From a renowned musical family spanning three generations of Bollywood music, Armaan Malik continues his family’s musical legacy to emerge as one of the brightest talents in India by releasing his first English language song, “Control”.
His versatility as a singer is exemplified not just in his multi-lingual lyrics but also in his exploration of diverse styles and approaches to creating music.
Armaan is heavily ingrained within Indian music culture and was credited with over 15 hit Bollywood songs by the age of 22 and is able to sing in more than 8 different languages including English, Hindi and Bengali.
We recently spoke with Armaan about his first English single “Control” and signing with Sony’s Arista Records.
Your journey as an artist in India has been impressive and inspirational. Considering that you have a musical legacy from your family, did you feel pressured while debuting? How was the whole process of establishing your standalone identity in the Indian musical sphere?
I’ve never felt any pressure at all. I had a very clear vision of establishing my own unique identity. When you belong to a family steeped in musical excellence, everyone around you expects you to follow the same path and obviously have everything laid out for you along the way.
But I knew I wanted to make it on my own mettle and not use my family name to further my career. At the age of 9, I even submitted my audition to a popular Indian singing reality show called SaReGaMaPa Lil’ Champs with only my first name – Armaan. I made it to the top 10 of that show too. I only did this because I wanted to know deep inside that yes I can chart my own journey the way I want to and not looked at differently just because my family is a renowned musical family.
The journey after the reality show was exciting. I started singing for a lot of advertisement jingles and voice-overs for various famous brands in different Indian languages. Through this process, I interacted with some really talented composers and music producers, who later on went on to give me my Bollywood playback-singing breaks in films like Bhootnath, Taare Zameen Par etc. (as a child singer).
For about four years I was singing for almost all the children’s movies that were being made in the industry and then a few years down the line when I was 18, I started my proper career as a full-fledged playback singer.
With each passing song, my audience grew more and more. I was being recognized on various platforms. Even though Bollywood (Film-Music) is the centrepiece of the Indian music industry, I started doing non-film music which featured me in my own music videos and through this parallel process, people not only knew my voice but also got acquainted with the face and the persona of me as an artist.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My brother, Amaal has been a very big influence in my life. He was the one to introduce me to world-music and the different genres that exist out there. Yes, I have learned Indian classical music by my teachers and gurus, but I think my true training and musical influences come from my brother. He truly helped shape my musicality.
India’s music landscape is diverse with each industry offering its own flavour. What kind of commonality or differences did you observe while working through multi-lingual projects?
I have sung in almost all the Indian languages. The basic commonality is emotions. The music from all those different industries may be all in words that not all understand, but they express the same emotions. What is different is the working culture and musical styles. Each region in India has folk music which is home to that state, and almost all the music that comes out of those industries, have that inherent flavour present in them.
You have been one of the forerunners in this new generation of musicians to experiment with non-film music beside Bollywood and with the launch of Spotify in India, a new door has been opened for the artists. Do you think that non-film music within the country will be able to make it big?
Like I mentioned above, I’ve always consciously made an effort to do non-film music and champion the independent music movement in India. With Spotify in India, it’s definitely a great help to this whole shift. I am so happy to say that there are so many new artists emerging in the scene and I’m glad that shift has happened. For non-film music to be as big as film music it will take a few years but it will definitely happen. I believe the main moving piece for this shift will be when all mainstream Bollywood singers start making their own non-film music and albums. It will help boost it to another level altogether.
Considering your background in classical music and your reputation as a highly versatile artist, what kind of creative process do you follow to work on your projects?
The only question that runs in my head while working on any new project is “Is this a great song?” if it’s a great song, no matter which genre, which language and what vibe, I know that it will speak to people.
While working in the studio, I prepare myself mentally according to the song I am supposed to sing. Every language, every genre has a different vibe, so I just need to be ready to make that switch happen in my head between different stuff. It’s very tough, but over the years having sung in all these different languages, I’ve developed my own inner formula to get into the skin of the song. Even if I wanted to share this formula with the world I couldn’t because it’s so hard to explain what goes on in my head at that moment while delivering a line.
Congratulations on signing with Arista Records. How did that happen?
Thank you! Well, here’s how it all happened: since late 2018 I have been making trips to LA to do writing sessions with a couple of writer friends of mine. Made a bunch of songs with the sole intention to just release my English music out in the world and let people know that this is a side of mine.
I never had a label in mind at the time. When I came back to Mumbai, a mutual friend of my writer friend and I heard my stuff and he loved the songs. He had this wild idea of wanting to send the stuff to David Massey. I excitedly said of course, who wouldn’t want a highly respected record executive like David to hear their music! So he sent the tracks, and we immediately got a positive response!
