most innovative albums on the table.

What are the key responsibilities of A&R in any organization?

As A &R, your responsibility along with giving the market what it wants, is to be an innovator and bring in new sounds, new ideas, and new artistes. Additionally it can't be just the music you personally like but the masses should. I believe a lot of A & R people falter there.

Every project should have a USP and also reasoning as to why the audiences should buy your product. Apart from understanding the creative aspect of music, the A & R person should also understand the importance of marketing for better positioning of the product. Every genre is being explored but it's how different an A & R would do it, blending it with commercial music and making the audience base wider. It is essentially the amalgamation of genres that one has to work on; to survive in any business you need to be innovative, that's the bottomline.

Can you talk about your earlier products like �War of DJs'… did you have to convince the label or we they open to the concept?

War of DJs was a very out of the box kind of an idea then and it's never easy to really sell something like that. Initially, people found it strange that we wanted to travel across India looking for the best DJs in the country every year. But the albums that followed the hunt and specially winners like DJ Nasha, DJ Suketu, DJ Ryan changed the whole perception.

How important is marketing and visibility for an album?

Marketing is a key factor behind the success of any album. Many times, it happens that you have a brilliant project but it might tank because it doesn't reach the proper audience. New artists need the right kind of marketing which involves more than just airing promos on music channels. A & R and marketing go hand in hand., However big the name, it needs to be marketed because it's not going to reach out otherwise.

Music channels are not supporting non film music, what's your take on it?

Well, music channels today are all about reality TV and Bollywood. Of course, it is a situation of concern when the very platform to launch budding talent or even established artistes is shaky. How would one reach out to the audiences? We did have a time when a good video/artiste aired six or seven times a day on music channels. Today, if you are given two airplays a day, it's a privilege.

What is the way out in this situation?

While the channels have to look at their bottomline and break evens to do business and even though reality TV and Bollywood works for them, they should not ignore independent music. If they consider themselves a music channel, they must devise a strategy for playing independent music. They can start by allotting certain minutes to non-film music to justify their being a music channel. A music channel must be a platform for nonfilm, independent band music, international and not only Bollywood.

In this scenario, are music labels turning to radio and outdoors for promoting an artiste?

The radio stations have a very clear strategy of playing only the top ten. It's a catch 22 situation here, if they don't play it at all how does it get into the top ten or even top twenty for that matter?

And when we talk about hoardings, they don't play your music, right? Hoardings just have a mug shot of an artist but don't say anything about the album.

We being the music labels have the responsibility to launch the new talent and the stars of tomorrow. I think it has to be a concentrated effort on the part of the labels, music channels and radio stations to fully support that.

We have seen Bollywood going the pop way, what do you think…

Bollywood has gone pop for so many years now, the music, the look, the whole packaging; it is adapting what non film has done for years. They are signing non film artists like Atif Aslam, Bohemia, Neeraj Shridhar, Mohit Chauhan, Punjabi MC. For example, Bohemia was featured in Chandni Chowk to China and we would be launching his album this year, so it is good that our artist gets exposed to three minutes of fame in Bollywood. It is a win-win situation for all and should be encouraged and it is going to get bigger and there is a lot of opportunity for non film artist in Bollywood.

Is Universal music looking at collaborating with international artistes?

That is at the top of our mind now, we are working on some projects and would announce shortly. That is our top most priority and being �Universal' we are definitely going to do that.

Don't you think many labels and composers are trying to collaborate with international artistes just to add a glam quotient to their product?

As long as people like the sound and audiences are dancing to it, who's complaining? All these collaborations which happen add a new zing to the song and that's how new sounds, artistes come out and one should never be closed to ideas like this. Music cannot be static, we have to outgrow what we already have created, so we need new sounds, artists, vibes and we have to progress musically.

You have experimented with the spiritual genre at the label you worked with earlier. Would you be launching some in Universal as well?

There is a lot of devotional and spiritual music in the market already. The phase when we did spiritual at Times Music like Gayatri Mantra, morning chants, sacred chants of Shiva, Upanishads, we changed devotional to spiritual genre and took the genre worldwide. Every year I go to the Midem market, those guys would go crazy after the concepts. But today if I had to work on spiritual genre, I would like something new that has not been done in the market. Today if some project doesn't appeal to me, I would rather not work on it.

