'You're Missing Half The Story': Shilpa Rao On Female Representation In Music Industry

Shilpa Rao first touched millions of hearts in 2007 with her debut track Tose Naina Laage and became one of the leading playback singers in the music industry.

Snehal Mutha
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Shilpa Rao

Image Credit: HT

A few artists do not require an introduction, their work speaks louder. Shilpa Rao first touched millions of hearts in 2007 with her debut track Tose Naina Laage and became one of the leading playback singers in the music industry. Rao has been known for her soulful voice and distinct vocal style, which can connect with the listener's soul. She has many chartbusters to her credit, from Khuda Jaane, a soothing piece to Besharam Rang, a full of beatsShilpa Rao never failed to present her versatility on the table, and her latest song Kaavaalaa from the film Jailer, just adds up to the list. 

Shilpa Rao opened up about her 17 years of experience in the Bollywood music industry, the song-making process, and female representation in the music Industry. In conversation with SheThePeople, she also shared her thoughts on the remake culture of Bollywood. 

Rao first touched on her recent release Kaavaalaa and versatility. She said, "It doesn’t come to you nor happens overnight. Everything requires effort, for example, effort goes into listening to varied music. One needs to be open-minded to listen to new music, new genres of music, and new artists. The more you listen, the more your mind develops and evolves into a soundscape, production values, and vocal textures. It requires many years of listening to varied music to build that versatility in your mind. Once build it in your mind, then can execute it with voice, and that is something I have always done in my life." 

Shilpa Rao has sung myriads of songs with different styles, vocals, pitches, and textures. SheThePeople asked her about performance-related pressure and nervousness. According to Rao, nervousness is all about getting the song right. Rao said, "A lot of times you don’t know what the song is for and who you are singing for. The only fear I have is I should be able to shine that song." However, Rao knows how to overcome her fear. She said, "You have to sing, put yourself out there, remove all inhibitions, all the mental blocks, and then sing as if it is first ever song."

Rao also shed light on her experience as a female singer, in the industry, and the female representation in the music industry. She pointed out that she has seen female songs and female-driven albums are very less. "You're missing half the story when you don't have the female perspective," added Rao. 

Elaborating on the female standpoint, she said, "I feel that should change. Whenever, even if I get four lines I make it count I bring in that representation as a female voice. I represent my side of the story so that is what I always do."

Not all journeys are smooth or a fairytale, Shilpa Rao also had her own struggles and roadblocks. But her theory is without struggle there is no fun in success. Rao has a very much positive approach to struggles and challenges as a singer. For her struggle never stopped, every day is a challenge that comes in various forms and shapes. Gubaare singer exclaimed, "The struggle is always there. It never leaves you and that's one myth I want to break for people. It never gets over, even if you ask Bachchan sir, he will still say, he's still struggling every single day to do a fantastic job at what he does. The only thing is it changes forms and shapes. Initially, you're struggling for your first break, then you're struggling to sound new with everything, and sounding new and making your mark every single time is a challenge. You need to challenge yourself to push yourself. All you can do is just have an open mind to life and take things as they come."


Shilpa Rao's one of most famous songs Paar Chanaa De which she sang in Coke Studio Pakistan, also the first Indian to be a part of the popular series brought two conflicting countries together through her music. SheThePeople asked about her invitation, experience, and the probability of stirring controversy.  

Rao said, "Why think of the controversy? Whenever you get a song, you get excited that you're doing something new in life and Coke Studio has been something that I've been a fan of. Subir Malik, the founding member of Parikrama got us introduced and somehow we ended up doing Paar Channa. Instead of controversy, it got people closer from all across the world. The only thing that we wanted the song to do was bring people closer, no matter where they're from. I have fans coming up to me and saying that the song has done so much for me. I feel so soulful and I connect so much with the song. What it does for you guys, it does way, way more for us. It brings realization and acceptance when you sing a particular song. This song was a message of love. 

Rao also expressed her take on remix culture going in the music industry. The Malang singer pointed out that she is a huge believer of original music. India has so much talent that should be represented by making new music.

Shilpa Rao On Success

Rao has several nominations to her name including the nomination for the Grammy Awards 2021. Shilpa Rao’s collaboration with composer Anoushka on the album Love Letters got her nominated for Best Global Music Album. Rao also won various national and international awards. But for her milestones are not awards. For milestones are achieving excellence in everything she does. She said, "I want to do a certain harkat in a song and I can do that's a milestone for me. Sometimes, a milestone is to pick yourself up and go back to that recording that you're not being able to do.

I think milestones can be anything. So, I have milestones and failures every single day, and whatever I am today is all the milestones and the failures put together.


Rao touched on various parts of music, how she brings soul to her songs, her challenges, and her views on female representation in music. But she has a very important message for aspirational singers and that is 'learn' and 'listen'. She highlighted, "Please go learn music. It could be any form of music- Hindustani classical, carnatic music, folk music, jazz, or Western classical. Every generation needs to have formal training, it will change everything for you. Your whole expression of the music will change. Have an open mind and listen to a lot of music.

To end the conversation on a lighter note, SheThePeople asked who she is listening to currently. She said, "I am listening to so many people the list is endless, one lifetime is too less to listen to music. However, Tom Misch and Bruno Major are top of the list for now. Mehdi Hassan Sahab is a constant in my life. The closest song to me is Anjana Anjani. It is one song that is very close to my heart and I will always cherish it.

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Shilpa Rao