David was travelling to the UK for the BRIT’s at the time and asked if we could meet up in London. My mother and I immediately flew down to London. We met a couple of times and we discussed so much about how global music is blowing up and about how it’s the right time for India to be on the global map. That is the vision that clicked with me. A few months later I signed up with Arista Records, and ever since I have only been working on getting the music right.
Would you like to share the vision that drove you to embark towards the international market?
I have always wanted to take India to the world and this has been my lifelong dream. There hasn’t really been a precedent before and I want to be the first one to truly represent my country on a global stage.
This whole vision and idea took birth during my childhood days. I have always loved singing in English and while growing up I used to listen to a lot of western artists like Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra, John Mayer, Bruno Mars, and Chris Brown. This music feels a part of my DNA, and this has always been my trajectory.
The way the Indian music industry works is very different from the American music market. How do you plan to break in and reach out to audiences in the US?
The way the Indian music industry works is very different from the American music market. With platforms like Spotify, YouTube, Instagram and Tik Tok one can reach out to an audience in any part of the world with the right support. At the end of the day, it’s the song that needs to be good, it doesn’t matter which part of the world it comes from. K-Pop and Latin music are a testament to this. I am confident in my new music and cannot wait for people to hear it and know me as an artist.
Please tell us a bit about your new song “Control”
Control is a song that describes the push and pull feeling of being trapped in a controlling relationship and how confusing it can be to want in but also want out. It’s inspired by the relationships I’ve seen around me. It’s got a slick pop sound and a super groovy bass-line. Producer Wayne Wilkins in fact handed me the bass and just said – ‘go wild on it!’
I have been playing the guitar quite sometime now, but I have never played the bass before, this is my first time playing the bass on my own song and I’m pretty stoked!
You have been able to carve a niche for yourself amongst an audience that is constantly bombarded with songs from various continents around the world. How do you understand the taste of music enthusiasts today?
I am of the belief that a great song is a great song, no matter where it comes from or who has sung it. The most important aspect for a song or new music to cut through in today’s competitive world is the sound of the song. The production plays a very important role in determining how well the song will do. It needs to be catchy and current, but also has to be you. You can’t lose your authenticity in the process. In order to understand the taste of music enthusiasts, you need to stay up to date with new music. I constantly keep listening to new stuff. It inspires me, helps me become a better musician.
You started your YouTube channel seven years ago. The channel has now amassed over 1.5 million subscribers which is a huge feat. Have social media channels contributed to your journey?
Social media has definitely contributed to my journey in a big way. My YouTube channel really benefited from my social accounts. It’s one thing to make good music that connects with fans, and it’s another thing to actually connect with fans, and that happens via social media.
In today’s day and age, we cannot ignore the importance of it. For all emerging artists, I think it’s very important to use these digital platforms effectively because it is definitely a place where they can be discovered and get a big break. The possibilities are endless!
While you have a lot of popular songs under your name, which song has been the most challenging to work on?
The most challenging song for me to deliver was ‘Main Rahoon Ya Na Rahoon’. It’s a single that Amaal (my brother) and I released in 2015 as a dedication to our grandfather – Sardar Malik. It sounds like a very simple straightforward melody but definitely not an easy song to deliver. It has these intricate emotions that someone only twice my age could bring to life. It was a huge challenge, being 20 something, to extract that level of emotion out of myself and make people believe in each line that I sang on that record.
Fans in India love you and your collaboration with your brother Amaal Mallik. What has been the best learning moment while working with him?
When it comes to our collaborations together, there’s some kind of blessing from above, because they always go on to win the hearts of fans and perform extremely well all across. Amaal as a person is a hard taskmaster. He never lets me get away with a subpar take and does not compliment me very easily. He fights with me to get the best out of me, and it’s because of these small things I have become a better singer. I’ve learned to push myself beyond my capabilities, only coz of Amaal.
With the popularity of artists like BTS who have been able to capture the market with their native language, there has been a welcoming response to non-English language songs. Do you plan to showcase your Hindi or other regional songs to the International audiences in the near future? What kind of projects can audiences expect?
I am definitely going to showcase my Hindi material to the international audiences in the near future. I would love to see how they’d react to it. I’m pretty sure that there’s going to be a lot of cross collaborations across languages and genres in the near future, which is why this journey is so exciting! I love singing in different languages. It helps me connect to different people from around the world and that’s what music is all about – making a human connection, where no language, no genre comes in the way of catching a vibe and enjoying the song.
Let us know your thoughts on Armaan’s latest single Control at @CelebMix!