Current Issue : March-April 2021




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Articles March-April 2021

Step Inside the All New Mondosonic Studio

The all new Mondosonic Studio, located in Ottapalam, Kerela, is a custom Music Production Facility and Studio. With Recording Equipment, Workflows..... read more

Bishwadeep Conceptualizes Sound Design in the Box

Having spent most of his career in Song and Music Recording, Bishwadeep Dipak Chatterjee was constantly toying with the idea of getting involved in designing sound for films..... read more

Celto Acoustique

Established in 2011, CELTO Acoustique is a premium manufacturer of professional audio products for the events and install industry. Founder, owner and CEO - Arthur Felix first displayed his entrepreneurial skills at the age of 14 when he built..... read more

Acoustically OdBle

With Vijay Benegal and Mujeeb Dadarkar

Vijay Benegal and Mujeeb Dadarkar have between them more than 4 decades of extensive experience in the audio industry in India. They have done it all, from recording and mixing for ad films, to doing live sound for renowned artistes..... read more

All About Music, the Marantz Story

In conversation with Joel Sietsem and Alankara Santhana

Marantz has established a strong foundation in the industry with their High fidelity audio systems since the 1970s. Marantz designs products that have intricate detail..... read more

Acoustic and Audio System Design for Small Rooms - PART 6

By - Rahul Sarma, CEO, Menura Acoustic Labs in collaboration with Sound Wizard

We started this series with the definition of a small room, and went on to discuss wave interactions. We continued onto sound isolation, absorption and diffusion in parts 2 and 3. Parts 4 and 5 covered system design goals and finally how to optimize a system..... read more

Studio Showcase

If you had a sign above every Studio door saying ‘This studio is a Musical Instrument’ it would make such a different approach to recording.” - Brian Eno..... read more

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Professional Focus : Studio Engineer

Sonic Boom

In Conversation with Farhad K. DadyBurjor

PT spoke to Farhad DadyBurjor, one of the most respected and sought after sound engineers in the country today. In a career spanning over 3 decades, Farhad has built an impressive discography of songs that he has recorded and/or mixed while also advocating many pioneering technologies in his workspace, including spearheading India’s first studio to be approved for Dolby Atmos HE. Despite his primary endearment towards traditional engineering methods, his work also pushes the limits of what cutting-edge digital technology can enable.

In this freewheeling interview with PT, Farhad talks about acquired learnings from his journey in the industry, relentless focus on creative and technical innovation, quality of engineering in India and much more.

You were associated with a studio for over 2 decades and now you have branched out on your own. What are the pros and cons of working for a big scale studio and working on your own?

I’d been associated with that studio since 1993, so it’s nearly 3 decades. Since specifying and building the original Studio A, I oversaw several landmark changes - the introduction of Dolby Surround in 1997, Dolby 5.1 in 2002, the location change in 2014, and finally the massive upgrade to be the first Dolby Atmos HE certified studio in India with simultaneous certification by Netflix and the MPAA, all of which I spearheaded in 2019. All of these were technically challenging, especially since they were retrofitted into the existing room. So the pros of working in a big scale studio at that time was having the financial backing to realise a pioneering vision, build it, and upgrade it progressively, to remain at the cutting edge.

Over the years, with the availability of lower cost equipment, studio ownership became a financially viable possibility for anybody. As the competition increased, there was a steady reduction in our slice of the financial pie. Ultimately, no matter the gear and space advantage, a studio is about the people in it, from the support staff, the engineers, the musicians, to clients you attract. It’s your people who make or break you. If you don’t let your people grow with you, you’re failing them. A family owned business cannot have corporate pretensions without stable financial backing to follow through on their vision of the future, and the ability to invest in good people and retain them, enjoying the bounty of good years, and riding out the bad financial periods. Freshly hired management “talent” forcibly imparting a corporate work culture onto a business built on personal relationships and goodwill does not work. It doesn’t take anyone a special business degree to see that.

