The bylanes around Yashraj Studios in Andheri gives you a laid-back feeling but inside those big gates, it’s a whole new world. One of the busiest guys at this studio is senior sound engineer Shantanu Hudlikar.
Working for Yashraj Studios since 2005, Hudlikar has worked with the crème de la crème from the music industry. He has had the chance of working with globally-known artists such as Chaka Khan, composer Ilaiyaraaja, The Bombay Dub Orchestra, Deep Forest, Ranjit Barot, Indus Creed, AR Rahman, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Vishal & Shekhar, Pritam and many more.
With a Master’s degree in Bio Chemistry, this would be an odd place for a man like him.
“I was fed up with my academic research work with pharmaceutical companies. My friends who are currently the top professional musicians in the country urged me to pursue music. That was the beginning and I was lucky to have friends in the music business who ran studios and offered me a job,” said Hudlikar.
Having started his musical career as a tea boy who ran errands, he became one of the most sought after sound engineers in the country.
“My journey in the music world is a philosophy. Times and circumstances change but the basic principal of why I got into this field has remained the same,” he said.
Hudlikar has also worked with some of the finest names in advertising and film industry which include Highlight Films, Whitelight, Genesis, Yashraj Films, Dharma Productions, Excel Entertainment, Aamir Khan Productions and Vinod Chopra Productions.
Having completed close to 31 years in the profession, Hudlikar mastered the tricks of the trade while on the job and his work was recommended by his seniors.
“I don’t know where these 30 years have gone because I love my work so much. I love being around music and musicians. What I have learnt from my seniors and mentors I have tried to pass on to the next generation, hopefully I can continue the tradition of uplifting the criteria and benchmark of sound in this country. That is my main aim,” said the esteemed sound engineer.
Overcoming Professional Challenges
Hudlikar is the sort of man who would not take his job for granted despite all the amount of work he has done. Spirituality and philosophy are two pillars of his life, the other two being dedication and of course, music. The man still walks into the studio each day as excited as his first day.
“You never know what is going to happen when you enter the studio. You have been given just a brief and maybe you have heard the scratch. That is the excitement and also the euphoria about creating something and making it sound good.”
There is a rainy day after a sun kissed one, not every day at work would be a as good as he makes it sound.
“There have been difficult times when you have to work with sub-standard musicians. Music should not be a chore or a laborious effort. When it becomes that you either take a break and analyse that has it become so because of yourself or due to external forces,” he added.
He also opined that if music makes you feel burdened, obviously then there is something wrong. One cannot keep blaming the world. We need to take responsibilities for all our actions. If you have erred, it is better to raise your hand and admit. Everybody makes mistakes. But the thing is not to repeat those mistakes.
With postivity as his biggest asset, Shantanu believes that every professional is as good as his last job and his next job should be better than his last. The time he finds a smile on the faces of the artistes and the ‘powers to be’, as he likes to address them, of the music industry is the award he works for. Being a true team man, he acknowledges the roles of every composer, musician, lyricist, producer and the arrangers. But most of them are unknown to the world outside the four walls of the studio. Though being a core component to the songs we sing or dance to, these names were and shall always be unknown to the people.
“We knew what we are getting into. We have chosen to be the backstreet, backstage and the behind the lines people. We may be behind the scenes but the ‘powers to be’ know that without us they won’t be able to get anywhere. We take pride and comfort in that fact,” he adds.
Well that is Gospel’s truth because if wanted the limelight they would have taken up some other profession.
In his journey, as a sound engineer, Shantanu has witnessed a tidal change in the way music is made. Times and circumstances shall always change, but the basics are constant. Staying relevant is the game.
“When they say contemporary sound, it means sound of today. Good sound is good sound, whether it is made now or 100 years ago. It is just that people’s taste seem to change.” Shantanu states as a matter of fact.
Present scenario of the industry
We have straddled many eras, genres, forms, sounds and we seem to have hit a plateau where we have seen it all and now boredom has set in. If you recall the last 7-8 years of top genres across the world not just film music or any particular genre, every song sounds pretty much the same. There are exceptions but few and far in between. In the past, every now and then a great artist would come up. Now there is a void.
“Because they were all musicians. They were writing songs in their bedroom, garages or wherever they found a place. Today there are hardly any singer songwriters. There are ‘hit-makers’. They select an artist and ask 10 songs to be written and make the artiste into a star but the artiste has not even written the songs. He doesn’t know the soul of the song. It is same with Indian playback singing in Bollywood today,” explains Shantanu.
When asked if this age call be called as ‘producer’s era’ and not the ‘composer’s era’, he had an interesting take.
“Definitely. The producers and arrangers do fancy things to cover the inadequacies of a bad song. In the end it is just mechanical, just some notes strung together and it becomes a song. Somebody has written the lyrics, someone has the melody and this is all alien to the person who is going to sing it. It comes out as fake and plastic,” Hudlikar said bluntly.
This will and should change very soon because people have gotten wiser about this fact and are not really appreciating it. This might be the reason why audience now prefer attending live shows and not buy the music. Which is sad because they need to buy music. Only when they spend will the artists and musicians get a well-equipped studio to make the songs sound good. Music is meant for entertainment. This led us to the hottest form of music entertainment in the world right now, K-Pop.
“K-pop is great business model. They are giving entertainment and having fun doing so. They have learnt to remain relevant. If Metallica, The Rolling Stones, U2 and similar artistes can adapt themselves to the times and be relevant so can we,” he said.
Adding “We were innovators at a time, why can’t we be now when we have the world at our feet right now.” Well, not many would disagree with him. The music industry needs to increase its benchmark because India is not our benchmark anymore. Now our benchmark has been set globally, thanks to the world wide web feels Shantanu.
A question had been bugging mew throughout the interaction. In the past, there was thing termed as the ‘second album curse’. Any artist with a great debut album was faced with a massive expectation for the follow up album. Not many survived this curse. Now is the time of singles and not albums. When asked about the ‘second album curse’ is now the ‘second single curse’?
“Good question.” smiles the philosophical bio chemist. “My problem is not the second single, mine is the first,” he signs off.