Carnatic musician Sanjay Subrahmanyan recently launched a series titled ‘On That Note’ on his YouTube channel. The series consists of clips that are roughly two minutes long, in which Sanjay sings a refrain from a chosen raga and then shares some anecdotes from life. The singer speaks in English interspersed with Tamil. The episodes, branded with a distinctive logo, end by urging viewers to buy a membership into ‘Sanjay Sabha,’ a forum that shares digital content exclusively with patrons.
Says Sanjay, “The main intention of the series is to engage with listeners. I have been camera-shy earlier, unwilling to talk much, preferring to sing. The pandemic, unfortunately, has created a long period of uncertainty and, as a performer, I am missing the live experience. While singing and sharing music is still primary, social media has been encouraging of people talking and interacting directly with the audience. There is a personal element to an artiste talking on camera.”
In 2020, Sanjay kept his YouTube channel going by uploading several songs, and montages of clips, from his past live concerts — recorded painstakingly by his wife, Aarthi, for over a decade now. While recording concerts for sabhas for the virtual Margazhi festival last year, Sanjay realised there was a market for high-quality paid programming. This led to the launch of his paid channel in January. “The pandemic has made digital concerts the only substitute for active performers. The reason behind my collaboration with Bhargavii Mani, a branding and communication professional, for the series is to make the content visually appealing. It was she who convinced me to produce my first music video ‘Tamizhan’.”
Bhargavii runs Edge Design House and was inspired to produce ‘On That Note’ from ‘Going Places,’ a series Sanjay was already doing for subscribers of his channel. “I wanted a byte-sized concept for everyone else. Most of us love stories; that’s why we decided to have Sanjay narrate anecdotes.”
Once the concept was decided, Sanjay, Aarthi, Bhargavii and her team worked on the title and logo, and storyboarded the episodes, recording six right away before the lockdown began the following day. Bhargavii adds that the logo was based on Sanjay’s own acoustic tambura (the sole source of sruti he uses on stage) with the colour palette inspired by the impressionist art that Sanjay enjoys.
Spontaneous by nature, Sanjay rarely sticks to script, adding whatever comes to mind while filming. “So the challenge is to try and condense what I want to say into a short capsule. It is also helping me become more comfortable before the camera.”
Will his paid channel remain sustainable when the situation returns to normal? Sanjay thinks so. “Several sabhas have told me they intend to continue digital streaming options for live events. I think this format democratises the situation, breaking a lot of entry barriers and making it easy for anyone, anywhere, to access what is being offered. After all, music was being shared and consumed online even before the pandemic.”
Says Bhargavii, “It has not been difficult to take the concept across to music lovers since we have a great performer with varied interests and a brilliant sense of humour. He is a very strong brand.”
The author writes on classical music and musicians.