Shankar Tucker fuses musical influences—and gains global acclaim—with The ShrutiBox video series.
My music is fusion,” says musician, composer and social media entrepreneur Shankar Tucker. “It’s pop-oriented, but at the same time, it focuses on Indian folk music and the modern interpretation of classical Indian music.”
For the past year, Tucker has shared his skillful mélange of styles with the world via The ShrutiBox, a music video series that he produces and distributes via YouTube. Each video showcases musical arrangements that are finely crafted and sophisticated, yet as accessible as any pop song on the radio. Tucker builds sonic atmospheres by playing multiple instruments like the tabla, keyboards and clarinet, while a rotating cast of vocalists sings in English, Hindi or Tamil.
His videos—which range from rollicking original compositions like “Night Monsoon” to a powerful and quirky mash-up of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s “O Re Piya”—have been viewed millions of times, earning him worldwide acclaim in the process. “While his mastery of the clarinet can’t be doubted...he magnificently blends the essence of jazz, pop and Indian classical to create seamless fusion,” wrote the Hindustan Times, while The Indian Express describes him as “an Internet sensation.”
Here’s what Tucker had to say about crafting multicultural music, captaining the creative process behind his videos, and finding his own path to international success:
How did you start making The ShrutiBox videos?
It started when I was in India studying music. I had friends who were musicians, but I didn’t have many concert opportunities or a regular group to perform with. I’d seen some simple performance videos that American musicians had made for YouTube and thought I could apply that formula to the compositions I was writing, but didn’t have the chance to perform in public. I started making videos every week and, just last summer, they started really catching on.
How do you make the videos?
First, the singers and I decide what songs we want to do. Then I have a brief recording session where I set them up with a microphone and record audio and video of them singing along with a basic arrangement of the song. After that, I’ll take a week and work on building a more complex musical arrangement around the vocals. I’ll record digital instruments and video myself playing piano and clarinet. Once I have all of the footage and the song is complete, I edit everything together into a three-to-four-minute video.
It sounds like you do everything.
I do all of the cameras, video editing and music production. The mixing and music editing is the easy part. [Laughs.] The video editing is where it gets difficult.
How do you earn an income with your videos?
Mostly through selling digital downloads. It would be great to earn more through advertising, like a lot of the biggest YouTube video producers do, but for musicians like me, things can get tricky because of copyright issues—I wouldn’t be able to cover songs by other artists. Plus, it’s hard to just churn out content quickly. A comedian can put up a new video every day, but it takes longer than that for me. I’m posting new videos about every two weeks right now.
Tell me more about your musical influences.
I spent last year studying Hindustani classical music, so that’s a prevalent influence, and I’ve studied Carnatic music as well. When I’m working with a singer who may be trained in a Carnatic or Hindustani style, I adapt the song in that direction. I use the tabla in a lot of my music and jazz is also a big influence when it comes to harmony and how I arrange the songs.
What do you hope to do next?
I don’t think I’ll ever stop making YouTube videos, but I do want to get a group together to perform and record live. Right now, I’m also working on music for a film in south India.
If you could choose any singer in the world to work with, who would it be?
I’d love to work with some of the top Bollywood playback singers. Shankar Mahadevan, in particular—he’s one of my favorites.
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.