Working on my own has the advantage of complete independence. After 32 years, I am answerable to no one, and it allows me a better work/life balance, which is a huge plus. There are many who think that coming from being full time employed in a large equipment-laden studio, I would not be interested in working in a more modest setup. Nothing could be further from the truth than that. I truly enjoy visiting other studios as a freelance engineer, and am happy to work there. You’d just have to call me and I’d be there. Of course, on the flip side, there is no regular take home income, you may be flush with work for an extended period, and then sitting and waiting for the phone to ring for a while. This is a regular part of the freelance life, but with 32 years of being an in-house engineer, it’s taken me a while to adapt.

Tell us about your studio, The Sonic Laundry.

The Sonic Laundry was born out of my need to have a place where I had freedom from justifying purchasing gear I desired, working with people I desired to work with, at a pace that I was comfortable with. It was designed solely for mixing, as having a recording facility would have been a conflict of interest with my then employment. I think that it’s well documented in several You Tube videos how it started with a simple idea of having a table with a computer, interface, and a pair of small speakers to be able to mix with. Of course, it grew to have a life of its own, and become an out-of-control monster, largely thanks to my (at the time unrealised) dream to own and use the very best of analogue gear. At its peak, I had 32 channels of analogue equalisers and 40 channels of analogue compression.

The studio was acoustically designed to very high standards by Munro Associates, my long time partners of choice for studio design and builds, using only the very finest of specified and available materials. Andy Munro often jokes that it is the highest specified and yet smallest room design that they’ve ever undertaken.

Over the years, to meet the challenges of fast delivery times, and the inability of clients who wanted that “analogue sound” to have the patience required to allow me to document and change settings, I started mixing in the box. I realised that the tools I used made no difference in the quality of output to clients. Somewhere in the back of my head over the last 3-4 years, there was a voice telling me that the days of analogue were numbered, and I would have to react accordingly, or be left with a massive amount of gear that I loved, but was not being allowed the opportunity to use.

Fate had other plans in store for me. On March 8th 2019, after overseeing and completing the build, specifying and installing the equipment, speakers and wiring, and attaining Dolby Atmos HE, Netflix and MPAA certification for the studio I was employed at, several financial assurances that were made to me by the owners before starting this upgrade were revoked, and I was told that I would “have to do what I had to do” Those very words became the sole driving focus of my life for the next year. I made a decision that day that I would eventually have to leave this toxic work environment and put my own interests first.

The Sonic Laundry equipped with the Avid S6 Console, Genelec 8341 DSP based immersive monitoring system

It took me one eventful year. I made the inevitably hard  decision, and sold all my carefully curated analogue gear. With a now empty room, I used the opportunity to rebuild The Sonic Laundry from ground up. Mixing in the box was one thing, but I’ve always been lucky to be a console user, and I need physical faders to mix with. I chose to purchase and install an Avid S6 console, the only privately owned such console in India. This was complemented with an array of different IO from Avid, Apogee, and Merging Technologies and a bountiful choice of plugins.

It gave me much pleasure to announce the all new Sonic Laundry to the world on March 8th, 2020, exactly a year to that fateful day that changed the course of my life. I had done what I had to do.

10 days later, India went into lockdown due to Covid-19, and my decision was vindicated. Since then, I’ve added a full Genelec 8341 DSP based immersive monitoring system for the ability to mix in Dolby Atmos at The Sonic Laundry. Having survived the lockdown working solely from The Sonic Laundry boosted my confidence to quit my employment on 12th August, 2020.

 What drew you to sound engineering? How did you get started in the music and entertainment industry?

Music has always been a deeply abiding love of mine, coupled with an interest in things electronic. It began in my early teens with the takeover of my dad’s music system and evolved from there. My start in the music industry is again well documented publicly with videos on You Tube, so I will not bore your readers with that long story. Suffice to say, it was all chance or karma - I happened to be in the right place at the right time at 2 crucial points in my life.

If you had to describe your mixing technique / style, how would you describe it?

I’d like to think that my mixing technique or style is whatever serves the purpose of the music I’m mixing. I’m very comfortable with mixing many genres of music. I don’t approach any mix with any set “template” for that genre of music. I simply try to adapt to the needs of that piece of music. If I had to put words to it, I’d like to think of my style of mixing as clean, wide and dynamic. I like to “produce” a mix.

