"The Learning Never Ends" - Amira Gill

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1. Tell us about your background and journey?

I always loved to sing and dance. It was a part of me as though God has planted a seed, nurturing it, and it’s slowly but steadily growing inside me. There were all kinds of music in our home. My dad loved listening to rock music from the 70’s and 80’s. 

Also loved house music and Kishore Kumar classics. Growing up in India, it’s inevitable that one would be exposed to Bollywood music and the Hindustani/Carnatic classical music foundations of the film music in the 90s and before. With the advent of globalization – and the ability to buy CDs and stream music online – there was much exposure to Western Pop music too.

I grew up around this wonderful assortment of music. No ‘one’ kind of music was ever forced on me, and my ear was tuned to different flavors of sound from the very beginning. The game-changer was when I was 12 and my parents invested in getting me a music speaker. 

I was listening to music and singing along to the songs like an addict. This is when I started singing Soul and RnB music. Women singers who had power, beautiful tone, and were incredible storytellers. The likes of Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Leona Lewis, Regina Spector, and more. 

Started sitting for hours without pause with this music and tried to imitate it completely. From the lyrics to the pronunciation of words, where the words were emphasized and how, the tone, the vibrato - every single detail. I wanted to get it right. 

I started getting good and started getting recognized for my singing in school. I joined a formal music school when I was 14 years old for vocal performance because I wanted to sing on stage and with other musicians. I met the members of my first band over there. 

At 15 I joined The Incredible Mindfunk. I was the singer for this 4 piece band with whom I performed in a club for the first time, entered the ‘professional’ music world. Wrote original songs for the first time, recorded an album with them. They were very patient with me and had the foresight to keep helping me grow even though I had never done this before. It was a truly inspiring time.

There has been no looking back ever since.

2. When did you first decide, you wanted to pursue music and how did you start?

It was a very organic process, honestly. I started with Mindfunk – which already put me on the map of ‘professional singers’ in the Delhi Indie Music circuit. I was performing and writing a lot; devoting time to music more than anything else. 

However, sometimes only performing could get draining. I felt there was more in line. I was very interested in working with people in a more direct way. I was always academically inclined as well, fascinated by human beings. 

Fascinated by cultures and how they played their part in molding a person. Also by family structure and roles of relationships in one’s life. I was introduced to something called Music Therapy by a friend who was studying at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. 

When I was finishing school and deciding which direction I’m going to take, I started looking seriously into Berklee and their Music Therapy program. 

It felt like a great fit for me because it allowed me to use the tool I felt most connected to – music – to engage with people in a more specific and direct way to meet their non-musical needs. Whenever I have been true to who I am, what I am feeling, and worked hard toward it – I have been guided to take the right steps. 

Whatever was meant to happen, has taken place. It helps that my parents always noticed and appreciated the effort I made and saw the work I put in, and never told me I couldn’t do something.

3. Is formal training required or one can train oneself purely based on talent?

It depends on what style of music you want to pursue. If you’re doing any classical form of music – you need a teacher and you need formal training. Especially in the context of South Asian musical traditions where learning music is an aural process, learned with the help of a teacher who holds the knowledge, and which cannot be learned in the proper and most efficient way through any book or video.

If you want to learn music that is not classical - I don’t believe you necessarily need ‘formal training’. You need dedication, need to be a great listener of music, I would say you need to be obsessed with the practice of wanting to know more and more about the music and/or instrument you’re learning. 

Be very intentional, be in love with what you’re doing, record yourself, and hear back what you’re sounding like and be open to constantly bettering yourself. There are plenty of resources available on the internet if you want to learn about harmony, about production, about anything else. 

Some people grow with formal training, within a curriculum. Some people grow without a structure when they are left to explore on their own. You have to know yourself and work according to your own needs.

Whatever you want to get good at, be patient with it. Listen to a lot of that style or that instrument. Imbibe it. Be patient with yourself. Music is a world in which you will never know it all and you will never be the best. Remember, there are no rules by which to play. Everyone’s process is different.

4. What are the various opportunities available for an aspiring musician?

Lots. You can get really creative with what you do and find a market for it.

Performer; session-musician; songwriter for other artists; composer for film and tv; writing music scores for film, tv, and games; top-line writer; voice-over artist; a music educator; get into the music business and managing artists; writer for music magazines and websites; recording engineer; live music engineer; producer; arranger; music therapist; much more.

I would advise people in India reading this to interview to look out for a book that talks about exactly this – it will be an incredible resource. Written by a veteran musician of India. BIG DREAMS, BOLD CHOICES (Handbook for emerging professional musicians in India) – Vasundhara Vee

5. What piece of advice you would like to give to future and aspiring artists?

1. Be patient with where you are at. It can be very frustrating and it’s easy to compare yourself with others whose journeys you don’t know about. A lot of the time it’s not you who is not good enough, but the time and place and opportunity are not there.

2. Limit your social media to as little as you can. Use it for your work and leisure, connect with people, and create bonds. When you notice it is negatively impacting your mind, know that it is time to switch off and invest your time in things that are going to help your artistic growth and not stunt it.

3. Be real about who you are, have a thick skin. Be open to listening to criticism if you feel it is helping you, but don’t let criticism crumble you and doubt who you are. People love commenting on things they themselves would not know how to do. 

4. This world is hard. There is almost never a clear division between professional and personal. And there is always competition and nastiness. Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean the world is flowery. 

It can be quite evil. Let your work talk for itself and keep you going. Keep working your butt off to get better and learn more. The learning will never end. With more and more people getting into the world of art, it’s easy to find a lot of average work and difficult to find really good work. 

Try to do your audience and yourself justice by creating work you are proud of. Don’t be in a hurry to put material out there, if you’re not feeling it. Never aspire for perfection, because that isn’t real. Aspire for greatness. 

5. Family and friends are important and keep you grounded. Remember your community will keep you sane and balanced, so make time for them and always let them know how much they mean to you. 

6. Be humble. Know that ups and downs are but a part of life, and thus, a part of your artistry. If you get a huge gig, it doesn’t mean fame and glamor and a constant inflow of work from then on. Stay focused and keep at it. If you have a low for a long time, doesn’t mean it will remain. Have faith in the intelligence of this world. It will guide you.

6. Who is your favorite artist and why?

Currently, it is Lianne La Havas. I love her songwriting, her breathtakingly powerful, soulful singing. She plays guitar in the most fabulous, intimate, and unique way. 

She knows how to use harmony to bring out the soul of her music. She writes honest lyrics and melodies and seems like a very grounded, genuine person. It comes through in her music too.

- Amira Gill, Musician

- Interviewed by Kedar Lalwani

-Edited by Shilpy Sharan

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