Carnatic Percussion as a career

A few weeks back, I had written a post summarizing views expressed by a few popular Carnatic artists on taking up “Carnatic music as a career“. As a follow up to that, here is an article I read in The Hindu today which summarizes the views of popular percussionists Sri J.Vaidyanathan (mridangam), Sri S. Karthick (ghatam) and Sri B.S. Purushottaman (Khanjira) on the many aspects of the profession. The article ends with the line “As things stand, J.Vaidyanathan, S.Karthick and B.S.Purushotthaman advise their disciples not to become professional percussionists“.

10 thoughts on “Carnatic Percussion as a career

  1. Ram,

    It is true in any discipline. The whole thing depends upon the “Demand versus Supply”.

    You need to increase demand , for having opportunity for more artists in the same field.

    I would say, Carnatic classical has never done anything to increase its awareness and acceptability among people. It is still enjoyed and patronised by few sections of public.

    Also, learning classical music to many is a stepping stone to get into playback singing or a secured govt job ( my brother is an example). I have seen many talented singers discontinue their training , once they are in the confort of a monthly income.

    Also, as more and more financial independence ( security) comes in the society, you could see more and more people taking up non-academic ( read job-oriented ) learning such as arts, sports etc.

  2. True.

    Two points that come to my mind considering the highly competitive and ‘political’ scenario are:

    1) In a vocal concert, usually the singer is paid a lot more than what the accompanists are. If you hit it big as a singer, you could still manage a lucrative career by somehow succeeding to remain in the list of choicest singers. To think of making the same moolah as an accompanist is kind of impossible.

    2) Even for a singer, the money is there when he/she makes it big, to reach which stage might take a considerable amount of time. Till then, it is always a dilemma whether to pursue music full-time or part-time. It might be easier to go the part-time way for people who have some kind of influence/financial backing to see them through or for those who have some kind of a traditional “bank” or “govt-office” kind of job which lets them concentrate on other things in life without effectively contributing much at work (I know about many examples of such kinds). For others who are dependent only on their talent, it is very very difficult to come through.

  3. Hello,
    All this analysis beats me.Carnatic music should not be taken to the masses.The masses must come.Yesterday,the concert at MFAC by Ranjani and Gayathri was outstanding with classical pieces like Dwaitamu Sukhama,Akhilandeshwari and a RTP in Sankharabharanam on top of it and the hall was packed.However,one drawback was they resorted to Abhangs as the Thukkadas in the end without a Thillana or a Javali.Now,talking of monetary benefits is not appropriate.Did not the old timers make ends meet?Once people take to this profession,there must be absolute adherence to values and a ‘practise for a penny’ attitude.Remember what the great Palghat Mani Iyer who said ‘If you do Sangeetham part time, Sangeetham will treat you partially.Sadhakam of the Sapta Swaras alone suffices to provide bread’.And accompanists can sure make it ‘big.’Nevertheless,what is the meaning of ‘big’?Making it big is not popularity or money,by the way.It is much more than all worldly matters.

  4. I do not entirely agree with you Sathej. Consider the example of a person in his 20s trying to decide whether to take up music full time or not. He has to earn for himself now and for his family once he gets married in a few years (I am using he here just as an example. You could use “she” too; the case however is more applicable for boys in our society). He cannot aspire to rise to the top very quickly unless he has some sort of a backing. Even exceptional vidwat takes some time to get noticed. So what does he do? Does he take the risk and go full-time into music or does he get himself a job that can pay him at least what he considers a decent salary and continue music part-time until an opportunity arises where he can make his presence felt?

    I am not saying that one must sing only for monetary benefits. I am sure no good singer will sing with less devotion or less involvement in concerts where he is paid less than for concerts where he is paid more. That being said one has to look after himself and his family too which is why the money factor too is important. Talking about old masters, many of them used to do concerts so often that I am sure they got money more than what was required to just make ends meet. And I am sure there would have been many more deserving people who couldn’t take up music as a profession even back then and at least a few others who would have again tried to pursue music part-time with the dream of taking it up full-time one day.

    There is also a correlation between making it big (in terms of the quality of the music that you deliver and your popularity) and the money you earn. So you can’t altogether neglect this correlation too.

  5. My ideas on the 2 issues being discussed here:

    Carnatic musicians (including singers/instrumentalists/percussionists) not making enough:
    Isn’t it true for all performing arts that you cannot depend on them entirely initially. For example, most of the stage artistes perform in theatre as part time. While some of them who became famous can afford to leave their jobs, for others it continues to be work after work. I don’t think it can be any different for carnatic music also.

