The story of converSAtions channel by – part 1

Part 1/3

The background

Having grown up since birth in an (analogue) recording studio environment based out of my home in Mumbai, that was the world most familiar to me. That studio and musical environment is actually engraved into my consciousness, and is what i was always wanted to do… be a sound recordist. Till late 1990s, the term sound engineer / mix engineer / sound designer was not commonly used. The person recording a music session was called, a recordist. Simple.

But the work a recordist did was much more intricate, skill oriented and hands-on than what is being done today, even with major technological advancements. Think about it? The recordist placed and adjusted the mics near instruments and for singers (solo, duo and chorus). Here came into use his own knowledge of music, and experiences of handling a variety of instruments – vocals / percussive / strings / wind / brass and what not. A recordist then “balanced” the sound levels in his humble 8/16 channel mixer – fader levels, EQ and just a few more knobs – by asking each instrumentalist to play at the lowest and loudest parts. And then, the whole group played together as a team to arrive at the levels, etc. Just like is done in “sound checks” at live concerts. And there was no room for error during the final takes – neither by any musician nor the recordist. One mistake by anyone, and the song has to be recorded from the start. There was no undo feature. Just professional musicianship.

At Sudeep Studio, Lallubhai Park, Andheri, Mumbai owned and run my father – Nikhil Mehta – the Tascam Teac 4-track spool machines were used along with other basic equipment in the late 1970s. And then in the early-80s, we owned the perhaps first 8-track Teac recorder in Mumbai! If used, the charges per hour on the 8-track machine were higher than regular hourly rates. And guess what? The producers (usually the music composers or label owners) opted for the 4-track machine only! The regular rate was Rs. 40 per hour then. Overtime was charged after 6pm at Rs. 60 an hour. I wonder if the investment was ever recovered. But all the content recorded there is memorable for all involved… (Some TV shows you may remember: Aa bail mujhe maar, Amol Palekar’s Kachchi Dhoop, Chadraprakash Dwivedi’s Chanakya, etc. etc.)

Import duty of the machines (brought in from Singapore and Dubai) was about 350% to 400% in the 1970s and 80s. My father took a loan of about Rs. 2 lakhs passed by then SBI Churchgate branch manager, Mr. Padgaonkar, father of late famous journalist Dileep Padgaonkar. As late Harshad Mehta says, this amount today (at inflation rates) would be Rs. 1 crore for just the equipment! No wonder recording studios were not mushrooming across Mumbai in the 1970s or 80s. Sudeep Studio was perhaps the only one in all of Andheri. In 2021? Andheri is the studio nagari, with sound recording studios now in perhaps every street of this Mumbai suburb.

Some memories at Sudeep Studio

There are some memorable stories and experiences as a child, and a growing up teen, that i experienced at our studio. The artists (both singers and musicians) who recorded there (now stars, most of them), still have memories about the recording experiences with my father. The cups of tea they enjoyed, and ofcourse, the unforgettable poori bhaji served for lunch, were other reasons for them to just visit the place! Mahabharat episodes being watched at our house on TV before the recordings began on Sundays was another highlight. Yes, Sundays were booked too.

No marketing was done based on the equipment owned. No talk about gear all the time when musicians met. They would talk about each other’s family, offer help to one another, and over time continued to be good friends. There was no unhealthy competition with under-cutting of rates amongst studios either. The times were truly different back then, with music creation in a healthy and happy environment.

The seeds are sown

The common music listener never knew (and many still don’t know) what sound recording process is all about. Even back then, very few knew who a music arranger is, etc. Many assumed that copying songs from Tape A to a blank Tape B in a double-cassette recorder is what a sound recordist does! And many thought that a music director plays all the instruments in the songs, and which is why only his (or her) name appears on the screen! I don’t think the scene has changed much even today.

with Nikhil Mehta

Aditya and Nikhil

THAT is what i wanted to capture on camera. Topics like who is a sound engineer? What does he/she do at work? Who is a music arranger (now called programmer / producer) and what is his/her role in the song creation process? Inspite of recording innumerable jingles, albums, tv serial music, editing songs for big films like Mr. India, my father (now aged 86) refused to come on camera! But agreed to edit the videos for me (again a self taught trait of his). And suggested to build this idea into something higher instead of just making a video on him.

My father’s words to me were, “You started India’s first pro audio webstore when online shopping was unheard of. That was a very big risk you took in 1999, by leaving a possible plush career in the corporate sector. Now with this video interview idea you should de-mystify these professions. The concept should also be to share experiences, struggles and knowledge with young students, and even with each other in the music community. In today’s digital recording age, sound engineers, and especially musicians, don’t seem to interact the way they did in my days. They are holed up in their small rooms all by themselves. So bring alive journeys of as many people as you can through your efforts.”

His blessings were enough encouragement for me to start work on building an online community of sound engineers and music producers – who usually remain behind-the-scene. And there was born the Sudeep Audio channel on YouTube (later, renamed as converSAtions) on May 18, 2011
(p.s. it just happens to be this date by chance. No planned choice or any personal or religious or superstitious reasons involved).


The next part: the video equipment used, my interview experiences, the mistakes, the learnings and more.
Read here >>

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