In his fictionalized account of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, Peter Shaffer probed into what it takes to make a genius. What is genius? Is a genius born? Is a genius made? Shaffer’s Mozart was gifted from birth, yet he led an undisciplined life; almost taking his talent for granted, throwing it away as it were; Salieri, on the other hand, strived day and night to meet, challenge and surpass the gift that Mozart was born with. Amadeus, one of Shaffer’s finest plays, asks what is more important to succeed in life — talent, or effort?
Born in Cuttack, the 20-year-old Siddhant Mishra, now training in Mumbai to be a sound engineer had a penchant for music since childhood. He started teaching himself the keyboards at the tender age of six. By the time he was in the eighth standard, when most young adolescents worried about algebra or grammar, grades or girlfriends, Siddhant composed his first song and within a year he created an album with six original compositions. This is when he considered for the first time to change his passion into a career option. “What started off just because my mom asked me to learn some instrument soon became one of the things I wanted to identify myself with for life. The joy of making something original, every single day is unprecedented”, he says.
Siddhant who went on to learn the piano, while simultaneously teaching himself to strum a guitar, grew up listening to mainstream music, such as that of A. R. Rahman, Linkin Park, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Salim and Sulaiman. Their influence can be strongly felt in Sidhhant’s compositions. In fact these greats find place in his playlist even today, along with some Avici, instrumentals, SHM and trance by Arin Van Buuren. “I think the genres that a composer grows listening to comes to him more naturally than others; these are the genres that he can relate to”, says Siddhant, adding, “I grew up listening to a lot of Bollywood, Sufi, classical, classic rock, alternate rock and country music. I am comfortable in these genres. But I have also tried fusing new genres such as EDM into these genres and the response has been quite good.”
Life in Mumbai is definitely different from the quiet Cuttack. However, Siddhant sees struggle as part of his growing up process. Mumbai according to him is filled with opportunities that he is eager to encash. “One just has to capitalize on the chances one gets and I am trying to do that in Mumbai.” Along with his education therefore, he is serious about his career prospects in Mumbai. “I am working on songs that are to be taken by some prominent production houses and featured on their YouTube channels”, says the music-man from Orissa. He has live concerts lined up from July; he will be seen performing in different corners of the country with Soulsmiths — the band that he has formed in collaboration with Shaili Shah. And what will keep Siddhant engaged till July? Pat comes his reply — “I am doing the background scores of some short films and documentaries. Recently, some of them have won awards at national level film festivals. Also, there are many unfinished songs that need my immediate attention now. There are a couple of interesting things that I have in mind to bring into my music which I think people are going to look forward to.” Siddhant’s music can be found on his website.
We come from a tradition where an immense amount of emphasis is laid on the guru-shishya relationship. Is that something which the self-trained musician misses? “I am not trained in vocals. I feel if I was, I would have been a better singer in some way. Formal training is always an advantage.” He also wishes to learn the flute and the violin in the near future.
Given that the music industry is expensive, if not frozen, in our country can making a mark be easy? We’ve probably all known at least one person in our life who couldn’t chase this big dream because of financial crunches. Siddhant, however, is of the opinion that the picture today is changing. “I think in the digital era that we live in, making music is not really a pricey thing. Some of my previous songs were composed with around two thousand rupees. For youngsters who are talented and wish to create their own music, my suggestion would be to get the right set of gears. A basic music production setup can be obtained for under one lakh.”
However, what really is plaguing the music industry more than any other epidemic is the disease called piracy. When Music World closed down last year, for me a landmark was erased from the face of Park Street. I could not imagine Calcutta without the old music store that I had frequented ever since I was a child, purchasing gifts of CDs for friends on their birthdays; that I had frequented between classes or at the lunch hour, when in college; that I had frequented when waiting for the chelo kebabs to be served at Peter Cat. Music World was an integral part of Calcutta as I had known it. And then one day, it lowered its shutters never to raise them again. And I was to blame for it, partially. You, me, each of us. Buying a couple of CDs or DVDs annually could never suffice. We indulged in piracy before. We indulge in piracy still. What is available online and more readily accessible and free of cost is what we patronize. So the Music Worlds of the world are closing down and soon there’ll be none left to entertain us again. Siddhant shares my fear. “Piracy is a serious issue that needs to be tackled, especially in our country. It is one of the reasons behind the fact that buying audio CDs is going out of fashion. Piracy also reduces the chances of upcoming musicians getting a proper break. In the West, digital distribution stores such as iTunes have become quite instrumental in reducing piracy and it’s something that is gaining popularity here as well gradually. But piracy is an industry in itself in India and needs stringent anti-piracy laws to be curbed.”
Young as he is, a lot of Siddhant’s songs revolve around the emotions of love and loss. Are the songs autobiographical? Siddhant asserts that though some of the compositions might be inspired from his own experiences, they aren’t entirely autobiographical. “Making a song is a purely creative process and a lot of thinking goes into it. But I agree that one can only write emotional songs if one is familiar with the emotions that he wishes to portray through the song.”
Music has been Siddhant’s passion ever since he was a child. He has now turned it into a career option. He has considered this choice, in earnest. “Apart from the fame that the industry might offer one day, the level of satisfaction that I get from composing something and calling it my own would remain the primary reason to continue a career in music”, opines Siddhant. But can a passion remain undiluted, unadulterated when money comes into the picture? Siddhant maintains firmly that one can maintain the innocence of a dream; “Music for me has always been about satisfaction, more than fame and recognition. I would like to think that although money can get tempting I would like to stick to the very basic idea of drawing satisfaction out of my art, more than anything else.”
Having heard the music of both, Mozart and Salieri, Siddhant can’t quite decide which of the two greats he prefers. “I have found them equally good.” The self-made musician, the young prodigy believes in the virtue of hard work. “Some men are gifted and some master their art later. What matters is the final product that you offer to the audience. More often than not, the back-story doesn’t really count.” They say, when you cannot succeed with your talent, triumph with your effort. Siddhant believes that he was born with certain gifts but it is his dedication to the craft and his devotion to his art that has helped him scale heights and aspire for the zenith. “I believe I am gifted for sure, but it’s also true that I work very hard in making sure that my music constantly evolves and improves with every new song. I set my own standards and work to achieve them.”