Published on April 28th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Ananya Birla On Her Music Career, Her Successful Businesses & The Influence Of Kurt Cobain
An international pop star, Ananya Birla has nearly 15 million YouTube views of her “Livin’ The Life” video. Her latest single, “Hold On,” received close to six million views on YouTube within two weeks of release. Yet music is not Birla’s only area of success, as Svatantra Microfinance — a start-up she created at the age of 17 — currently has more than 600 employees across 70 branches in four Indian states. Meanwhile, Birla’s second business CuroCarte has also made waves as it sells rare, high-quality handicrafts all over the globe. She makes time for a mental health initiative, MPower Minds.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Birla on behalf of The Hype Magazine and gained insight into what is ahead for the Oxford University alumnus. More on Birla can be found at www.ananyabirla.com.
You have been successful both in music and in business. How do you like to be thought of?
Ananya Birla: I am a musician, mental health advocate and entrepreneur. Right now, music is my focus. I have been working hard the last few months ahead of the launch of my latest single “Hold On,” which came out at the beginning of March. In April, I am traveling back to London and L.A. to finalize some of my upcoming releases and to continue working on an EP.
Outside music, I run a mental health initiative, MPower Minds, with my mum. We campaign to stamp out the stigma around mental illness in India and provide world-class care for people living with mental health issues who are ignored or discriminated against.
I have a passion for building businesses with a heart, such as Svatantra, a microfinance organization which aims to empower women in the Indian countryside by helping them grow their businesses. I wanted to create a platform which encourages other women to fulfill their potential and achieve independence.
People think of me as a lot of different things, but I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. Today, young people shouldn’t feel forced to label themselves as one thing versus another. Your identity should be based on what makes you feel fulfilled and where you can make a positive impact.
When did you start performing music? Did you take singing lessons as a kid?
Ananya Birla: Music was always around me as a child. Someone was usually singing or dancing in the house, and for as long as I can remember I was obsessed with it. I learnt the Santoor — a traditional Indian instrument — when I was nine. Then when I was a teenager I got really into Kurt Cobain and taught myself the guitar with YouTube so I could play along. I was in a band when I was at school, but I didn’t decide to make it a career until I was studying in the U.K. I got really into the live music scene in London and would play at random venues around town on the weekends. However small the audience, I loved it and knew this is what I wanted to devote myself to.
Was there an album or artist that inspired you to pursue music?
Ananya Birla: Kurt Cobain is one of my musical heroes. He has this amazing rawness and vulnerability that helps him to resonate with all types of people across the world. That is always my aim too. I love music for music’s sake but I also like that music offers the potential to reach and share an emotional experience with a wide audience. It is a universal language, which, when it’s good, can connect with people regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality or background.
Eminem has that same quality, I also have massive respect for him. I think they both managed to become known as voices of their generation because of their ability to connect with their audiences.
“Hold On” is your latest single. How long ago did you record it?
Ananya Birla: Yeah, we released it at the beginning of the month and I’ve been happy with the feedback so far. The song explores the pitfalls of love and relationships, questioning when you should hold on or let go of a relationship. I think it is something a lot of us can relate to.
I recorded with Mood Melodies in Oslo. He is best known for songs like “Faded” by Alan Walker, and “Issues” by Julia Michaels. We work really well together, he also developed my previous single “Meant To Be.” His experience and knowledge has been incredibly valuable.
We finished up about five months ago but it has taken a while to finally release it. There was a lot of back and forth involved.
Are there plans to release “Hold On” as part of an EP or an album? I ask because you have been releasing singles so far.
Ananya Birla: For sure. I have written so many songs over the past few years, but when we take them to the studio you begin to realize that only a handful of them have that special something. I work with some great people, who are always ready to be honest and tell me when something is not good enough. I think that is important. I am now much better at understanding myself, my audience and what will really resonate with people.
I am delighted that my last few songs have been so well received, but I guess it puts this pressure on any upcoming music. I am working with producers and topliners in L.A. and London and things are coming along well, we are aiming to put out an EP/album soon and “Hold On” will definitely be a part of that.
Do you have plans to perform live anytime soon?
Ananya Birla: I have been doing more and more live performances in India this year, and I can’t wait to start touring internationally. I love to perform, whether it is in front of 10 people or a thousand; I am quite introverted usually, but when I am onstage I feel like I can really connect and communicate with lots of people in a way that feels strangely comfortable.
Understandably you are very early into your career, but is there a career accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Ananya Birla: My last single “Meant to Be” went platinum in India at the end of last year, which was an unbelievable feeling.
Are there any plans to combine your music and business ventures? Or do you view them as entirely separate paths?
Ananya Birla: There is a symbiotic relationship between business and creativity, and this is what fuels what I do. It makes everything I work on varied and constantly new. I’m an artist at heart, but I’m very firmly rooted in the real world, so I know that creativity and business need to go hand-in-hand in order to make an endeavor sustainable.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
Ananya Birla: I spend as much time as possible with family and friends. I travel so much which is awesome, and I have built some amazing relationships around the world, but I think my favorite thing to do is to be at home in India relaxing and catching up with close family, friends and my puppy Skai.
What was the last concert you attended for fun?
Ananya Birla: I went to see Ed Sheeran in Mumbai, which was great. It is amazing to see the immense effect just one man can have with a guitar and a loop pedal. He is so talented.
Finally, did you have a favorite album of 2017?
Ananya Birla: Revival by Eminem.