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Please tell us about yourself
Vasuda Sharma, the indie singer-songwriter, who is one of the few Indian artistes who have successfully crowd-funded their music albums. Her debut record is titled Attuned Spirits and it features songs that are collaborations with her peers from Berklee music school, which she attended in 2012. The album raised over five lakhs on the crowd-funding platform Wishberry in 2013.
When she decided to come to Berklee, Vasuda Sharma ’12 already had what many leaving Berklee hope to achieve. At 28, the New Delhi native had graduated university, where she studied sociology, and was enjoying a thriving career as an active musician in Mumbai. She was perhaps most well known in India for her work with the band Aasma, a hitmaking pop band that came out of the national reality show Coke (V) Popstars.
Tell us about your learnings, inspirations, and influences.
Well, it has been a roller-coaster ride since Popstars, way back in 2002. Aasma actually taught me not just how to be a singer, but also a performer on stage. Post Aasma, all of us followed our respective callings in music. That was a phase of transition for me, since I was struggling to find my sound, and I really wanted to figure out my musical direction. After being a composer in Bollywood for a bit (I composed and directed music for Shahrukh Bola Khoobsurat Hai Tu, released in 2010), I decided to go to Berklee. That is when the Indie side of me really blossomed. Berklee was one decision in my life that I am extremely happy about. The atmosphere and the musicians there inspired me to think big and to not be confined. It really helped me be more experimental and open to new ideas.
You spent your childhood training in Indian Classical, and later pursued education in western music at Berklee College of Music.
My decision to go to Berklee was with the intention of learning more music and, more importantly, finding inspiration to create. Prior to Berklee, I didn’t feel inspired enough. I was following the same old routine, was surrounded by the same set of people, there was monotony and stagnation in my music, and more in my soul and spirit, I felt. I needed a change, and Berklee happened at just about the right time in my life. I never thought of leaving the country for good. I love being here, and would want to continue creating music here. However, I have started travelling outside the country for shows, and have a lot of international collaborations that I am really excited about. All thanks to Berklee!
“I was doing a lot of gigs, and I was earning a lot of money. I’m pretty much known in the music circuit here. But in terms of satisfaction as a musician, or something that you do for your personal need, [I wanted] to become better, not just bigger. So my personal need was to learn more and get inspired, more than just doing the same things over and over, earning a lot of money but just being there.
Berklee is a very prestigious and renowned college. There are students here—new singer-songwriters—who are in awe if you’ve been to Berklee, and they’re all dying to audition. They’re all dying to be there and they keep sending me mail and keep asking me questions about the experience. And I always tell them that it’s once-in-a-lifetime—that if you really want it you really have to work hard to be there. But once you get there, you’ll just learn so much. So I think everyone’s really excited if you’ve been to Berklee, especially in India.”
What did you study at Berklee and how have you used it in your career?
“I went for contemporary writing and production and I did some sight-reading classes. I had all these ideas in my head, but to put them on paper and give it to someone was a big, big deal. And before [Berklee] I would always do the guesswork. I’d give [my band] references: ‘Okay, I want you to play like this, that, that’…and they would have their own interpretation. Berklee helped me be a musician who can actually communicate what she has in mind. When that happened, I was much more confident; I was much more certain of my music. I knew exactly what I wanted. Before I would kind of leave it in the air and have all sorts of things that I might not be happy with but would still go ahead with because I knew that I was not equipped to do what was needed. But Berklee helped me kind of gain that ‘Okay, this is the song I have.’
Other than that, it’s just the experience of interacting with so many musicians from all over, especially the faculty and the people there; they’re so encouraging that you discover a lot of things about yourself. And when you find your strengths, you become more confident and that shows in your performance and in your interaction with people. So when I got back, people could see that I knew my music better than I knew it before. When that confidence comes across, I think people take you more seriously. Berklee helps you grow and people see that.”
How and when did you pick up live electro looping? Tell us about the concept of a one-woman band.
I have been using electro looping techniques since long, wherein I record everything, from drums to the bass to guitars and play it back real-time. I build all of my songs live and sing over it. I saw some YouTube links online in 2010, and was very intrigued by this looping pedal. I followed my gut and ordered it, without knowing much about it. I spent the next two months in hibernation, figuring out the RC 50 Loopstation. I had no idea where I was going to use it. I composed a few songs with the looper, and made a demo video of myself looping live. Little did I know that it would fetch me my first solo gig at the Blue Frog as a singer-songwriter. Now, I have also started using Ableton along with live looping. It’s liberating to be able to play a song all by yourself. This is how I’ve established my one-woman band.
How did Attuned Spirits happen? A back story that you may remember?
When I was leaving Berklee, I wanted to keep something as a souvenir of my whole experience. That’s when I decided to book a studio for 12 hours, and have everyone record all the songs we played together until then. I recorded 5 songs there, Jaagi Jaagi Raina being the first one. When I got back to India, I realized that the songs had a great vibe and needed to be heard. That’s when the idea of a full-fledged album occurred to me. I resorted to crowd-funding to produce the album, featuring 30 musicians around the world, and was able to raise the target amount within a span of two months. That kick-started the album – Attuned Spirits.
What did you do when you returned to India?
“I did a crowdfunding campaign here, back in 2012. I managed to raise a big sum, and I released an album called Attuned Spirits, which featured 13 musicians. It’s a folk-fusion album that I released independently. And that did really well here in India. Through that crowdfunding, I was able to pay them back, so that was very, very satisfying. Since then I’ve been actively involved in the independent scene in India, with my own band [not Aasma] and with playing my own music in festivals all over the country—just my ukulele and my voice and a little bit of live looping that I do on my own. So it has just been a very pretty journey after Berklee.”