(November 24, 2021) In early 2021, as people were hopelessly locked down aching for an infusion of light, singer-songwriter Vineet Singh Hukmani became a beacon of positivity. Inside his home studio in Noida, Hukmani created music imbued with optimism. Released on global radio in 2021, his nine singles in multiple genres became vaccines of sorts, spreading waves of hope.
The former CEO of Radio One is unafraid to unlearn, and learn. Today, the multi-Grammy submitted artist has three singles making it to the Grammy ballots. “My lyrics are colloquial and conversational. They are simple words that represent universal thoughts to connect with any radio listener,” smiles Vineet Singh Hukmani.
In an exclusive conversation with Global Indian, the singer-songwriter explores his song-making. “I create the chorus first, and then work the rest of the song around it. Once the song groove and genre are defined, its mood is upbeat and optimistic, I write lyrics that fit the melody,” shares the singer whose track Jab the World — a fun and synth-based rock number became one of the top 20 songs most played on rock radio in the US in 2021.
“It is an out and out rock song that imagines a vaccination for hate and disaffection. It has a happy optimistic dance rock vibe” he adds. With this track, he became the first Asian Indian to enter the Digital Radio Tracker Rock Top 50 chart and his song peaked at number 8 in the top 50 alongside rock legends AC/DC, Green Day, Kings of Leon, Papa Roach, Imagine Dragons, among others.
His multi-radio genre approach rings out loud and clear – his first release Dreaming out Loud was synth-pop, Can I go Now was kidz pop (which he sang with his twins Avni and Vir, tenth graders), it was rock for Jab the World, synth-rock with So New, melodic rap with i Pray, electronic pop with Turning Back Time, funk with WTF – Where’s the fun. The adult contemporary Hurry came next with Latino pop PFH – Party From Home which released on November 11, 2021.
Born in the Gulf, he schooled at New Indian School in Kuwait, and had parents who encouraged music. His favourite pastime was listening to 80s pop and chart shows on FM, and songs from Duran Duran, The Police, Depeche Mode, Phil Collins, etc.
— Vineet Singh Hukmani (@vineethukmani) November 6, 2021
Engineering from Bengaluru, Vineet recalls his rocker days, “I was in two good bands during college. Rock Clef and Stone Cold, which was chosen in the top 14 bands of India by Rock Street Journal, in their Great Indian Rock Volume 1 compilation album.” Classic rock resonated and so did David Coverdale from Whitesnake, Sammy Hagar from Van Halen, and Graham Bonnet from Rainbow.
Making music is second nature, and he then turned to radio, studied management from Harvard Business School, specialising in disruptive innovation strategy. “My day jobs were related to business development. Music, creating and performing has always been a thriving parallel throughout life,” says the veteran radio honcho who was the co-founder of 94.3 Radio One in 2007. “That was a dream come true. I ran it for 12 years before selling it to a media house in 2019,” informs Vineet, who is the first artist in the world to secure eight No 1 tracks on the European Indie Charts with his last release Hurry on top too.
Nine songs in a year are remarkable, and he admits that it was legally contracted. “Radio release to charting is a five-six-week cycle, and every 45 days keeps the single release momentum. That consistency of release followed by charting across the world gave me an edge,” he says.
So New, a “pick-me-up” song for the days when you are down and need simple pleasures to feel “so new” again, “was in the synth-pop/rock genre, and entered the DRT Rock top 10. Around this period, I was the only artist in the world to have two songs simultaneously in the prestigious DRT top 50,” he informs, beaming with pride.
So, what makes Vineet so good at reinvention with an intuitive grasp of music? “The process is to first understand how global radio stations are formatted. They are formatted into well-defined popular genres. You must ensure a single fits a radio genre perfectly,” he says, adding that the most important part of the creative process is to make songs with “repeat listening value.”
Now, commercially, his aim to release a single in each genre of radio format – a single every 45 days is his goal. The pandemic inspired PFH (Party from Home) when some close vaccinated friends landed up at his home during lockdown to party after being stuck indoors, home, he realised, became a panacea of the English Latino riff inspired by the likes of J Balvin and Nicky Jam with a sprinkle of Spanish lyrics.
Many do charity, Vineet cares deeply about the industry. His foundation Greatsong.world aims to help Asian musicians find their own platform globally, and has helped 45 artists and counting. “If you want to create commercial music globally, you have to understand how it works, and create accordingly. If you are creating music for your own sense of joy, there are no rules. Joy is then the only goal,” says Vineet.
The decades have made Hukmani consistent, better planned and grounded, “Grammy submissions for three of my singles this year in four mainstream languages has taught me that hard-work pays. It toughened me,” says the singer with fans across Europe, and the US. Now, he hopes to start performing live.
On the Grammy
“Over the past two years, the recording academy members led by Harvey Mason Jr worked hard to bring in diversity and inclusivity. With the launch of Latin Grammys, a separate space, a different region of music awards was created. We may even see an Asian Grammy version soon. This year, the voting structure has changed, and the so-called special hidden committees of the past were removed, leaving the large voting member bank to vote directly for the artist or song they love. The Grammys this year received 22,000 entries, of which about 500 will be nominated, and only 15-17 percent may win. Winning a Grammy will be the ultimate dream for many global musicians!”
On the medium of radio in India
Radio in India has not been able to grow into a leader medium like the USA or Europe. In India, the huge 15-year license fee that is paid upfront has made all radio companies extremely risk averse. Majority of stations “follow” Bollywood for content, unlike the West where radio creates its own leader path with new bands, music and hyper local content. However, Radio One, Indigo Radio and a few stations in East India are doing well with international formats. Globally, radio and music are a 50-billion-dollar discovery behemoth, India has a long way to go at 0.26 billion. Globally, independent music is a huge force to reckon with and India too is showing signs of this. Artists can only hope it realises it’s true potential, coupled with online broadcasting to become the leader medium it was intended to be.