In 1996, following his mother's suggestion to take up music as a profession, Yuvan Shankar Raja started composing tunes for an album. It was then that T. Siva, the producer of the Tamil language film Aravindhan, after hearing some of the tunes, asked to compose a trailer music. As the producer was so much impressed of which, he gave Yuvan Shankar the assignment to compose the entire film score including a soundtrack for that film. After consulting and getting consent from his parents, he accepted the offer; his music career started. His entry into the Tamil film and music industry had happened at age 16, thus becoming one of the most youngest composers ever in the industry, which, he says, was "purely accidental".
However, both the soundtrack album as well as the film itself failed to attract audiences and to do well and Yuvan Shankar Raja's following projects Velai (1998) and Kalyana Galatta (1998) were not successful either; his compositions for these films did not receive good reviews or responses, with one reviewer labelling the music and re-recording in the latter as "cacophony" and "poor". The failures of his first projects caused that he was not offered any film projects and assignments subsequently. During this time of struggling, he was approached and assigned by director Vasanth to compose the music for his film Poovellam Kettuppar (1999). The soundtrack received very positive response, bring described as "fresh" and "different", with a critic from The New Indian Express citing that his "absolutely enchanting musical score [...] bears testimony to his ‘Raja’ surname." The album became very popular, particularly songs like "Irava Pagala" and "Chudithar Aninthu", gaining him first time notice, especially among young people and children.The album would make possible his first breakthrough in the industry and proved to be a major turning point in his career. After working for two Sundar C. films, Unakkaga Ellam Unakkaga (1999) and Rishi (2000), which both fared averagely at the box office, he got to work for A. R. Murugadoss' directorial debut in 2000, the action flick Dheena starring Ajith Kumar, which went on to become a blockbuster and Yuvan Shankar Raja's first major successful film. Yuvan Shankar's songs were equally successful, which are considered to have played a major role for the film's great success. whilst his background score in the film was also well appreciated.
Thanks to this film's enormous success, he eventually broke into the Tamil music scene as offers were pouring in subsequently. He was mainly approached by many young new directors. In 2001 he had three album releases, the first being Thulluvadho Ilamai, collaborating with Selvaraghavan for the first time. The soundtrack album of Thulluvadho Ilamai particularly appealed to the younger generation. The film itself, marking the debut of Selvaraghavan's brother Dhanush, released one year later and became a sleeper hit at the Chennai box office. This was followed by Bala's Nandha (2001), for which he received rave reviews. He then gained notice by churning out "youthful music" in the college-life based April Maadhathil (2002), the romantic comedy films Kadhal Samrajyam (2002), and Mounam Pesiyadhe (2002), Ameer's directorial debut film, and the triangular love story Punnagai Poove (2002), in which he also made his on-screen debut, appearing in some scenes and one song sequence. At the same time he made his Telugu debut with Seshu and Malli Malli Chudali and also composed for the Tamil films Junior Senior and Pop Carn, starring Malayalam actors Mammootty and Mohan Lal, respectively, all of which performing poorly at the box offices, though.
In 2003 Selvaraghavan's first independent directorial, the drama-thriller film Kaadhal Kondein released, which is considered a milestone for Yuvan Shankar Raja. His work in the film, particularly his background score, was unanimously praised, leading to the release of a separate CD consisting of several film score pieces, a la "Hollywood-style", which was reportedly the first film score CD release in India. Furthermore, the film went on to become a blockbuster, cementing the film's lead artist Dhanush and Yuvan Shankar in the Tamil film and music industry. The same year, he worked in Vishnuvardhan's debut film, Kurumbu, which featured the first remix song in a Tamil film. By that time, in a career spanning less than a decade, Yuvan Shankar Raja had established himself as one of the leading and most-sought after music directors in the Tamil film industry, despite having worked predominantly with newcomers and in low-budget productions.
Yuvan Shankar's 2004 releases, 7G Rainbow Colony, another Selvaraghavan film, and Silambarasan's Manmadhan, were both critically and commercially successful films, featuring acclaimed as well as popular music by Yuvan Shankar Raja, which also contributed to the films' successes. His work in the former, in particular, got critically acclaimed and eventually led him to win the Best Music Direction Award at the 2004 Filmfare Awards South; receiving the award at the age of 25, he remains the youngest winning music composer of the award. From since, he has had nine to ten releases every year on average, making him one of the most prolific film composers of India.
