Shilpa Narayan Finds Music in New York City

In New York, singing subway riders are no rarity. Singing subway riders who release EPs of heartfelt, powerful music with a universal voice, those are little less frequent. This difference makes Shilpa Narayan a diamond among crazies.

A North Carolina native, Narayan moved from Atlanta, GA to New York in 2010 and has had quite an experience with the music industry here. Narayan maintains that she has always had an interest in music but was unsure about where she personally fit in to that world. When she finally decided to pick up a guitar in her later college years, Narayan was quickly informed that, though she was no guitar legend, she had a promising voice. From there, she found her music career on the fast track, and she was buckled up for the ride.

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After performing at an open mic for her first public performance in Atlanta in 2010, Narayan made a swift move to New York in a mere week and serenaded her second open mic crowd soon after. Narayan remembers that this move signaled the start of her effort to break into the music industry and that this goal proved to have both negative and positive aspects.

“It’s a beautiful industry in its way, but it’s also a very challenging industry and it has a lot of ups and downs,” she explains. “I think any artist going forward knows that. I’d kind of been warned before, but I didn’t know until I went into it how bad and how good it could be.”

Like most starting musicians who need to pay rent, Narayan had to hold down a steady job in addition to her performances and work with music. She says that the only time she had to write was on the subway.

“I’m on the phone writing all these lyrics and people thought I was crazy,” she laughs. “I was like singing and I would record melodies.”

Fortunately for Narayan, this subway composition habit proved to be successful in the long run despite her short-term reputation as subway lunatic. As can be expected though, living the double life of an aspiring New York musician presented its challenges for Narayan early on.

“I wrote Crash the whole song on the subway,” she recalls. “I was writing it because I missed a soundcheck for a show because I was working late and I was really angry and I was like, should I be working, should I just go for music?”

Though she did doubt her lifestyle at times, Narayan also considers herself lucky to have encountered the people who have helped her along the way. It can take quite a while to find a compatible team as a musician, but Narayan managed to lock hers down early on.

“I got really lucky and met two guys who wanted to manage me and showcase me,” she says. “They introduced me to engineers and producers and I started working on my album.” Within about a year of moving to the city, Narayan finished her first album, Stand Alone, though it was only released in May 2012. For a debut, Stand Aloneis a remarkably strong album featuring candid and well-written accounts of Narayan’s experiences not only in life and love, but as a struggling musician and newly established resident of NYC. 

With her album cut and released, Narayan’s focus now rests a bit more heavily on her life as a performer. Though she recently stepped into perhaps her most exciting experience, performing at shows all her own, Narayan has certainly had a wealth of amazing opportunities since moving to the city, including appearances at New York’s Fashion Week.

Photo credit to Jason Kempin/Getty Images North America

“I did a couple shows for Fashion Week in February,” she explains, adding that the performances were at various places ranging from actual fashion shows to after-parties at popular Manhattan night clubs. “One was at Manhattan Center called Fashion Fame and featured Estrada and a couple of different designers.” Narayan’s Fashion Week career also included performances at Bryant Park Hotel and nightlife home of many celebrities, Greenhouse, experiences she does not hesitate to express gratitude for.

50 Cent came after me to Greenhouse,” she notes. “It was great to get those kind of chances after being here for two years.”

Now that she’s performing her own shows, the first of which went down at Bleeker St.’s The Bitter End, Narayan’s feelings about each performance have undergone a slight shift.

“Before when I was performing open mics, I would do a cover song that everybody knew and maybe like one original. When I started doing Fashion Week I’d do like 2-3 originals,” she explains. “I think when you do your originals, you’re also putting yourself out there a lot more, you’re a lot more vulnerable.”

In addition to vulnerability, Narayan also felt a newfound sense of nerves at her debut show.

“I was almost more nervous for my own show, because all the sudden you’re on the spot,” she remembers. “When I did my first show it was a lot of my friends, and I’d been promoting myself but no one had really seen me live. A lot of people from work came out. People knew I was a singer, but they didn’t know if I was really a good singer. I’ve been talking about it so long and I’ve been talking a big game, and now they’re getting to see it and can judge me a lot more easily.”

Since she is “really a good singer,” Narayan has nothing to worry about. As it turns out, her big game is in fact rather large. Her intentions with music and her voice only serve to back this game up, as she is gearing up to make a distinctive shift toward more raw, organic sound inspired by musicians like Adele, Alex Clare and Emeli Sande. Aware that this change in genre-appeal may impact the size of her demographic, Narayan refuses to shy away.

“You gotta be true to yourself,” she maintains. “It took me a while to figure out what kind of artist I was and what I wanna be now.”

Regardless of the style of music she produces, Shilpa Narayan has definitely made a mark with her fearless, straightforward lyrics and impressive vocal abilities. With attributes like this, Narayan is worth sticking around for as she grows into the sound that will be truest to her personality and inner artist.

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