'In India, you get pittance for a song'
Krishnakumar Kunnath, famously known has KK, has given us many memorable Hindi film songs, the most recent being Tune Maari Entriyaan from the film Gunday, and Party On My Mind from Race 2.
The playback veteran speaks to Patcy N about his Bollywood career so far and the new crop of talented singers he likes.
I went to school and college in Delhi. I sang at school and college festivals and won prizes too, but it was just a hobby back then; I never thought of it as a potential profession.
I am not a trained singer; I learnt music by listening to other singers like Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Billy Joel, Sting… I tried to emulate them. It has been a constant process, and in that sense I have had lots of gurus.
I was scared of sitting in a classroom and learning music. I believed music has to be felt and it should be fun.
After my music teacher in school insisted, my father enrolled me in a music class. I attended for two days, but I did not understand a thing.
I got admission into college through the music quota. I went to Kirorimal College in Delhi, which has many festivals and you get to interact with a huge student population. I wanted to go to a college where a lot was happening on the cultural front.
In college I use to play drums and sing. I was introduced to western rock and English songs while in college.
I can sing any song today unless it is classical, because classical needs a lot of training and I haven't learnt that. I can do light classical though.
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'But I wanted to be a rocker; I never wanted to get into films'
After graduating, I got a job in marketing in Delhi because I was in love and wanted to get married, and no one gives you their daughter unless you have a job.
I quit after six months. I was married by then. I've known my wife Jyothi since we were in sixth grade.
I was just 22 when I quit my job. My wife supported me. She sensed that I was not happy.
When I told my father I had quit my job, he said, 'It's your life son, if you think you have to pursue music then it has to be it.'
I was a bit scared, but his response boosted my confidence. I was very happy that my father had stood by me.
I had done scratches for jingles while in college but after I quit my job, I started doing jingles seriously. I started making money too.
In 1994, my wife was expecting and she went to live with her grandmother in Mumbai for her delivery.
I joined her a few days later to be with her for the delivery. I had no intention of staying in Mumbai because I was doing good with jingles in Delhi.
My wife insisted that I stay and try to make a music career in Mumbai instead of heading back to Delhi. But I wanted to be a rocker; I never wanted to get into films.
I had a cassette recording of two English songs sung by me. I went with it to all the music companies. Everybody said very nice, but they also said rock music doesn't work here, especially if it is English.
Nothing happened for four months.
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Image: KK sings Tune Maari Entriyaan from Gunday
'After Tadap Tadap composers started calling me with similar songs'
I had met Hariharan once at a hotel in Delhi and he had asked me to come to Mumbai. My uncle is his friend and he took me to meet Hariharan.
He heard my cassette and played it for Leslie Lewis over the phone. Lewis told me to meet him.
I met him at his studio and got my first jingle in Mumbai the day my son was born.
He gave me more work and I started doing jingles here. I have done 3500 jingles in 11 languages.
Playback happened because of Vishal Bhardwaj. He gave me a song in the serial Hit Thi Hit Hai.
When he got to do music for Gulzaarsaab's Maachis in 1996, I did the opening for the song in a high pitched voice, Chhod Aayein Hum Woh Galiyaan.
Gulzaar loved it and said he will play the song in the beginning as well as at the end. He told me I have a soulful voice.
Also, in 1996 I got Sapney. I did a song Strawberry Aankhen for A R Rahman.
I worked in many songs with A R Rahman in 1996 and 1997. But, unfortunately, those films were never made, like Shekhar Kapur's Tara Rum Pum. I had three songs in that.
Then Vishal Bhardwaj gave me five songs in a film called Hum Panch Ek Daal Ke, directed by Sashilal Nair. That film also got shelved.
I thought of taking a break from playback to concentrate on advertising because it was good money and took little time. In-between, I did small films such as Eshaas, Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai.
Ismail Darbar gave me Tadap Tadap from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). That year I also cut my first album, Pal.
After Tadap Tadap composers started calling me with similar songs. It was becoming monotonous and I went underground for a bit.
I refused lots of songs. After six months I started working again. I did Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai for Aks and Awaarapan for Jism.
Image: KK sings Tadap Tadap from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
'People compare me to Kishore Kumar but I can't match that genius'
People compare me to Kishore Kumar but I can't match that genius.
In my early years I would see how Kishore Kumar sings a song, how he emotes, and try to imbibe that. I liked his antics, style and delivery.
I have lost out on songs because I couldn't feel it from within. When you sing you have to be in the song, you have to feel it or else don’t do the song. That’s why I haven't delivered a bad song in my career.
I have taken fewer songs to give quality work; I like to give my best.
I enjoy singing live because you get to interact with your audience; it's a special feeling.
Sometimes it feels spiritual when you sing to a live audience. Singing live happens only when you have hit songs in the film, so stage and playback singing for a film are interconnected.
When you are singing in the studio you give your best. Keep your problems aside, give your hundred per cent, feel the song, get into the mood
When you are performing the same song on the stage, you often feel different. I don’t necessarily sing exactly the same way on stage. The way of delivering the song may change dramatically.
In 2008, I sang and composed the music for my album Humsafar.
I haven't thought about composing for films. I don't want to do it for the sake of it.
For any song I need to have mental preparation of at least two days. I don't go if anyone calls and says, 'Ek gaana hain aakar gao' (There's this song, come and sing it).
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Image: KK sings Tu Hain Aasman Main from Jhankar Beats
'Singers are not paid well here in India'
Singers are not paid well here, if you compare with international standards.
We are trying to find a way through a singers' association in terms of getting royalties. Abroad there is a band called Baltimora. They have had one hit, Tarzan Boys, and they are covered for life because the royalty keeps them going.
In India, you would have got a pittance for the song and you wouldn't get anything at all after that.
When a song plays for posterity, the singer, writer, music director, everybody should get money out of it.
We singers have another way of earning and that is through concerts.
The money we get for one song in a film is hardly anything; depending on the singer it can be around Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh.
Sometimes if a singer has five songs in a movie, he will charge less than that.
But nowadays one singer does not sing for the whole movie, or the same hero in the same movie. There are at least four singers per film album, so that the listener gets more variety from a single album.
Image: KK sings Awarapan Banjarapan from Jism
'My all time favourite composer has always been R D Burman'
My favourite singers in the current generation are Benny Dayal and Arijit Singh. Their voices are different and they sing from within.
Among the women I like Sharmilee Kholgade and Niti Mohan. Both are versatile and they are young and raring to go.
My all time favourite composer has always been R D Burman.
Among current composers I can’t pick one. I am not being diplomatic. Everybody has a different talent. Pritam is the man with maximum hits. He has given me some of my best songs.
Vishal-Shekhar are also hit-makers. I have got my best songs from them too.
In fact, all the composers -- whether it is Shankar-Eshaan Loy or Mithoon -- have contributed to my career.
Pritam has given me the most number of songs. We have known each other since our jingle days. I have known Shankar Mahdevan since then too.
Image: KK sings Alvida from Life in a Metro