‘I wore this colour,’ Anushka points to her lavender t-shirt and says to me, ‘because it’s a zen colour, and I thought it would be apt for Keeping Zen’. Anushka Manchanda is all heart. This 37-year-old Dilli-ki-ladki has the vivaciousness of a 27-year-old. A singer, songwriter, producer, VJ, an actress and a content creator (who does her own video editing BTW), Anushka dons many hats. Just like she matched the colour of her t-shirt with the mood of the website she was interviewing for, she tries her best to match her work with her life philosophy.
A week before our chat, Anushka had published an IGTV video titled ‘Why content creation sucks’. In this four minute video, she talks about how disconnected content creation can sometimes be from an individual’s creative process.
During our tete-a-tete, Anushka talks about the importance of staying authentic despite the immense pressure to conform and how liberating structure and planning can be for artists.
On creating art that means something, and losing projects while doing so:
The last two years, this has been a thorn in my backside. This entire conversation about social media, etc. A lot of the work I was getting as an artist was to perform live, and music creation, that kind of work. But, there were also these additional finances that would come in from collaborations with brands over social media. Now what has happened in the last couple of years is that my code by which I want to live my life has become sharper and clearer to me. Because of that a lot of brands don’t fall into my bracket. I could not promote a product that was not vegan or not sustainable.
I even have lost some amazing projects. There was a project that a sanitary napkin company wanted to do. It was a great project! They wanted to get three women together. I would be the producer, they’d get a lyricist, and a singer. And we’d create a track together. And I was like, ‘Oh my God this project is great! But oh my God, these pads are plastic! I can’t do this!’
So, I was already losing a lot of work. I was also talking about things I don’t think people want to hear from artists. Like my political leanings, or the environment or sustainability or being vegan. But, I have something to say. I don’t make art for the sake of making art. I have a mission. I want my art to say something.
The importance of defining success for yourself:
In India, managers approach artists and tell them: ‘Here’s this audience. This is what they like. Now, make something they will enjoy’. When I actually starting making music myself, I realised there is an expectation. And it stems from the measurement of success. I don’t make a certain type of music, but that’s the type of music that does well. Only if I make that type of music can I reach a large audience and be considered a success.
It was an unlearning for me. I had to disconnect from it, and figure out what I define as success. The commercial market teaches you to think in numbers. But the independent music scene is different. Because you take decisions for yourself, and you can be smart about it! But if people try to turn you into something you’re not, that’s where the danger is.
On finding the right audience:
It’s hard work! You’re lucky if you naturally enjoy creating the kind of work that has a mass appeal. But are you trying to tell me that in a country of billion people you can’t find an audience? That’s ridiculous! There are not even a hundred or thousand people who like the work you do. It’s just that the finding them is hard work. And then there’ no money. If there’s no money, then how do you promote yourself? It’s such a vicious cycle! So you come back to social media or massy popular content. But, there are artists who struggle with making money, but they will not compromise on their art. That is also amazing, but it’s hard!
It’s like that Hallmark greeting card. ‘Be yourself! Only you can be yourself!’ But it is absolutely correct! You can’t be anyone else. You can try to copy someone else, but you’ll just be a bad copy. That’s all.
Do it all on your own, or delegate?
I like to edit my own work. I’ve edited most of my videos that have come out of IncInk as well. A lot of it stems from me not wanting to depend on other people. That’s the reason I also learnt how to produce my own music. I like to get my hands on it. And I think it also comes a little bit from my middle class upbringing. I’m proud to do my own work.
But I have this ex-boyfriend who came from a business class family and he’d look at me and say, ‘Why are you so proud of yourself for doing all this work? Do you know how much time you’ve wasted on something someone with half your brain could’ve done?’
It took me a long time to wrap my head around what he meant. But he was right! What’s more beneficial? To delegate things someone else can do, so I can do the things only I can do?
You have to play to your strengths. There is a lot of value in working with other people and having a team. I’m happy I did everything I did because I know what I’m talking about. But my whole focus was on things I couldn’t do well, and learning to do them well. But, no. You should focus on the things you do well, things you can kill, and find other people to work with who can fill in those empty spaces for you. They can then bring their best to the table. What you create in the end is better than what you could have created alone. Or at least faster.
Structure, flow, pivot
A friend told me about something called ‘Dynamic Structure In Limitless Flow’. So you have some kind of a structure in place, so you’re flowing in a direction and not all over the place. And it’s dynamic, so you can change direction at any point. You can pivot at any point.
This is so important! I have forced myself to sit and make a plan for next year. But like, I thought I’d do the next piece of my project, ‘I Am Seeking’ in November. But. I feel like I need to do it now because now is the time it’s needed, so I can pivot. But there is a structure in place according to which the people who are now working with me are working on.
The very things I used to run away from, things I thought trapped me – routine, structure, discipline – are the things that are giving me wings.
Oh hey, Excel Sheets!
I have this major excel sheet with my goals, a tab for new ideas, a tab for my music goals, one for sustainability goals. Everything lined up. This is a very corporatised way of working and artists can’t relate to it. I totally get it.
But once you know what you need to do, and everyone you’re working with knows what to do, then you don’t have to think, you have to just do.
Moving on, from oneself
The problem is that sometimes your audience, your managers want you to keep doing the same thing that first got you success, over and over again. But every artist evolves. I have moved on. I have grown as an artist. I’m trying to move ahead, and I’m being pulled back by my own baggage? For a lot of artists, when they’ve done a particular type of work at which they’ve been successful, when then they try to do something else, people are like, ‘nahi nahi, humein toh vahi chahiye’. This is so hard, so… stifling!
But, you have to do what makes you, unique and what makes you, you! And figure out how to make money doing the thing you love. That’s it! Doing something just because it’s popular or because someone else is telling you to do, is so terrible. We just need to shut the noise out, and listen to ourselves!