Shoaib Rana is a Birmingham based engineer by day and indie-pop singer-songwriter by passion. He is known for pushing boundaries of lyricism by exploring the human emotion and plopped onto the scene with his singles Why Don’t We in English and Zindagi Orh Lein in Urdu. With his debut record set to hit the internet, Shoaib had a word with Team Storiyaan, where he spoke about his process of writing, singing, putting the new album together, and inspiration.
Questions and answers
You are working as a mechanical engineer. How do you make time to make songs?
I don’t have a particular structure. I just keep writing and come up with new lines in the process, and sometimes they turn into songs, sometimes they only remain scribblings. I’d just sit and sometimes write when I return from work or when I’m on holiday or enjoying weekends. I have also recorded some songs which I’m planning to release post lockdown. My songs are a reflection of what’s going on in my life. Once I was strolling the canals of Birmingham with someone who I wasn’t going to meet again, sadly. I returned home late that night, and I had a whole song written. I believe if you restrict yourself, you won’t be able to write correctly. When you are out and about, living your life, that is when you’ll get a good song. I am excited about the tracks I’ll be releasing, and I think it’s my best work so far.
You said that academia was given more importance in your family, and the music wasn’t encouraged. So how did your family react when you told them you were creating music?
They were very supportive. I think everyone wants us to succeed in our life. I’m in my twenties, have a job, studied well, and have my degrees. So I feel I can do what I want now, and no one tells me otherwise. When I released my first music video, my mom went, “Oh! Wow, that was good. I had no idea you could make something like this.” I wasn’t expressive, but I am now so that it might surprise them.
You have learned many instruments in the past. Which instruments are you well-versed in? Does it help you more during your songwriting process?
started playing instruments when I was a kid. There used to be an instrument called a melodica, where you blow through a pipe and play the keys like on a keyboard. Later, I learnt the recorder for just simple tunes, and then I learnt guitar. I use the guitar for my song-writing, coming up with lyrics or metaphors in my head and developing it into a tune. I usually have the idea of the hook I want to use, and I then work-out the tune that would accompany it. Sometimes this happens over time, or sometimes it just comes to me like a breath of fresh air. I pick up my instrument, try to play it, and build it into a song.
What is the process you go through while making a song?
There are always these fleeting moments in your life where you go through something and only completely understand it later. So, once I completely understand what I went through and am in a really happy place, I write about it then. I reflect upon things when I am delighted. Sometimes when I look back at things and remember about something, my mind goes, “Oh, I could turn that into a metaphor.” That is how my process begins. Once I have a good song, I’ll head to the studio and record it.
Do you garner inspiration from real-life experiences? What inspires your lyrics?
It’s a mixture of both. My song Why Don’t you was inspired by true experience. I was 19 when I wrote it, recorded it a few years later, and released it after some time. It was a straightforward song with simple lyrics. It was 100% honest. My other song, Zindagi Orh Lein, which was in Urdu, is close to me. I wrote it while I was doing my masters, and again, it was entirely honest. I might add a few lyrics here and there, but most of the song is based on my experiences.
Do you remember the first song you wrote? Could you describe what it was like?
My first song was Why Don’t You. It was the first melody I made. It was summer break at the university, and I was up all night. I was just enjoying doing nothing, and suddenly at 7 or 8 in the morning, I had this idea. I got up and sang it, and I don’t remember if I recorded it, but I sang it. It sounded good, and I thought I could make a song using this. I remember how good it felt at that moment. I was happy. It felt so good that I left my bed and ran to the other side of the house and recorded it on my phone.
"I write in two languages, and my language choice depends on who inspired me to write it" How does this work, can you elaborate on it?
I speak Urdu because of my cultural background. I have phases where I am listening to a lot of English songs, and then I listen to Urdu or Urdu-Hindi songs. My language choice depends on the person who inspires me and the language I speak to them. It’s a subconscious thing. I haven’t released a lot of stuff yet, but I am going to release a lot more soon.
Do you ever sit and try to wait for the song, or do the songs just come to you?
I think it comes to me first. If I try to force myself without feeling creative, I end up writing something which has been made before. Some ideas arrive fully formed, and sometimes I have to knit them over a few creative sessions. If I struggle to complete an idea, I need to find my way somehow back to the creative place I was in, metaphorically speaking, to complete the song. For instance, I was recording with a music producer in February, and he pointed out a few things I could change. His studio was creative, and it helped me revisit the emotion I felt when I originally wrote the song. I came up with ideas that sat well with both my producer and me.
What's the weirdest thing that has happened to you while writing a song?
