Music industry can be intimidating at times, debilitating at others, says singer Nikitaa

 Music industry can be intimidating at times, debilitating at others, says singer Nikitaa

Upasana Kaura

She inherited her musical genes from her Nani and ably supported by her mother, Nikitaa is making the reality out of a dream that her grandmom carried in her heart all her life. “My Nani passed when I was very young, so I didn’t get to know her in the ways I wanted to – but I have so much in common with her. I feel her presence with me when I sing,” she says. “But Beyonce is my ultimate inspiration, idol, and dream collaborator. Her mind is absolutely incredible, and I definitely think listening to her nurtured my innate desire to bend genres and create something uniquely my own. She taught me the importance of deeply studying your craft; that to be a master, is to be a diligent student,” she adds.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Nikitaa moved to LA after completing her double BA in Psychology and English Literature, and is now rocking the music scene there. She recently released her new track Godlessa captivating song that promises to be a powerful tribute to letting go of toxic relationships and embracing self-worth. In a free-wheeling interview, Nikitaa tells us more about her life and music:

Tell us about your music training, and the gurus?
I did, and I started very young. I began learning piano and began Indian Classical vocal training when I was four, I think. I was very insistent that I wanted to learn, and this also extended to Bharata Natyam (I’ve formally completed all seven years of training). Later on – when I was in college – I also trained in western vocal technique, and of course I initially moved to the US for my Associates degree in Vocal Performance at Musicians Institute in LA – where I learned from legends like Debra Byrd, Gina Saputo, Olufemi “Dawn” Gonsalves and Deborah Sharpe-Taylor. So, I’ve kind of been training my whole life. I don’t believe training ever ends. If you’re an artist, you are a student.

Then how did you move ahead? How challenging was it establishing yourself as an indie singer & musician?
Extremely challenging! Honestly, after graduating I spent the entirety of 2017 in the studio. I wrote and wrote and wrote that year, just to figure out what I wanted to say, what I wanted to sound like. When I first decided to put out music, there weren’t as many tools for indie artists as there are now. And even today – I feel like the music industry changes so much so fast that you must stay on your toes to keep up. It can feel intimidating at times, debilitating at others. You must really love what you do and believe in yourself to keep going.

Which was your first song, when was it released and what kind of response did it get? Then, tell us about your journey forward.
Honest was my first release – it came out in 2018. When I put out Honest, I felt like I was in a dream. I was living by myself in Los Angeles, I had just put out music… And it landed on several Spotify Editorial Playlists at a time where there was no way for a small independent artist to pitch to editorial curators. I have no idea how that happened, but it gave me so much hope. I only put out one other song that year – Exodus (written with Ferras Alqaisi, who’s written for the likes of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber etc). A lot of my 2018 and parts of 2019 were consumed with meeting managers and labels. This was honestly very disheartening – nearly every one of them wanted me to be something I wasn’t (either to whitewash my image and my roots, or to present me as “racially ambiguous”) and of course I wanted nothing to do with that. I deeply hated the stalling of my releases, and I was forced to burn many bridges with people I was working with at the time, which meant I had to get many songs re-produced and re-recorded.
Then, I travelled to India for a couple months, which is how I ended up working with Daboo Malik and putting out my first and only Punjabi song – Vichhoda Yaar Da – as well as my cover of Piya Tu x Aa Jaane Jaan that was released under Sa Re Ga Ma. That year I decided I was just going to do things my way, put out my original music in the manner I saw fit – no label, no manager… And that’s what I did. I picked things back up when I put out Majesty – which editorial playlisters the world over loved – and haven’t looked back since, not even during the pandemic. Ofcourse, there have been peaks and valleys so far, but I’m proud of everything I’ve done and accomplished. I’m now a multi- hyphenate: I sing, song write, produce, mix and master. And I’ve done many of those things for myself, for major label artists, and for and with fellow indie artists.

What’s your take on Indie music in India, especially vis-a-vis Bollywood music?
I think the indie music scene has developed fast and well over the past several years. As horrible as the pandemic and lockdowns were (for so many reasons), they really forced publications, streaming platforms and even labels and TV channels to turn to independent musicians and artists for entertainment at a time where Bollywood experienced a total shut down. I do know that several of us independent artists did experience a significant dip in attention once things picked back up. This isn’t surprising or insidious – just that we had to share space with the massive forces that are Bollywood and big label artists once again. But at the same time, there is an established space for all of us independent artists now, and there are so many massive success stories that have come out of all of this! If some of us win, we all win. Because it pushes the needle forward. It allows for more of us to not just be visible, but to be celebrated.

Between singing, songwriting and musician, which one do you like the most, and why?
It changes every day. Some days I just want to be an artist, front and center. Other days, I’m focused on writing and can’t get enough of it. And other’s I just want to geek out over production. I wear so many hats, and it depends what I’m working on, on any given day as well. Ultimately, it’s all part of my overarching love for music.

Do you have any Bollywood aspirations? The Hindi film industry is big, you see, and gives one instant fame?
So far, no… And I don’t think any entertainment industry actually brings “instant fame”. Every artist across every entertainment industry that I either know or adore and respect has the same story: behind “instant fame” is years – sometimes decades – of hard work.

How many hours in a day do you do riyaaz?
At least one, often more. Most days I do it in pieces, so I lose track. And most days. I’m singing a lot outside of riyaaz as well. I would say on average I sing a minimum of 3 hours in the day, usually easily more.

Where do you see yourself, say, 10 years down the line?
In 10 years I hope I’m working with some of the people that have inspired me – Beyonce, Jon Bellion, Frank Ocean, the list goes on. I hope I’ve got at LEAST one stadium tour under my belt, and as many writing and production credits as I can handle. I want the world to know me. Not because I seek fame, but because I love what I do and I do it really well.

Would you like to share any interesting anecdotes about your music
The name Goddess Pop came from the writing session for my song Goddess. With all the sounds we were combining to put the song together, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what to call my music. That’s when we came up with Goddess Pop! Also, I’m forever chasing the beauty and poetry of Hindi and Urdu song writing in English, and I deeply love vocal acrobatics. I always end up writing songs that challenge me, and always have a moment during recording where I go “This one part feels hard, but I really did this to myself.” It makes me laugh. I love that I push myself without meaning to at times.

Awards/honours you have won.
This year specifically was the first time I saw my name on Rolling Stone USA playlist and article – Songs You Need To Know. It’s a milestone I’ve been dreaming of since before I told anyone I wanted to be an artist. It feels surreal to be living it!

Any forthcoming songs you are working on?
I’m putting out a song every month until July – which is when I’m dropping my debut EP titled Ascension! I also have another collaborative project set for later in the year that I’m really excited for. I’m exploring a lot of genres and musical styles I’ve always loved this year, and really pushing myself sonically. It’s exhilarating!

What are your other interests, hobbies
I love cooking, reading fantasy fiction, RPG games, and dancing. I also love other art forms that feel more tactile – clay molding, painting, flower making. I did so many of those growing up. They feel meditative to me.


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