His first of nine album releases of 2005 was Raam. His score for the Ameer-directed thriller, labelled as "soul-stirring", fetched him further accolades and eventually yielded a win at the 2006 Cyprus International Film Festival for Best Musical score in a Feature Film, the first such award for an Indian composer. His success streak continued with his following releases of that year, low-budget films such as Arinthum Ariyamalum, Kanda Naal Mudhal and Sandakozhi surprisingly becoming successful ventures at the box office, since also Yuvan Shankar's compositions like "Theepidikka", "Panithuli" and "Dhavani Potta" from the respective soundtracks enjoyed popularity and played an important role for the films's successes. After the release of the soundtrack for the S. J. Suryaah-starring romantic comedy, Kalvanin Kadhali that also enjoyed popularity post the film's release, his final album of 2005, Pudhupettai, released, which saw him once again collaborating with director Selvaraghavan. The ten-track experimental album, receiving exceptionally rave reviews, was considered Yuvan Shankar Raja's finest work till then and being hailed as a "musical masterpiece". The soundtrack and score of the film featured a traditional orchestral score played by the "Chapraya Symphony" of Bangkok, the first time in a Tamil film. Critics felt that this project, in particular, proved his abilities and talent to produce innovative and experimentative scores as well. The film itself, releasing only in May 2006, did average business, despite opening to outstanding reviews.
He next worked on the romantic comedies Happy and Azhagai Irukkirai Bayamai Irukkirathu and the gangster film Pattiyal, which all released in early 2006. His Happy songs and score received positive reviews, with critics labelling the "youthful music" as "excellent", and the film's "main strength", whilst his score for Pattiyal was highly praised by critics; a Sify reviewer wrote, "Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music and background score is the life of the film". Further more, both films went on to become very successful ventures, both commercially and critically. His subsequent releases that year include Silambarasan's debut directorial, Vallavan and the action entertainer Thimiru. Yuvan Shankar Raja was hailed as the "real hero" of the former, which featured some of the year's most listened tracks like "Loosu Penne" and "Yammadi Aathadi", while the latter film ranked amongst the year's highest-grossing films. In November 2006, the Paruthiveeran soundtrack album got released, which saw the composer foraying into pure rural folk music,using traditional music instruments.Though initially releasing to mixed reviews, with critics doubting whether the songs could attract modern youth audience, his first attempt at rural music turned out to be a major success, following the film's outstanding run at the box office. The film, Ameer's third feature film as well as Karthi's debut venture, received universal critical acclaim after its release in February 2007 and became a blockbuster, whilst particularly the song "Oororam Puliyamaram" was a chartbuster number in Tamil Nadu.
In 2007, he had a record ten album releases in one year. The first was the soundtrack of the romantic drama film Deepavali, following which the audios of the sports comedy film Chennai 600028, the Telugu family entertainer Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule, Vasanth's thriller film Satham Podathey and the romantic films Thottal Poo Malarum and Kannamoochi Yenada released, with the former three being well-received besides garnering positive reviews. The films, Chennai 600028, Venkat Prabhu's directorial debut, and Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule, Selvaraghavan's Telugu debut, in particular, were high commercial successes and became one of the year's most successful films in Tamil and Telugu, respectively. In late 2007 then, the audio and the film Kattradhu Thamizh got released. The soundtrack album, which was released as Tamil M. A., as well as the film itself, had been met with exceptionally positive reviews and critical acclaim. The music was widely considered a "musical sensation" and noted to be a proof of Yuvan Shankar Raja's "composing skills". However, despite outstanding reviews by critics, the venture failed to evoke the interest of the audience and did not enjoy much popularity. His final release of 2007 was Billa, a remake of the 1980 Rajinikanth-starrer of the same title. This film, remade by Vishnuvardhan, starring Ajith Kumar in the title role, also featured two remixes from the original version. The film emerged one of the top-grossers of the year, whilst also fetching rave reviews for Yuvan Shankar's stylish musical score.