What is the market of the spiritual genre?

The last figures I checked, the spiritual genre occupied 20-25 per cent of the sales across languages. When I was in Big Music for a brief period of time, I started Gayatri Mantra with Jagjit Singh. I believe it got launched recently.

Having launched many properties in your career, what do you think was the most innovative album you conceived?

I would say War of DJs, series of Jalwa, the makeover of spiritual genre like I say, Abida Parveen's collaboration with Gulzar amongst others but I don't believe in looking back at the past and calling something my best work. It was good then and something better has to happen now.

How has recession affected the music industry?

Recession has affected every industry but maybe the positive outcome is the price corrections which are welcome. The footfalls in the retail stores have gone down worldwide but music is here to stay. Music can never go out of fashion.

With many small independent labels mushrooming in the industry, does it make it more fragmented?

The big labels have been there for many years and know their business well. It is good if there are small labels if they launch more artistes, albums in the market but it's also important to sustain. Launching an artiste is not only about producing their album but about marketing and further distributing the album. There were a few labels who had two or three releases and then we haven't heard from them. But if they can sustain themselves, it is good for the industry. Anybody can start a label by signing four artistes, but sustainability and profitability are the key concerns.

Even you were supposed to start your own venture- Monks for music…

Honestly, I quit Big Music to start Monks of Music. It is very close to my heart as there was no professional from the industry who was bridging the gap between labels and raw talent. That's what Monks of music is all about. I was looking more at the younger generation while starting my new venture. While I had just announced it, I met up with Universal music, a label which comes with a brilliant track record of launching superstar singers worldwide. Above all, they wanted me to be there to give a youth lineup to the label which I had planned for Monks of Music, so I joined Universal.

How difficult is it to sustain independent labels?

It is not easy, even if you come with a financial backing as you can invest in the first and second years, but you have to show profits later. You might be a good producer with great knowledge of music but with no business sense, you cannot sustain in the market. You have to know your business along with creativity and a knack of marketing ability spiced with knowledge of what might work in the market and you can be successful.

Universal had tied up Eros International for scouting new talent, how has that worked for you?

The venture has recently been announced. I think it's a great idea when the topmost label of the world joins hands with of the biggest film production houses to launch this raw talent which would be the singing /acting superstars of tomorrow. It could be a debut singer, film star wanting to cut an album, television star having the ability to sing. It hasn't been done in India yet, the closest example I could give u internationally would be a Jennifer Lopez or Will Smith.

What is your take on music reality shows flooding the television space?

I believe, while it's a great platform and has given a new lease of career to a lot of new talents; too much of anything goes unnoticed. There are so many shows that we don't know which artist belongs to which show. It is reaching its saturation point, I think. The channels and the producers should put on their thinking caps to get more innovative in this space now. They have given some good artists to the market, even we launched Zee Saregamapa winner Aneek's album last year. There are too many shows experimenting with different combinations that you lose count. Few contestants have disappeared after receiving their 15 minutes of fame but there are some who have stayed back and have done well. But it cannot be denied that the exposure they get is tremendous while the show is on.

What is your take on the industry taking a stand on not working with Pakistani artistes any more?

There has been some amazing talent coming from across the border that has created waves in the market. Cultural exchange is very healthy though one has to respect the mood of the country at the moment and nothing comes before your country and its security.

Even big names like KK, Alisha don't guarantee success any more, so how do you rely on new talents?

Nobody guarantees success! There is no support for non-film music, music or artists are never out of fashion, it's at a high sometimes and then at its low. Also, if it a good product it will be noticed with a decent advertising spend.

Even if the industry is suffering and albums don't work, it is expected of music labels that they will launch new artists. We are the ones who have to create new music and make that happen. Looking that way, 2008 was not a good year for non film at all but we have to continue launching new projects, we have a fabulous plan for the coming year.

What are the properties Universal would launch this year?

We would be launching Mohit Chauhan, Aditya Narayan, Bohemia, Shamur, Punjab singers Gurjeet Rahal, Punjabi MC, Josh, DJ Aqueel. In addition to this, we have a complete out of the box concept, I think we have a rocking line up for 2009 and the year has just begun!