She may have been born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, but 24-year-old Ananya Birla is charting her own road map to success.
The Indian musician/entrepreneur, who is the daughter of Indian industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, the chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, followed her instincts and, from a young age, dived into the two contrasting worlds of music and business.
From learning guitar lessons through YouTube tutorials as a child to signing a deal with Universal Music Group, the 24-year-old has surely come a long way.
Right now, Birla, with three singles behind her, is soaking in all the appreciation coming her way after the release of her newest single, “Circles.”
The song, with lyrics like, “Been through everything, you’ve seen the worst of me, you never ever ever let me down,” Birla told India-West, is an expression of her love toward music and friendship.
Recounting her bouts of “loneliness and isolation,” Birla said her friends have been a constant source of support and this album is an ode to them.
“I have a close inner circle of friends who have contributed to my journey in music, they have supported me emotionally and professionally. They mean so much to me, they keep me grounded and just accept me…I knew when I went in to the studio what I wanted to write about, my inspiration was so clear, and the song just flowed out,” she told India-West.
Birla said her parents have also always been supportive of her choices and are glad that her dreams are coming true.
Writing music, she said, has always been a “cathartic” process for her. And, music’s ability to connect with people drew her to it. “During those times that I struggled to articulate my emotions or express myself, music gave me a way to do so,” she explained.
“It’s an amazing global language that people can connect with regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality or social background,” said Birla. “When I write my songs, I hope to connect with people emotionally and hopefully make them a little bit happier.”
Her last single, “Meant to Be,” was certified platinum, and her remix of DJ Afrojack’s “Livin’ The Life,” which has amassed close to 15 million views on YouTube, are signs that she is, indeed, making music fans happy. Released June 7, “Circles” has already racked up more than eight million views.
But with the bouquets, also come the brickbats. Birla said she has come to realize that people are entitled to their opinion and one has to respect that.
“I found it hard to deal with at first, but I have learnt that it comes with the territory,” she said. “You need to develop a thick skin to survive in the music world and understand that everything creative is subjective. After a while, you learn to take it all in your stride, the hate and the love.”
Growing up, Birla said, music was a constant presence in her life as her mother played the santoor and those santoor lessons paved the way for a full-fledged career in music. Inspired by Kurt Gobain, the young musician took her passion with her when she went to the U.K. for college.
“No matter how small the crowd (at a gig), it always gave me this sense of belonging and peace,” Birla told India-West. “I would bring along my guitar and play at open-mic nights. I found myself more present and happy than ever before, and I knew there was no going back!”
And not just music, Birla’s entrepreneurial potential is also making people sit up and take notice of her. When she was 17, she founded her first start-up, Svatantra Microfinance, which supports women entrepreneurs in rural areas.
“I started Svatantra because I saw the potential in so many women who weren’t able to gain independence or a better quality of life because of their lack of access to finance and banking – something that so many of us take for granted,” Birla explained to India-West. “Microfinance got a bad reputation because of some unscrupulous people who weren’t doing business fairly, but I saw the potential it held, if it was done the right way.”
While on the one hand she is helping women entrepreneurs, on the other, she is striving to make mental health care a priority in India through her social initiative, MPower, which she co-founded with her mother, Neerja Birla. MPower envisions a future where everyone receives the mental health care that they need to facilitate recovery, without facing discrimination or shame, whilst simultaneously bringing change to policy and public life.
“During my time at university, I struggled with panic attacks and anxiety. I felt trapped and unable to reach out for fear that people would judge or undermine me,” Birla recalled to India-West. “When I returned home to India, I was able to get the empathy and expertise that I needed to get back on my feet, but it become very clear to me that other people didn’t have access to the same support system. People weren’t even able to talk about their mental health because there was this stigma surrounding it…It started as a personal battle and spiraled into something much bigger than just myself.”
Straddling two careers was certainly tough in the beginning, she said, but eventually, by decentralizing projects, she was able to focus on music.
“I’m not a 9 to 5 person, and I very rarely take a day off, but I have found that when you are totally passionate about what you’re doing, it feeds you and puts extra energy in your tank!” she remarked. “Yes, I work a lot, but I’m incredibly lucky to be doing what I love, and I don’t take a second of it for granted.”