I love using all the technology at my disposal wherever required, but respect for the music and artistes’ vision for it always precede “mixing chops”. I find that while mixing, too often there is a focus on unnecessarily complex workflows, flashy techniques, and usage of exotic gear and plugins that the mix may not even require. I prefer to uncomplicate. It keeps the focus where it should be - on the music.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

Every day in a sound engineer’s life is a new challenge. To continuously have the will to learn anew, reinvent who you are, and what you can do to be relevant in your field today. 

For me, it was different - my biggest challenge was accepting that after building a brand from ground up, specifying and building over 11 studios, and largely sustaining them at the very top of the game for 28 years, at the end, my measure of worth to the organisation I was employed by was only the sum I earned for them monthly. It was a huge personal betrayal. I overcame it by setting myself the challenge of building a technically equivalent room like Studio A for myself. I’m proud to say I succeeded, and this is what The Sonic Laundry has evolved to become today.

In your opinion, what classifies as a good mix and a good master?

Mixing is an art form, and highly subjective to interpretation, and that makes it difficult to pigeonhole anyone’s “style” and interpret it. There is no good or bad. There are only opinions. To quote - “There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.” - General William Thornson.

Similarly, I feel that there are only 2 people who can classify the mix as good or bad - the mixing engineer, and the person who created the music. Everyone else’s opinion is irrelevant.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to all anecdotes, there is one that is attributed to Joe Meek - “If it sounds good, it is good” I believe in that. However, sounding good never happens by chance. It is usually the result of hard work, knowledge, understanding, and experience.

Having said that, I’m a huge advocate of mixing to loudness specs and retaining dynamic range. I feel that a lot of our industry understand and champion the need for it, but judging from the hyper crushed masters you hear, (and see the block-like waveforms of) very few actually implement it. I’ve long said that you don’t need to make it loud, if it’s good, your listener will. Yet, even after completely understanding the technicalities, some people never learn...

What are some of the most challenging and rewarding projects you’ve worked on?

The most challenging recording project I’ve worked on was a jazz album called “Miles From India” which was nominated for a Grammy, for which I recorded the who’s who of India’s finest musicians, overseen and arranged by Louis Banks, over 7 days. The concept was recording the best known compositions of Miles Davis using a fusion of the best Indian musicians playing together with the original alumnus of Miles Davis’ band, wonderfully produced by Bob Belden, With so many different ethnic instruments and percussion it was challenge to mic up and tear down setups, often 4-5 times a day as per availability of the musicians.

In terms of mixing, it would be the songs for the movies “Kaminey” and “Ishqiya” composed by Vishal Bhardwaj and produced by my dear friends Clinton Cerejo and Hitesh Sonik. I’d followed these songs from their birth, as simple scratches, and knew even then that we were on the cusp of something very, very special in terms of production, and I’m proud to say that the mixes of those songs were the genesis of a new sound and set the bar higher for music mixes coming out of India. That was very rewarding.              

How do you deal with creative differences and communicating this to your clients? Where do you draw the line?

I used to be a very brash person when I started engineering decades ago, and I was known to wear my heart (and my strong opinions) on my sleeve. I would make my case strongly and vocally about something I felt passionately about, even if it meant displaying a creative bent against the wishes of the client. People who know me understood that it’s not about ego, but out of a desire to serve the project better, and are willing to at least try a different way, and then make a decision whether it works for them or not - we work better together. My years of experience bring something to the table, and I appreciate that my point of view is accepted, and considered, even if not implemented.

Today, I’m not that person I was. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that with a certain kind of people, when they ask your opinion, they don’t really want it, they just want validation for theirs. After 32 years, I’ve very little patience for this, so if asked, I’ll give my honest opinion regardless of in whose favour the answer aligns, and then inevitably proceed to do exactly what the client wants, my opinion notwithstanding. You learn, you evolve. You conserve energy.

What is your favourite piece of go-to gear in the studio without which you cannot mix? Why?

Even after 34 years, Farhad still gets excited at the prospect of a new day in the studio

Of all the hardware that I’ve ever had the pleasure of using, I’d say that the one thing I couldn’t mix without would be the Manley VariMu Compressor. It imparted magic to any audio passing through it. Sadly, as part of my strategy to solely mix in the box, I parted with it. Today I’d say my most important go to gear are my Genelec 8341 DSP monitors. I may be biased, but in my opinion, they are the finest monitors in the world, and I absolutely would have no other at The Sonic Laundry. I trust them so completely, that I bought more of the same for The Sonic Laundry’s expansion to immersive audio. 

