Shantanu Hudlikar: Champion Sound
Meet Shantanu Hudlikar, chief engineer at Yash Raj Studios: first impression — very intimidating, one of the big guys! I had the opportunity to interview him about the independent music scene in India. He was extremely forward and had some very interesting things to say. Being a part of Bollywood, Shantanu is a big lover of the independent music scene and sees it growing and expanding in the next few years. His most recent project was recording with the band Something Relevant on their debut album, ‘Feels Good 2 B Live’. He was initially just going to help the band with some tracking sessions, but one thing led to another and he ended up not only recording the whole album, but mixing it as well. Shantanu took this project very seriously, and was so committed that he saw this album as his own baby which he was responsible for. Putting his heart and soul into the sessions, he didn’t see himself as an independent player, but rather a part of the band’s team. Working closely with the band, he was able to figure out the dynamics and use everyone’s strengths in the right combination to produce something super. A veteran of the Indian music industry, here’s excerpts from the interview —
What are your thoughts about the independent music scene in Mumbai right now?
It’s good. There are a lot of things happening! There are lots of bands. I would attribute the burgeoning of independent music [in India], actually, to Bollywood — the Hindi film industry. I believe they are actually responsible because today, musically, Bollywood is omnipresent — it’s everywhere, so people need an alternative to that. When you put on the radio or the TV, it’s all that you see. So people need an alternative, so that’s why I can see a lot of mushrooming acts, and some very talented acts coming up — not just in Bombay. I think Bombay has the weakest amount of acts. I think places like Delhi, Kerala, and other places in the south — there are some amazing acts coming out, and they are really proud of what they do.
The independent music scene is mushrooming. I just feel that producers and promoters need to put in some kind of money because it’s difficult. Now, it was very fortunate that some bands [could] manage to afford a studio like YRS. Very few bands can, and if you want something well recorded for it to sound good and to be on/at par with any of the big international acts, you need to spend some money. Poor bands don’t have money. In the end, you’ll find bands that are great when they play live, but after getting into a studio and listening to their album, they sound like shit. There’s a reason for this — either they haven’t been recorded properly or mixed properly, or it’s not been produced. I just wish the independent acts would get funded properly and be given direction.
The scene is still in its nascent stage and the concept of a producer is not clearly defined; most of the independent acts are going by references to what another band’s CD is. Now, bands come in and tell us they want to sound like a particular band, but their music isn’t similar at all so it’s not possible. Amongst us producers and sound engineers, you never know where a particular sound (e.g. the snare) is coming from — you need to look at the over all picture, and that over all picture can only be given, in my opinion, by producers who are aware of what a band needs to sound like, without actually changing the sound of the band. When you hear the band live, it needs to sound like the way it sounds in the studio, and vice versa. So that’s why you need a producer, who will actually grab the band’s music, their sound, their thought process, and put it out into the commercial world by giving them an identity. That’s where the music industry stands today. There are lots of musicians, but not enough money or good studios.
What goes into recording a band live at Yash Raj Studios?
Well, it is a long process. First, setting up the band in the live area with certain specs, as well as the pre-production requirements — the correct amps, working amps, a good drum kit, a working drum kit, with all the instruments in shape, and [to] make sure that every band member has eye contact with each other, and can hear each other. We use headphones for the band members so they can monitor each other precisely. This whole process takes a very long time because initially in a set up of a live recording, we have to make sure a lot of technical aspects are perfect, so that things don’t bleed through, [and that] things don’t cross talk with each other because we are using a fair amount of a compliment of microphones.
I would attribute the burgeoning of independent music, actually, to Bollywood — the Hindi film industry. I believe they are actually responsible because today, musically, Bollywood is omnipresent — it’s everywhere, so people need an alternative to that.
Once that is set up, it is my responsibility to get the band comfortable with recording in a studio, and getting used to the fact of playing with headphones, because for any musician, anywhere in the world, recording with headphones is probably one of the worst experiences that he/she will come across. Everything has to be pristine and precise, but at the same time must catch the natural essence of the band. Once I start getting into a project, I become quite vocal, and to a point being ‘rabid’. Any musician must constantly work on his/her musicianship, and as long as you are well-rehearsed, the recording process becomes much smoother.
Do you prefer working with Bollywood artists or independent bands?
Let me tell you something, Bollywood is bread and butter – it’s the largest musical source and money spinner in this country. 90% of people in this country listen to Bollywood music, so that’s the audience. Do I like it? I like very little of it. Do I enjoy it? Yes, I do. Why? Because it’s good music! It’s not something that I listen to. I don’t like listening to a lot of this electronica and techno stuff, I hate that music. I go into a club, and that music gives me a headache! I don’t say that about Bollywood because people are putting in a lot of effort, and it’s because of the Hindi film industry that you have studios like this! (Smiles)
Without this industry, you wouldn’t get studios like this. This studio was built to make music, so whether you want to do Indian or western classical, or commercial Bollywood, rock, pop, R&B, whatever, you need to have a facility. No independent person in this country can actually put up a studio like this. All the big studios in this country today are financed and sourced by the Indian film industry — whether it’s the film industry from Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai — it’s all from film. They are the people who have the money — so you use it as an ‘end to the means’.
With your years of experience in the music business, what advice would you give to someone who wants to be a part of it?
Get into it! Trust me, today you can actually survive by being just a musician. Earlier on, when I was growing up, it wasn’t possible. You had to hold 2-3 jobs if you wanted to pursue your professional music careers. Today, I can be playing a Bollywood gig as a sessions musician and if I’m good enough, I would probably earn about Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 a day minimum. And if I use that money to finance my band, Bollywood’s financing your band!
What about jobs for non-musicians, such as sound engineers like yourself?
There are so many studios like this — the music industry is growing. Mumbai University has a course in sound engineering, then there’s SAE (Sound and Audio Engineering) here in Andheri — they have students rolling out every year. Abhishek, my wingman in the studio is an alumnus of SAE Chennai. So, yes, there are lots of opportunities available to be a sound engineer. But to be a sound engineer, you need to have a different kind of mental makeup — the most important factor being patience and willingness to stick it out — because it’s a long, long, long process. People who think they are going to come in and hit the big time, I don’t know what the big time is as an engineer myself! If running a big studio like this is big time, well then I’ve hit it big time — but I don’t think I have personally. The future is huge for them — you can support yourself and your family just by being a sound engineer or a musician today. So it’s a relevant situation, and process, and profession today.
Well, on that interesting note, I would like to thank you for spending time talking to me. All the best!
(Author’s note: Speaking with Shantanu was a little intimidating, yet rewarding, because he sort of made me feel hopeful and optimistic. Musicians in the city and the country need to embrace Bollywood, because without them, I think they would have more of a hard time. With people breaking out of the Bollywood bubble and looking for something different, that’s the sole reason independent music will survive and thrive. So let’s give them something to talk about.)