    Percussionists treated unfairly (including financial benefits):
    I think this has to do with the format of the current kutcheris. You have to accept that a singer gets most of the air time and the percussionist is an accompanist. The average audience clearly feels that the singers’ effort in a concert is much more than that of percussionists. If percussionists feel being left out, then they should probably seek a better role in the kutcheri format, or probably change the format itself (even if that involves breaking the tradition). Still better, start some new format (which can co-exist with the current kutcheri format) that is percussion-centric where the audience can appreciate their craft better and hence enable them get a greater standing and better returns. Shri.”Vikku” Vinayakram comes to mind; he participated in so many jugalbandhis along with people like Zakir Hussain and became quite famous. In concerts where Shivamani plays, he gets equal attention if not a better one. Ghatam Karthik is trying to do something similar I think with his own troupe. So, that is probably the way to go.

    BTW, Jayan’s comment about Carnatic music per se is a separate debate by itself. The incumbents in the carnatic music circuit (the above average rasikas, the club secretaries, the performers) are proud of the exclusivity of their art form. But they also realize that the exclusivity affects them financially. So, they try half-heartedly to spread their art form in an effort to boost the audience strength (and improve the financial returns), but make the beginners who make an effort to understand and appreciate this art form as uncomfortable as possible.

  6. Hello Ram,
    Yes,pursuing music full time ‘is’ difficult.No doubts.But,in my opinion,one can never do music part time and do justice to it simultaneously.I have no grudge against people working to make ends meet.But,many people learn Carnatic music and take to more lucrative jobs like playback.This is unpardonable.And some others sing for the audience.Someone recently asked ‘Did Bhimsen Joshi sing Thyagaraja’s compositions at any concert?Then,why do we Carnatic musicians have to sing Abhangs to draw crowds?’And one more point.Some present day musicians are employed in high-paid jobs unrelated to music.Let them be.But,what pains me is that they introduce themselves as ‘a software engineer’ or a CA professional rather than a Carnatic musician, a disciple of so and so.Professional qualifications disappear once on stage.On the stage,it is onlytheir Sangeetham which should count.And as regards,JV and Purushotthaman, they played wonderfully for the violin kutcheri of Parur MS Anantharaman,MA Sundareswaran and MA Krishnaswamy at Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha.MSA was constantly encouraging and after the kutcheri,backstage,they had a group photo.A pity that they don’t advise their disciples to take up this profession which is feeding them.

  7. Ram

    I also read THE HINDU and the views of JV /BSP /Karthik. What they have said is absolutely right. We cannot compare the times of Palghat Mani Iyer / Pazhani / Ramanathapuram or the next generation vidwans like sri UKS / Sri VR / Sri PR. The life style those days were different than today.

    I have heard that Sri Papanasam Sivan after getting an award from Academy returned home by BUS. It is also important that Sabhas should treat the artiste with respect and vice versa.

    I have heard that one leading sabha in T.Nagar pays pittance to the accompaniments (not even covering the Auto / Fuel charge) but the entrance fees are not less than Rs.100/- . I feel that st.tyagaraja or dikshithar lived their life time on ” Unchavritis” but such kind of sabhas are looting the public in the name of service to music.

    An instance last week ( as heard from my friend who tried ) for Aruna sairam the minimum entrance fee was Rs.300/- ( under the guise Rs.100/- tickets have been sold). There is no rule that so many rows are allotted for Rs.100/- and this will change according to the demand. Means you would have paid Rs.300/- and may still sit in the last row.

    Better Business bet would be next year : To buy a season ticket for Rs.2000/- (min here) and bid it for aurna sairam concert . You may be profitable .

    I have stopped attending this sabha concerts for the last 2 seasons for their extortion and it is time such sabhas should be boycotted.

    It is time that instead of mushrooming sabhas , 2 or 3 sabhas can combine their programs during the season. This would help in 2 ways

    1) the artist would not be under stress during the season.
    2) the artists (including accompaniments) can be paid fairly decently.
    3) the no.of cancellations can be brought down. (like today’s cancellation : Sowmya at NGS, Priya sisters – vani mahal etc..)

  8. Sathej,

    What is wrong in learning carnatic music and taking up playback singing later? If they are very clear in their goals that they want to learn carnatic music to get their basics right and to enable them to sing more intelligently and catch the notes correctly, what is wrong with that? It is bad if they start giving carnatic concerts that are poor in quality after they become famous in something else by using their fame in that field to get carnatic concerts.

    I also don’t feel anything wrong in what Sri JV/Sri Purushottaman are saying. If they feel that the profession as it stands today cannot help their disciples sustain their families then what is wrong with it?

  9. Nothing wrong with the ‘playback’ part of it.What I meant was the playback singers straying back to Carnatic music is wrong.If one is to perform as a Carnatic musician,then one must restrict oneself to tat and not resort to playback.
    As with Sri JV,I disagree.They should advise disciples to pursue the art not with a motive to sustain the family.The primary purpose is not that.Are JV and Purushotthaman somehow not making it?There ‘will’ be a way.If one is sincere to one’s profession,definitely he will not be left starving.Maybe,yes,the quality of life may not be there.But,after all,one should enter this noble profession devoid of such thoughts.

  10. Hi friend.

    Maybe you can help me.
    I’m musician and music producer from germany.
    I like to contact Shivamani ji.
    can you help me please with his e.mail number.


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