A musician, a digital strategist and an environmentalist share their thoughts on a few key facets of influence: personal sources of influence and motivation; influence as a form of social currency, and the importance of collective influence to tackle an urgent global problem.

Creating Music That Touches Everyone

Born into a family of musicians  with a rich lineage in classical music, Bombay Jayashri Ramnath represents the fourth generation of music practitioners in her family. Blessed with an enviable voice imbued with a rich texture and a hypnotic quality, she is clearly an influencer and a major voice in the world of Carnatic music. Here she talks about the power of music to influence and make people feel better.

The person who has influenced me the most in my life has been my mother. Through my growing years, I watched her relentlessly share music, teaching anyone who approached her. She never thought twice about their interest, their sincerity, or whether they had the talent or ability to learn. She believed that she had to find a way to make each one sing. She would teach whether she received a fee or not.

I vividly remember her spending her afternoons teaching a child, who after many months was still unable to sing the notes correctly. When I asked her why she did that, she said with total conviction, that we cannot deny music to anyone. She later guided the child to learn an instrument, ensuring that music remained a part of his life. My mother is a person  who has truly led by example, and has enabled many to spend their lives in the beautiful space of music. The influence my mother, my great teachers and legends had on me came from their love and commitment towards their art. They were the great influencers of our time, we learnt this art at their feet. I have let their influence seep through me.

My purpose in life is to make Carnatic music inclusive and accessible to everyone. To give joy and solace to people around the world with my music. When a person at my concert confides in me that listening to my music is similar to being seated beside a non-judgemental friend or a companion, I feel I have succeeded  in communicating the beauty of Carnatic music.

I have also followed another dream through my life to ensure that Carnatic music can reach every child in our country. Manjakudi, the village where we share our music, where my students and I go to sing, has something very special in itself. The ‘bhoomi’ draws us there week after week to sing and share. Students who have joined me here have found a calling in it for themselves and are eager to travel with me to this village. Sharing music with children with autism has again been very enriching for all of us and my students look forward to engaging in this activity on a continuous basis.

How has my music influenced Carnatic music and listeners? Every musician at every point in time, has had something to share, which has touched a section of people, leaving an imprint on the way music is passed on. I am happy that people have been able to join me in the space of music, as I sing, experiencing the moments which add joy to the musician and the listener! When a rasika from Alaska writes to me saying that because of their long winters, when they huddle inside their homes and start to play my songs, their rooms light up and they feel warm and happy, I feel blessed that my music has been able to make people feel this way.

Measuring and Monetizing Influence

Shirin Rai Gupta, (Manager, Digital Strategy and Planning at The PRactice) describes the manner in which influence is being created and leveraged in the digital environment.

Influence has always been an interesting form of social currency. Whether gained through celebrity status or by virtue of one’s work and goodwill, it has been known to play an important role in the dissemination of opinions and points of view. Today, as social media has taken the front seat in not just the minds of brands but also consumers, influence has evolved to become a more accessible and achievable status. Since social media arms content creators with the power to self publish, it has grown into more than just a medium of self expression; it is now a thriving platform for people to share their work, thoughts and ideas, thereby garnering a network of like minded people who are  interested in what the creators have to say. This network harnesses the strength of peer to peer conversations, the reliability that comes with relatability and the honesty of original content to create an audience that is highly active and engaged.

In fact, as content creators gain the crown title of ‘Influencer’, their value to brands has shot up to the extent that influencer engagement now forms an integral part of most brands’ marketing mixes. Brands are increasingly choosing to partner with social media influencers to tell their stories, review their products and advocate in their favour, almost like they would with a journalist. However, unlike editorial engagement with the media, associations with influencers often come with a commercial agreement. Herein lies the challenge. While some brands accept that since many individual content  creators have created small businesses out of their social media presence and the expectation of  exchange of money for content is understandable, some believe in organic traction alone. Influencers too are accountable to their followers for the quality and quantity of sponsored content that they publish, and many have taken to specifically calling out the nature of their engagement with brands in their posts and emphasizing how they only work with brands they truly believe in.

This poses an interesting question for both, brands and content creators: Where is social media monetization for engagement with personal networks acceptable, and where does it become nothing more than an advertisement?

Drawing Attention to a Global Crisis

Nityanand Jayaraman has been trying to get us to notice the writing on the wall. Through his activism, writing, workshops and videos, he tries to impresses upon people that the environment needs as many foot soldiers as possible and the time for action is now. An independent environmental journalist, human rights activist and investigator into private and public sector violations against the environment, he talked to Viewpoint about the need to influence attitudes towards the anomaly we often refer to as development.

Be it the recent floods in Kerala, or the earlier waterlogging in Chennai, the devastating cloud-bursts and landslides in Uttarakhand or the loss of life, livelihood and land in India’s wetlands – these are all outcomes of disastrous decisions made in the name of development.

Today, we have multi-storied complexes where open lands once stood; a bustling metropolis claimed from the ocean; national highways

that cut through national forests; and smart cities built over agricultural land. Successive governments, their executive arms and corporates have collaborated to replace our breathing spaces with concrete, plastic and industrial effluents that choke the environment. Our planet is now gasping for breath.

We don’t have the luxury of time, because climate change is unfolding before our eyes, and we need quick awareness and urgent action before the curtains fall.

I believe that development must be real and sustainable, not  temporary or notional. For this, people themselves must take ownership for the environment, and they must make sure that their democratically elected governments make policies which keep in mind the laws of nature rather than the laws of consumerism. The most vulnerable communities  must be empowered to influence decisions that will affect their lives and the lives of their children. Most importantly, governments must put their money where their promises are.

On how this can be actualized, I am hopeful. I want to stress that no matter how dire the future seems, the pessimism of the intellect must not be allowed to overcome the optimism of the will. There are numerous voices of wisdom from among indigenous communities, farmers, fisherfolk and others close to the land that are shouting from rooftops. But they cannot be heard as media space and public attention accessed by money and power tell a different story and drown out sane voices.

Civil society organisations and celebrities that put their  privilege to work are attempting to make right the imbalance, and a few powerful voices do carry through the din of notional development. For example, Pope Francis, a very powerful influencer of almost 1.3 billion people on the planet is clear that climate change is the greatest threat to life that our Earth has ever seen – and that it is caused by humans. Leonardo Di Caprio champions the long-term health and wellbeing of Earth’s inhabitants and he is a youth icon. But even these celebrity voices are a faint whisper in the din of consumerism that is fuelled by an annual advertising spending of more than half a trillion dollars. The predominant models of business and politics — the two most powerful forces in the world — are antithetical to sustained life on this planet. The task before humanity is to collectively influence both business and politics to make them socially just, environmentally sustainable and accountable to the public.