The internet became the biggest platform for a lot of new and emerging talents worldwide, especially during the Covid pandemic. Mansa Pandey, a 26-year-old independent music artist in Delhi, India, found herself out of gigs as the pandemic shut down restaurants, pubs, and every other avenue for live performances. Thereafter, she decided to start singing covers and posting videos on her Instagram page. As more people started watching and enjoying her content, she gradually grew into one of the most loved voices on Instagram in India. Her cover of “You Jhoom” — a collaboration between Naseebo Lal and Abida Parveen on Coke Studio Season 14 — has over 43 lakh views.
While cover songs and performances were always a part of the music industry, they were popularized and revolutionized through platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram only in the last decade.
The thing with Reels is, once you have a catchy song, thousands will use it for their content. And even if you haven’t heard of Mansa Pandey, you would have listened to her voice if you are on social media.
‘Ghar se nikalte hi’
Mansa Pandey’s journey towards fame began when Ehsaan Noorani of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy trio compiled a playlist featuring artists he came across on his Instagram live sessions during the lockdown. In an interview with The Rolling Stones, he said, “There’s this girl called Mansa and she’s from Nainital. I’d never ever heard of her, and she was apparently on the verge of not wanting to go on with her music from her anymore and stuff like that.
When Noorani asked her to sing on an Instagram Live session, he was left stunned. The event marked the start of a new journey for Pandey, who says she would always remember it as a significant moment, as she began singing covers more regularly thereon.
It was in 2011 when Pandey’s professional life began. Leaving Nainital, her hometown of Ella, she went to Delhi to pursue a career in music. She says, “I started learning Hindustani classical music and performing on the weekends.” The first few months of doing live gigs went well for her, as there were not many artists who would perform live. The trend was yet to pick up pace in popular circles. The scenario changed pretty soon — social media contributed vastly to the uptick when people and artists started sharing story updates, live broadcasts, and popularity boomed. Starting with Snapchat, the enthusiasm trickled to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, engaging a wider audience than ever before. It led to the rise of more artists willing to test the mic despite being paid only a quarter of the standard amount.
“I had to do 4 to 5 gigs per week to sustain myself. After Instagram, I have been getting better gigs,” says Pandey. Covers might make you big on social media, but there has to be more than that if you want to sustain yourself in the industry. “You can get opportunities based on your covers, but after that, where you take your journey is on you,” she adds. And some have cashed in on that opportunity, transforming a humble start into a global presence.
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Internet stardom to global fame
One of the most well-known Indian singers who rose to prominence for her covers is Vidya Vox. The YouTuber shot to fame when her “Closer x Kabira” — a mashup of The Chainsmokers’ song and the Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) classic — got popular across multiple platforms. The other, a more recent one, is “Melt In My Touch”, an original single by the artist.
In February, when Coke Studio Season 14 song “Pasoori” ranked third on Spotify’s Viral 50 list, Pakistani singers Shae Gill and Ali Sethi became widely known names. Gill, a 23-year-old artist, rose to massive popularity for her covers of her on Instagram. Today, “Pasoori” has more than 100 million views on YouTube. The song is now actively being recreated as covers and reverb versions in India as well and has become an Instagram story favourite.
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A democratic space
Much like in the 2017 movie Secret Superstar, the internet can be the leveling ground when it comes to equal opportunities. “I know people from near my hometown, villages and smaller places who are able to put out their music because of social media platforms and getting work,” says Mansa Pandey.
Ehsaan says, “I realized that there’s a lot of singers and musicians who wanted to showcase their talent.” What better space than the internet? Not everyone has the means to make the trip to ‘dream’ cities like Mumbai or Delhi and meet music producers and showcase their music. The internet gives everyone the opportunity to connect with not just composers but the audience as well.
Music has no boundaries and neither does the internet. The omnipresent quality of the internet allows local music to travel worldwide and lets global trends penetrate remote corners too. “Because of how viral my ‘You Jhoom’ cover was, I even got offers from Pakistan – at least 29 of them, for live performance,” says Pandey.
Today’s generation, however, isn’t restricting itself to just singing – they write their own songs and create their own music. “Now I have started seeing women learning music production. Even five years ago, there were just a handful of women who were learning to arrange their own music,” Pandey adds.
As the world opens up post-vaccination, there are newer opportunities for travel and live performances. Mansa Pandey says, “A true musician is not blind to political, geographical boundaries. But at the same time, it does not deter their journey of learning and spreading music all round.” She, too, wants to write her own lyrics, create music, and travel the world with it.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)