What are the significant changes/differences that you have noticed in the industry in these past two decades? And how has the role of a sound engineer changed?

As I’d mentioned to you earlier, the greatest change that has occurred in the past 2 decades is the significantly lowered cost of entry to owning essential equipment that comprises a studio. That has democratised access to the tools we use to record and mix music to anyone. It’s a hugely complex dichotomy. Studios were built and became renowned for their gear and services, but today’s paradigm is that it’s no longer about the gear since everyone has access. Those studios who had the foresight to invest in good people and keep them while these changes were happening are the ones who are still at the top of the game today. I think that we will see the rise of many engineer-owned studios as a sustainable model, at least until a saturation point is reached.

Unfortunately, in India, we celebrate mediocrity, so the quality and standards of engineering has gone in a steadily downward spiral due to our “chalta hai” attitude. Everything is only about the lowest possible cost. At no point does anyone even mention quality. And so it goes....

 Since so much music is done in home studios today, do you think big recording studios are a league away from home studios or do you think people can do as good a job in home studios?

That’s a loaded question. Obviously, great work is being done out of home studios. I think we need to differentiate a “home studio” from a “studio at home”. The Sonic Laundry is a zero compromise studio built into my home, and at its peak had enough equipment to lavishly outfit 3-4 commercial studios. In fact, I still have a lot in storage. Everything points to this as a growing trend all over the world, even the best engineers in residence at top studios are implementing this for themselves as the way forward.

The only place that a large professional commercial studio comes into its own league is when you need to record a large number of live instruments together. Only a large studio has a console, microphone collection, inputs and space to enable that. Not to mention, highly professional and experienced staff who know how to use that gear and guarantee results. That is something very few home studios can match, especially in a crowded city where space is at an extremely expensive premium. But all over the world, more often than not, work is being done in home studios, affording both the artist and engineer the luxury of not having to be forcefully creative against the demands of an expensive ticking clock.

The common debate analog vs digital. What is your take?

Isn’t it obvious?? Having been on both sides of the fence, and having been the first user in India of both a digital multitrack, Akai ADAM in 1989, as well as hard disk based recording system, Digidesign Sound Tools, also in 1989, I’d say digital all the way. But that is a simplistic answer. Why then, was the first iteration of The Sonic Laundry analogue?? (smiles) Because I love analogue. My take - if you have the luxury to be able to do so, capture through analogue, and process, edit and mix digital. Best of both worlds.

Where do you see the future of Studio Engineering headed?

I really don’t know. I often despair we may live to see a dystopian future where entire generations of engineers only get to mix sampled instruments delivered over the net, and never get to actually mic and record anything. That would be very bleak indeed. I think it is essential to record live instruments to understand sound. I hope to be able to teach and pass on these learnings to younger generations at some point in my life.

What advice would you give young people interested in mixing in the studios?

I’d rather advise young people to be interested in recording in studios! People assume that the mixing engineer is the glamorous lead singer of the band, but actually it is the recording engineer! 

My advice? Never forget - In order of importance:

  1. a) Great writing is better than a great performance
  2. b) A great performance is better than a great recording
  3. c) A great recording is better than a great mix
  4. d) A great mix is better than great mastering.

So, it’s important to know the hierarchy of things. A great mastering job cannot save a bad mix. A great mix cannot salvage a poor recording. A great recording cannot compensate a poor performance. And nothing can help bad songwriting, not even a flawless performance! As an engineer you’re largely not in control of the music or its performance, so recording well is the best way to contribute to all the processes that follow in making music. A well recorded performance almost mixes itself, and there’s not much that mastering has to do to help such a mix.

What is the driving force which keeps you motivated?

I truly love what I do!!  That people are willing to pay me to do it is a wonderful side effect!! Even after 34 years, I still get excited at the prospect of a new day in the studio, even more so if it means getting to interact with musicians, and getting to record a performance!! This is the truth, and not rhetoric. If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life! If the goal is to make money, or earn a living, there are many far less stressful jobs enabling one to do that.

Have passion. The rest will follow.