Ajay Sathyan was three and a half when his parents spotted his connect with music. Formal training in carnatic music started right then and continued for a decade. Along the way, the current head of digital and creatives at Maitri Advertising Works would participate in school competitions and bring home laurels. He was just 10 when he started performing at live stage shows. But it was Television that catapulted him into a different league.
He was in class XI when he participated in the popular Malayalam reality show Amrita TV Superstar. He was second runner up; that would pave the way for him to become the voice of stars on the silver screen – one of the judges, Malayalam film director Kamal, got the top three contestants to sing for his upcoming movie ‘Goal’.
Sathyan recalls that his first song at a live show and the first movie number were both composed by Vidyasagar. Soon, other opportunities followed.
“One of my popular numbers is from a movie called ‘Happy Days’ – ‘Oh My Friend’. The music director was Mickey J Meyer. That song became a hit among college audience and students because it had a friendship angle to it and everyone was performing on that song for farewells, fresher’s day etc. I sang this song at the age of 18 years and Amrita TV Superstar happened when I was 16 years old,” recalls the singer-cum-advertising professional.
He completed his commerce degree and pursued an MBA in Chennai as it was the hub for music studios. After his MBA, Sathyan moved to Mumbai for an internship in a digital marketing agency. Ethinos made him an offer after his internship and he spent the next two and half years with the outfit.
Most people would have prioritised work over everything else at that point in their career. But not Sathyan. He felt the absence of music in his life and decided to talk to his bosses Siddharth Hegde and Sam Shriyan. He is grateful that they let him work from home. Once back in Kerala, he wanted to form a band and give his musical journey a fresh start.
Within a year, Sathyan created ‘Prayaan’ which made its debut on Kappa TV Music Mojo. In fact, the band was formed because they needed one to be on the show, as he would reveal in an interview years later.
“Those performances went viral and people started noticing the band; that’s when I decided to stay back in Kerala and pursue music, and at the same time find a job which could connect with my passion,” he explains.
That’s also when he got a call from Maitri. It’s been five and half years since he joined the creative agency.
He remarks, “It was a great learning process under a creative director like Francis from Ogilvy Mumbai. Even my current bosses, Raju Menon and Muthu, they were very supportive knowing that I’m a musician and there will be a lot of shows coming and might affect my work balance. Luckily it didn’t affect any work; I somehow could manage both work as well as music.”
It’s not always easy. He recalls an incident when he was in the middle of a show and had to take an important call from a client in the UAE. “I actually picked that call and tried to solve it and then continued with the show. So those kinds of things have also happened. I have always tried to keep a balance between the company and my personal passion,” he notes.
When Advertising Meets Music…
The musician in him has helped shape the work from Maitri. “Whenever a campaign comes, along with doing TVC, Print ads, I always try to explore and do a music video to make it more vibrant and exciting for the audience, because the younger audience on social media are more glued to these kinds of music videos than regular TVCs,” explains Sathyan.
Among them is a campaign for the Department of Women and Child Development of Kerala. It featured influencer Arya Dhayal.
More recently, Maitri created a music video for Netflix for Onam featuring Varkey, Fejo and Blesslee.
“It’s easier to make jingles and pitch it to the client instead of just narrating the script. Recently, we won the account for Muthoot Finance. While pitching we had the jingle ready and they were excited about it. When any client approached us we would present the jingle rather than narrate the lyrics and then doing the jingle,” says Sathyan.
Sathyan says the reverse is true too – where advertising teaches him how to market his music. After all, that’s why he moved back to Kerala.
There are six people in his band, including his younger brother, a guitarist-cum-vocalist who is a full-time musican.
Music and media runs deeper in the family. His wife Radhika Radhakrishnan used to be an RJ at Club FM, incidentally a client of Maitri’s. She too is now into movies, albeit as an actor, besides working as an Emcee.
Sathyan and his band have performed for Club FM’s Musical Nite events, which are yet to resume post Covid. While Prayaan started off as a cover band, it has already released originals on Kappa TV and its own music channel. At a ‘Cochin Carnival’ on 31st December 2019, the band performed for a 5-lakh audience.
His favourite genre is Indian, influenced as he is by Malayalam and Hindi music, and singers across the spectrum like Mohammed Rafi, Kishor Kumar and Yesudas. He sings in Hindi as well.
“In Kerala people enjoy all languages. Kerala radio stations play songs of every language and don’t just stick to Malayalam,” reflects the singer.
The passion for music knows no language in God’s own country. Prayaan is proof.