Founder and former MD of Radio One, Vineet Singh Hukmani on his multimedia book 9 believes no song can survive unless launched on radio
At a time when streaming applications have taken the forefront, radio often goes unnoticed. Yet, it’s still very much floating in the background. What is keeping radio alive in today’s world?
Vineet Singh Hukmani, the founder and former MD of Radio One, is someone who has cracked this code and is known for creating radio-friendly pop earworms. The Harvard Business School alumnus is the first Asian to achieve accomplishments on a global scale, like DRT and Cash Box Magazine charts in the US, the World Indie Music Charts, and the World Radio Charts. The artiste has also had three of his songs submitted in the Grammy’s in four mainstream categories. He went on to start his multimedia project Nine, which is a book as well as a music album. He released his single Ghanta in February. Vineet is also the founder of greatsong.world, an organisation that gives local artistes across Asia training and a platform to make their music reach a global audience. The radio mastermind talks about his musical career, and why radio must be kept alive.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Your multimedia book Nine is a unique concept. What gave birth to this idea?
The initial objective was to do something unique and disruptive. I wanted to make my music more immersive and experiential for listeners and was just trying to figure out what I can do to get a new bunch of people to listen to the nine songs I had done in a year. That was the first thought and so I took each of the nine songs, and the movies I like to watch, and based every story on a thriller genre with technology. At the end of the story, there were each of those songs. There was a commercial reason to do it as well. Today, music is free for everyone. People just pay subscription, and listen to as many albums or songs. Therefore, it’s become difficult for musicians to make money. People still pay for books. It’s a great way to give more value to people, so that they pay for it, but at the same time, discover something unique and disruptive. Most of the feedback has been that we’ve never seen a book of stories like this, where you read a story, then you go to a QR code and listen to the song.
One sentence to describe each song in the book…
The common theme is how does one process emotions in a technology-led environment. The first story is Nine, which is about a guy called Dwayne who suddenly disappears from his family because he’s an undercover CIA agent who is in deep trouble. Because he doesn’t want his family to get affected, he goes away and leaves all technology. But finally his past catches up with him and then he has to come back and use technology to protect his family. The second story is called Dreaming Out Loud, which is about two friends who are athletes, but they must compete with a genetically engineered entity. There is another story about an app that helps people to break up. But there is a mythical entity with godly powers that still believes in love and is living in New York at the same time, ensuring that this project doesn’t succeed. You have to see what will win — technology or the idea of love? There’s a story and song I wrote during the pandemic, and it is about vaccination. But this vaccination uses technology that removes hate from your system. A lot of things in the world today are built on hate. So, if hate disappears, what would happen? What I am trying to communicate is that beyond all this emotion and technology overload, there is an optimistic way to look at life.
Three of your songs were submitted to the Grammy’s in 2021 and seven musical projects across 13 categories in 2022. How was that experience like?
A Grammy jury award member has to find your music worthy and only then does it get selected. There are thousands of people trying to submit their music every year. So, the jury members choose what goes into the system and then nominations take place. This experience of getting my songs submitted was fabulous, but when you get a chance to sit with these people who are the world’s best in every genre, the learning is amazing. The Grammy culture is not just about winning, it’s about learning from each other.
What do you think is going to be the recipe for creating radio-friendly pop hits in the future?
I have run multiple radio stations across India for a radio channel for 13 years. I ran a radio station as an entrepreneur and then we sold it to a larger media house. There is a certain logic that works in India. Mostly, all radios do Bollywood. It’s basically film’s music and maybe a little bit of other things. So, if you’re an Indian musician, you have to figure out how you can do something else. In India, everybody’s aim is to somehow get into movies. I’d like to think that in Bollywood, the singer is always in the background while the hero is at the forefront. Nowhere else in the world does this happen. Everywhere else a musician takes the centrestage. Everybody knows Madonna or Beyoncé or Lady Gaga or Bruno Mars as musicians who have made a fantastic name for themselves. They don’t depend on the movie industry, they are independent. The force behind what they are is radio because no song can survive unless it is launched on radio. Radio helps in discovery, but streaming is important for access. So I think traditional powers of radio will always be there.
Your organisation greatsong.world gives artistes from Asia and other parts of the world a platform as well as training to be exposed to a global audience. What is that one achievement you’re most proud of?
I started it a year and a half ago from a very genuine place where I thought I would like to pass on whatever I know to people. Especially in Asia because the music trade is very complex but manageable. People need to understand what works in the US and UK. Everybody tells me musicians have a similar problem of getting their songs heard around the world. Our company’s foundation line is: ‘If you have a great song, let us get it heard all over the world’. In certain multicultural environments, if you get too local, you can’t go global, and if you position yourself as being too local, you lose out on the global resonance. So greatsong.world actually tells you that it’s okay to be local, you don’t have to let go of anything. I remember Dubai’s culture minister had once said how the emirate’s vision is to be locally cultural, but, at the same time, globally cultural. So, if you look at some of the Global Village music concerts, you have Arabic, which sounds so beautiful, then there is Indian and Pakistani music. At the same time, you have Beyonce coming to Dubai. Look at how K-pop today is all pervasive; it’s because all of them believe that it can be done. We offer something similar to musicians. Be it Indians, people from the UAE, Bangladesh, Singapore or Pakistan, wherever people want to do something, we train them to be globally accepted.