Music, or to put it more deeply, the sound has the power to touch or inspire our hearts in a great way. The sound of the hooter in a soccer game brings cheers to the winning team; while the sound of the heartbeat of its child brings tears of joy to a mother. At the same time, sound, set in particular time periods and cycles could be totally transformational.
This is what, a lot of people in the world believe, is the power of Mantra Yoga — a particular field of yoga which is based on ancient Mantra and chants. The number of such people is growing day-by-day as they come to know and experience the wonderful impact this sound brings in their lives.
An extension of this art is Kirtan music or devotional music, which does not necessitate that you need to be a trained musician, but does not heart if you are. In fact, a lot of musicians all around the world find their calling in devotional music where they find a particular audience who is willing to listen to their music online, attend their gigs, and also purchase their music in any way possible.
In this connection, we talked to Anandra George, a Mantra Yoga teacher and a devotional music artist from the US. She is an acclaimed workshop leader and guide, and travels throughout the world to hold classes, workshops and courses teaching finer aspects of sound, and enabling artists to find their true voice, as they begin their journey of lead singers and musicians.
We talked to her about the potential of the devotional music industry, and how a musician or an artist could excel in this field.
Q1. Do you think there is a potential market for independent artists to earn their living through Kirtan music?
Making a living doing what you love for any independent artist is always an art in itself! For devotional musicians who can effectively invite others into a direct experience of Love through chanting, I think there is a great potential.
People are always looking to have an ecstatic experience, a peak emotional event. People spend huge amounts of money on drugs, alcohol, and pop concert entertainment (and all sorts of other attractions) seeking a peak experience that can be obtained through chanting in a more natural, sustainable, and holistic way. In that context, I think there is a huge potential to frame the Kirtan experience as a means to reach that end. To move Kirtan from entertainment or popular pastime to its full value as a transformational event, it requires a level of masterful facilitation, the musical scale, and refinement of the mantra that is rare to find in the burgeoning grassroots movement of Kirtan artists. But that’s another story!
Q2. Is the devotional music or Kirtan music industry language specific, and does it involve musicians who play only some particular instruments?
Yes and no. Often, the lyrics to the songs are in Sanskrit, or sometimes and other Indian languages such as Hindi. Any instrument can be used for the musical ambience, however, it is fairly common to see a harmonium being used by the leader to play chords and melody to accompany their chant.
Q3. In your experience as a teacher for such artists, what’s the most important thing they need to work on in order to be successful?
I would like to see a Kirtan renaissance where the fine musical, lyrical, and teaching art of leading a truly ecstatic, transformational chanting experience is highly valued.
Just picking up a guitar or a harmonium and singing a few mantra lyrics is not enough if you really want to do this as your service to humanity. There are subtle elements to developing and peaking a chant experience that can be taught, learned, and refined. The mystical arts of Indian Rāga music, Mantra, and the wonderful world of Sanskrit are all infinite playgrounds of learning!
Before a Kirtan artist produces an album and goes on tour, I would like to see them delve deeper into the roots of these traditions in order to accurately reflect their transformational potential with respect. That approach will take a little longer but will set them apart from the many less refined attempts, even many of the top-grossing popular musicians in the Western scene, which may unknowingly be perpetuating cultural appropriation in a way that might be contradictive to the essence of the practice.
The business side of it is often lacking, too, but if you’re really good at what you do, and you’re really clear about who you’re doing it for, then the branding, marketing, strategies for reaching your target market, and all of the practical aspects of administrating your service are a necessary and practical act of love that supports your artistry.
Q4. Though it is more spirituality-oriented, how much is the contribution of technology to the career of a Kirtan artist?
We use apps and technology to support every aspect of the experience. There are apps for the music itself, gear that’s required to produce and amplify the sound beautifully, savvy ways of capturing audience contact ongoingly through email newsletters, video and audio and photography play a huge role in sharing the essence of the events we do, and so much more!
An artist who is not technically literate would have a hard time starting out unless they had a personal benefactor or the luxury of someone else handling all of these things for them. If you know anybody who wants to intern and put their technical skills to good use, let me know because I could always use help taking things to the next level! 🙂
Q5. How can they increase their appeal to a wider audience — any marketing tips you would like to share?
I don’t think it so much about a wider audience as clarifying the specific audience that you are inspired to serve. You can’t do everything for everybody and try to please everyone will dilute your efforts and lead to a less than satisfying experience for everyone.
If you know that you are going to an elderly care facility to offer a chanting experience for the residents, you can target your language, plan your leadership presence, and prepare your set list and teaching points to deliver something to beautifully meet the needs of those people at that time.
Marketing is about knowing your audience and their needs and providing a clear message of how your service meet those needs. Even if what you have to offer might be valuable to everyone, in theory, don’t expect to try to capture everyone in every communication. Kirtan is such an intimate experience, that I think you’re better off with a smaller number of people who really want to be there, rather than a big group of people who are distracted and looking at their cell phones the whole time. Set a clear expectation in your marketing materials about what is going to happen, and in your opening welcome statements so everyone is engaged with you and they have a chance to get with they really came for. Then you have a better chance of making magic.
Q6. Do you think in the age of digital downloads and online streaming, such music can survive given than Kirtan artists rely more on live gigs and events?
All musicians rely more on live events, and it looks like that that will only increase. However, increasingly people are hungry for real, true, and profound connection. That kind of connection cannot be satisfyingly achieved through the digital format. There will always be a place for the magic of live events, and as I have shared above, I think that the potential for devoted and skilled chant leadership will fill an important role in the lives of people seeking that connection in a sustainable and holistic way.
I also think that becoming skilled enough to cross over into the teaching sphere, where you can help people develop their own home practice, is ultimately a very useful and potentially lucrative area of service that is sustainable for everyone concerned.