In 2008, five films, featuring Yuvan's music were released, two of them being the Tamil and Kannada remakes of Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule, titled Yaaradi Nee Mohini and Anthu Inthu Preethi Banthu, respectively, which partly featured the original score and songs. The Tamil version, in particular, was able to repeat the success of the original film, emerging a high commercial success, while yielding Yuvan his second Filmfare nomination. The other releases that year include Seeman's Vaazhthugal, Venkat Prabhu's comedy-thriller Saroja, Ajith Kumar's action thriller Aegan and Silambarasan Rajendar's masala flick Silambattam, out of which, Saroja and Silambattam proved to be successful at the box office, with Yuvan Shankar's score in the former and his songs in the latter garnering accolades and several awards at the 2009 Isaiyaruvi Tamil Music Awards. In 2009, nine of his soundtrack albums released. Excluding the romantic comedy Siva Manasula Sakthi, featuring his most popular song of the year "Oru Kal Oru Kannadi", all other films failed at the box office. Besides "Oru Kal", the songs "Siragual" (Sarvam) and "Aedho Saigiral" (Vaamanan) also became popular. He had provided a rural score again in Kunguma Poovum Konjum Puravum and a sarangi-based score for the urban action drama of Ameer's Yogi. His score for his Telugu romantic musical Oy! fetched him the Special Jury Award at the 2010 South Filmfare Awards.
In late 2009, the soundtrack album of Paiyaa released, which was regarded as a "blockbuster album" and "magnum opus",as it went on to become exceptionally popular, much prior to the film's release, and probably one of Yuvan Shankar Raja's biggest success of his career. The song "Thuli Thuli" had become the first Tamil song to be featured in the India Top 20 list for April 2010, indicating that it was the most frequently played Tamil song on all Indian FM radio stations in the history of Tamil film music. The film itself became one the highest earners of the year, particularly supported by Yuvan's score and songs. Along with Paiyaa, songs from three more films for which he composed music that year - Naan Mahaan Alla, Baana Kaathadi and Boss Engira Bhaskaran - featured among the Top 10 chartbusters of the year. In early 2010 he composed his first Bollywood song "Haq Se" as part of the ensemble soundtrack of the film Striker, starring his close friend Siddharth, which received thoroughly positive reviews. In 2011, he teamed up with Silambarasan again for the anthology film Vaanam, with the song "Evan Di Unna Pethan" from the album, that was released as a single, gaining popularity. His next film was Bala's Avan Ivan; Yuvan's songs generally fetched positive reviews. He next composed a score that drew influence from several world music styles for the critically acclaimed independent gangster film Aaranya Kaandam, winning high praise from critics. He went on to work in Venkat Prabhu's action thriller Mankatha, his biggest project till date, and Vishnuvardhan's first Telugu venture Panjaa. His last two releases of 2011 were the soundtrack albums to the action-masala films Rajapattai and Vettai, both of which received mixed response and failed to reach success. Yuvan Shankar Raja is currently working on nearly ten projects simultaneously, including Billa II, starring Ajith Kumar and Ameer's long-delayed Aadhi Bhagavan, aside from a couple of small films.
Besides Tamil films, he has also scored music for films in other South Indian languages. Around 35 of the Tamil films, for which he had composed music, were afterwards dubbed into Telugu, Kannada or Malayalam languages as were the respective soundtracks. Apart from these ones, he also worked "straightly" on Telugu projects such as Seshu, Malli Malli Chudali, Happy, Raam, Raju Bhai and Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule, making him a well-known popular composer in Andhra Pradesh, too. His latest Telugu album Oy! has become a grand success as it topped the charts for several weeks. Yuvan's latest album of 2011, Panjaa has created all-time records, creating new waves (trends) as a rocking album in Andhra Pradesh.
Yuvan Shankar Raja's collaborations with several film directors such as Selvaraghavan, Ameer Sultan, Vishnuvardhan, Venkat Prabhu and Linguswamy have always resulted in highly successful soundtracks. Likewise he has often worked together with noted Tamil poet Vaali and young Tamil lyricists including Na. Muthukumar, Pa. Vijay and Snehan and come up with successful compositions.
