Dhruv Visvanath on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly trends in Digital music

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

by Ranjini Achuthan

The digital landscape is a little like the Wild West, feels Dhruv Visvanath, the brilliant solo percussive guitarist and music producer from New Delhi. Before we come to why he thinks so, let’s look at what he has been up to during this lockdown, or rather, “the new normal”.

At the Canadian Music Week. Photo credit: Fatima Ali

Dhruv keeps his social media profile abuzz with enough content for a loyal follower to consistently feel satisfied and fuelled. “I discovered Discord and that’s changed the way I interact with people and it has helped me build a sense of community around my music. From doing listening sessions to a weekly audio newsletter talking about songs in general, and my story here and there, it’s been such a wonderful and vital experience in building a brand new sense of engagement. I just try to keep things simple, I really want to build an environment where people can be themselves, and be free of judgment over their feelings and emotions. I focus on being as honest as I can, and trying to build a world where people can really dive into my music and explore themselves a bit! Each post, each newsletter, each song, each vlog, they’re all attempts at understanding myself better, and in the process I love hearing from people who learn more about themselves too.”

However, before things were looking this good, Dhruv went through a long period of writer’s block.

Overcoming writer’s block is not something I would overtly celebrate, but I do feel that it has other greater psychological repercussions. The feeling of not being able to write a song, brings with it extra pressure to produce, and to create, which all in all can be quite a difficult thing to manage. The most important thing that anyone should do is to acknowledge the difficulty ahead of them, and use the time to bring awareness to other parts of themselves. Writer’s block can lead to a lot of self-judgment and criticism which can be hard to deal with, especially if you don’t have someone to talk to about these things. One must realize that the pressures we put on ourselves are often unnecessary and over time, the more love and appreciation we show for our skills and abilities, the more we will feel rewarded by them when we do decide to use them.”

Dhruv emerged from writer’s block by writing about it. And that’s how the track Write came about. “The irony of being an artist wouldn’t you agree?” he chimes, we concur! On a roll with a slew of new releases this year, he has put out one song every month since April and each of them has seen a warm reception from the listeners. This, he insists is a new phase in his song writing process with a far more honest side of him shining through, unlike his previous albums like The Lost Cause where he has tried to project his idea of how the world works.

“I just thought that it’d be simpler to talk about what I know. I wish I’d started this a long time ago, but I’m glad I’m here now, and there’s no better time to heal.”

The sound or character of Dhruv’s music is that of an eternal optimist. Rich soundscape always telling us to be hopeful no matter how down and out we are. Dark, for instance, talks of loneliness and fears, yet the soundscape is a direct contrast. His style of songwriting is, in his words, instinctual more than anything. He steers away from thinking about genres and stereotypes, although he is aware that his music is more often than not, happy music and sad words;

Says he, “Lighter and brighter melody always seems to inspire the darker side of me. I just make the songs I’d like to listen to, and take it from there.”

Constant learning and polishing the craft is now paying rich dividends as Dhruv seems in control and on top of the game with all the latest releases garnering some rave reviews. “Over the course of writing my newer material, I used the time to learn how to record and produce better demos. Make better richer, fuller ideas. I wanted to graduate from making a simple video for a song, to actually making it more real, and figuring out the entire vision for a song.

Each song I made, I’d try to produce a demo so that I’d have a strong starting point. Over 2 or 3 years, it came to a point where I started making my music sound as good as it would if it were recorded in a studio, in a controlled environment. That was a big turning point for me, and a big step towards realizing I had improved in ways I’d never imagined. And that’s where the why came from. I felt like it was time to really push myself and test my abilities, and use the criticism to grow. That’s how I’ve always been, and the process has rewarded me new lessons and realizing my potential! End of the day, I’m just happy that I get to make unique stories.”

Lately, Dhruv has also turned producer for other artists and has also entered the world of mixing and mastering. In spite of his hands being full with releases and some interesting upcoming projects involving movies and games (the details of which are too early to be known), the one thing that the powerhouse performer misses, is playing in front of a real audience.

The space, and environment, and the sheer spectacle of a performance, much like watching a football match in a stadium is something that he feels will return, to greater fanfare. However, at present with independent musicians facing a dry run in terms of income, Dhruv agrees that artists who are freelancers, would do good to think well and make a choice between paid gigs and free gigs that provides exposure. The digital environment caters to both types of opportunities.

“It is like the Wild West that offers spaces which are yet to be occupied as well as ones that strike gold. One can’t complain that the digital space is too crowded with live streams and gigs as opposed to the time when it was tough for an artist to get a show at a particular stage or venue. Now we all share the same stage, it’s just the attention we’re fighting for, and that can be troublesome. I feel like there are many platforms to access, and many that one can take advantage of during this lockdown. I wouldn’t like to sit here and say that it’s not right to do a live stream for free, but it would be nice to have many more opportunities to get paid.”

And that brings us to the elephant in the room. Streaming services are proving to be insufficient to sustain any steady income. Spotify for instance consistently finds ways to be mired in controversy.

The system of paying royalties based on the artist's market share has seen extreme polarized responses from artists around the world. Thom Yorke, Taylor Swift and many others have a history of pulling out of Spotify for these reasons. Very recently, Daniel EK, the CEO of Spotify hurt sentiments by suggesting that artists should put out more music instead of a new album every three to four years.

Visvanath feels that the value of a rupee in today’s day and age does not go far, and what that means is that every penny earned through any resource has to be stretched beyond its limits. “I worry that I might have to work beyond retirement age at this point just to ensure I have a way to sustain myself. As an artist who is still working towards building his listener base and trying to grow in this digital age, it’s hard for me to come to any decision to up and leave a platform especially when it becomes the central point of engagement to my listeners. What we need to understand most is that we can’t have all our eggs in one basket.”

He insists that it is up to the artists to educate themselves about how music is made available, how music is consumed and understand efficient patterns of releasing music without being put under pressure to constantly produce.

“Much like any business, the real success comes in diversifying your skillset and accessibility and improving on multiple other side skills so that one can contribute towards one’s own work better. Although putting music out there is much easier now than it ever was, with the current climate, many artists have lost access to performing and doing what they love doing. However, if I’ve learnt anything, I know that there exists an audience to my music, that I am grateful that I’ve been inquisitive enough about the world I function in to try and look for ways to grow.”

Even as the pandemic continues unabated, Dhruv Visvanath is hopeful. “I’m working on my song for September right now. The plan is to release material all the way till December and yes, I can’t wait to play a live gig!”

As an end to the long winded conversation he is gracious enough to share his current playlist: Tennyson, Jordan Rakei, Jacob Collier, Shibo, Matilda Mann, Eloise, Bruno Major. “These are some of my favourite artists at the moment!”, Dhruv smiles...

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