It did not happen when I was writing a song, but it happened while I was performing. It was the weirdest thing ever. I was doing a gig in Leeds, and there was this pretty drunk lady. She got me a drink, and I do not drink so I told her I was fine, I don’t drink. Later, when I was performing Numb by Linkin Park, she started doing a headbang in front of me. I think she was in her 30s. I was performing, and all I could think while looking at her was, “What the hell am I supposed to do?” It was so weird because she was the only one acting like that.
What are some vocal exercises you practice daily? How do you take care of your vocal cords?
I don’t think I do anything of that sort. I know it’s a very traditional thing to do. I sing a little, and after thirty to thirty-five minutes, my voice comes to its original state. But no vocal exercises, and I don’t think I do anything to take care of my voice as well.
What projects are you currently working on? Do you plan to release an album anytime soon?
I am working on two projects currently. First is an EP record, which would comprise five songs. I have recorded the 4 of them already with a renowned music producer. His tracks have done well, and he’s been on BBC Radio 1 too. I wanted to work with him, and he agreed. The lyrics are in English and have a lot of metaphors. I am hoping to release it by the end of September. The other one is potentially an Urdu record. It has a particular theme. Zindagi Orh Lien would be re-released for that album with a different kind of music production. I also want to perform a lot. But for now, I want to release my English album. I am in contact with a few people, and we’ll release it on Spotify and various other platforms.
What is the process of putting a record together?
I am quite new to the process, and I am still working through my first one right now. Personally, it’s a matter of you writing honest songs and then picking the ones that I like the most and also fit well within a theme. I have not gone through a rigorous selection process, and I have done it all on my own so far. I have also had to rewrite a few lyrics just because I felt the record needs to tell a story as a whole.
Do you believe that knowing music theory is essential?
Not necessarily. If you are a session guitarist for a studio and need to come up with something technically sound quickly, then it could help. But if you are a composer and a creator, I don’t think it matters that much. In the music industry, there are loads of people that don’t have any formal training. Jimi Hendrix could not read music, but he’s one of the best guitarists of all time.
What difficulties have you faced on your musical journey, and how did you overcome them?
Learning how to play the instruments and getting good at the skill is difficult. I learned singing before all of this, and I have improved a lot over time. I used to face a lot of difficulties while writing a song. It did not matter to me initially, but once I realized I wanted to record songs, I started improving. There are times when you go weeks and weeks before you have a creative prompt. I also think getting a platform to perform is hard. I have the platform to perform locally, but I’d like to work on a larger scale. Striking a record deal isn’t easy. It is difficult to garner credibility as an independent artist. One also has to be marketable. If a record producer or label feels that you are marketable or have a fan base, your chances of getting a good opportunity increases.
What do you enjoy the most being a musician? What does music mean to you?
I enjoy the moment I play music. I forget about everything else. I’ve lived alone since I was in my teens. I live far away from my family. When I come home after a tough day, I think to myself, “What do I do? Do I want to worry anyone about this?” In these moments, when I play music, I forget about everything. Sometimes I even forget to do my laundry or cook. I enjoy that a lot.
Do you have any rituals before stepping on the stage? How do you prepare yourself before stepping on the stage?
I go and make eye contact with as many people as I can. When you do that, you establish a personal connection to them and break the barriers. It could be a 65-year-old man or a 25-year-old girl. Once you create a link, it’s like playing a song for your friend. They like it, and it helps. I even tell them personal stories or ask them questions to give it a personal touch. I want the audience to relate to me and what I sing. For me, it’s about the connection. That’s why I make songs.
Are you a performance artist too, or you do it because you are making music?
I used to perform a lot. I remember when I was at university, I took part in three group-dance competitions. I took part in many musical events. This was before I used to write songs. I have been performing since I was in my mid-teens. So, I remember I performed ‘Dani California’ in a competition ages ago— around 2011. I remember my older brother played the guitar, and I sang. I enjoy performing. Before the COVID19 happened, I was performing probably once every couple of months. I enjoy doing that. One reason I want to make music is so that I could perform. It’s not for the sake of getting recognized. It’s just the thrill I get in the moment.
1. Favorite genre of music: Indie- pop
2. What are you currently listening to? : Dil ka Dariya from Kabir Singh
3. Singers you’d like to collaborate with: Ed Sheeran
4. The most memorable moment while recording a song: When I was recording Zindagi Orh Lein, I completed recording it quickly. Compared to the first song that took so long, this one was quick, and that was one memorable moment.
5. Three fictional characters you’d like to hang out with Superman, Batman, and Spiderman .