Besides, Yuvan Shankar Raja is a noted playback singer as well. As of August 2011, he has sung over 80 songs, mostly his own composed songs and several times for his father Ilaiyaraaja and his brother Karthik Raja. He lent his voice first in 1988, when he was eight years old for a song in the film En Bommukutty Ammavukku, composed by his father. Since, he frequently sang for his father in films such as Anjali (1990), Chatriyan (1990), Thalattu Ketkuthamma (1991), Friends (2001), Kaathal Jaathi (2002), Ramana (2003) and Neethane En Ponvasantham (2012). Under his brother's direction, he had sung in the films Naam Iruvar Namakku Iruvar (1998), Ullam Kollai Poguthae (2001) and Veyilodu Vilayadu (2012). He had also performed a song for the film Siddu +2 (2010), composed by his friend Dharan, and had lent his voice for the theme song for the World Classical Tamil Conference 2010, set to tune by A. R. Rahman.
However, he is better known as a singer of his own composed songs. Films, featuring some of his most popular songs as a singer, include Thulluvadho Ilamai, April Maadhathil, Pudhupettai, Pattiyal, Azhagai Irukkirai Bayamai Irukkirathu (in which he had sung all songs), Deepavali, Kattradhu Thamizh, Siva Manasula Sakthi, Sarvam, Paiyaa and Naan Mahaan Alla, the latter earning him a Filmfare nomination for the Best Male Playback Singer Award.
Aside from scoring film music and soundtracks, he also produces personal music albums from time to time. In his very early years, in 1999, when he was not familiar to most people yet, he made the Tamil pop album The Blast, that contained 12 tracks, featuring vocals by Kamal Haasan, Unnikrishnan and Nithyashree Mahadevan. However, the album went downright unnoticed. In 2008, he started working on his second album, the rights of which had been acquired by Sony BMG then. Reportedly a bilingual album produced in both Tamil and Hindi, the album never was released.
In 2010, he joined hands with former President of India A. P. J. Abdul Kalam for a grand music video album titled "Song of Youth". The popular song of the same title, based on which the album is made, was written by Kalam and is set to tunes by Yuvan Shankar Raja, who, along with Kalam and many other celebrities from the field of sports and entertainment, will feature in the video as well. The album was made as a trilingual, produced in the three languages Tamil, Hindi and English, and remains also unreleased as of 2012.
In January 2009, Yuvan had announced his first live performance, which was planned to be held at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada on 25 April 2009. According to Yuvan, the show would have featured around 30 songs, sung by well-known singers and his father Ilaiyaraaja, as well as some stage dances in between by actresses Sana Khan and Meenakshi. However, the concert had been postponed eventually, with Yuvan Shankar stating, that he was working on novel ideas to make the show memorable and hence, postponed the concert.
In October 2009 then, he announced that a world tour, titled "Oru Naalil", is planned with a three-hour stage show to be held in various cities all over the world. The tour began with a show on 1 December 2009 at the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, featuring performances by singers like Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Karthik, Harish Raghavendra and Silambarasan and professional dancers from Mumbai, which was expected to be followed by shows in Canada, the U. S. and South Africa. Also it was planned to conduct the shows in Muscat, Oman and Kuwait, but following the Dubai concert, the tour was cancelled.
In October 2010, Yuvan Shankar Raja disclosed that he had signed for his first live concert in Chennai. The event, named Yuvan - Live in Concert, which was sponsored, organized and later telecasted on STAR Vijay, was held at the YMCA Grounds, Nandanam, Chennai, on 16 January 2011. Additionally, a promotional music video, "I'll Be There for You", composed and sung by Yuvan Shankar, himself, directed by Vishnuvardhan and shot by Nirav Shah, was made, while STAR Vijay aired a 3-week, 14 episode serial on Yuvan Shankar Raja as a run-up to the concert.
In February 2012 Techofes organized a live-in tribute concert for Yuvan Shankar Raja where he also performed. He will be performing at the inaugural Kuala Lumpur International Indian Music Festival 2012 to be held at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 15, 2012. A pre-launch event to promote the concert was held in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur in September, where Yuvan Shankar Raja met his fans and sang a couple of songs, as well.
In January 2013, Yuvan will be performing in Coimbatore for the first time, the event is named as 'Yuvan 100'. This concert will be a part of his 100 films in Indian Cinema celebration.