Finally, No More

Today is the day! My band Collage is releasing its second, self-produced single ‘No More’. Here it is: https://soundcloud.com/collage-3/no-more

Collage logo

It has been a wonderful journey so far. One that started in 2007 and continues, in spite of the thousands of miles between us band members. On the occasion of the release, I thought it would be fun to ‘interview’ my very talented bandmates. And thankfully, all of them obliged. So here goes!

Special shoutout and thanks to the very talented Kamakshi Rai, who was our vocalist back then and was involved in the composition of the song.

A Blues-ey song?

Yashodhan: We didn’t really start off with a Blues-ish composition in mind. As far as I remember, we came up with the first chord riff and Kamakshi came up with a vocal line, with Omkar adding the lyrics. From there, we just kept building on the song, and it turned out the way it is today.

Kaustubh: Yes, we didn’t really know what Blues music was back then! The song was mainly composed and built around a guitar riff by Yasho and Kamakshi, which was canned because it was sounding remarkably similar to another song by a well known band! We decided to go for a shuffle-swing kinda feel for this song which (according to us) gave it that Blues-ish feel.

Uma: Collage has never limited itself genre-wise, but our previous two singles had a similar feel to them. While I personally was not involved in the composition of any of the singles, I had the honor of witnessing the revamp of these songs. And I saw No More grow into the peppy, jazzy number that it is now. And with that in mind, performing this song always came with a different set of expectations that I had to try and live up to.

Nikhil: We used to come up with random riffs and tracks in our jam sessions. Some of them were good, many were bad. ‘No More’ was one of the good ones. So we decided to go ahead and develop the track.

Uma: And besides just how I felt performing this song, the response from the crowd was always great. It’s a song that you can tap your foot to, and just really get into the groove with, and you could always see that in the audience. Personally, I’ve always loved doing this song.

Nikhil

Nikhil goofing off as usual during the recording.

Into The Studio

Yashodhan: It was great fun recording guitars! I had anticipated the guitar recording process would be challenging and complicated. The tracking of the acoustic guitar involved experimenting with different mikes and mike positions to get a balanced and full sound of the acoustic guitar. We also experimented with the lead guitar sound, especially with the wah effect.

Nikhil: In fact it was way too much fun to record each and every part of the song and then praise yourself for the effort :P. Also it didn’t take us that much time as Kaustubh and Yashodhan had a good understanding of the recording process.

Kaustubh: Yasho and I have recorded a lot of our music before. We had a basic idea about recording songs but we still had to learn a lot of fundamental stuff; about sound, capturing, mixing amongst other things. He did a certificate course in audio recording and I have been to a lot of recording sessions in big studios and live concerts and sound checks in Mumbai and Pune where I got to learn a lot of tips and tricks just by observing (or by asking foolish questions :P) some top sound engineers and musicians!

Uma: Typically, we record all the instruments first, and use that track to record vocals. Studio recordings have always been an adrenaline-filled experience for me (who needs skydiving?!). I was always a nervous wreck, but so excited that I’d have this ridiculous grin on my face the entire time. Being in the studio always felt surreal, with my bandmates in a separate room, watching; definitely not like the comfortable shoulder-rubbing of a good old jam session. But the nerves always made me push myself a little more and with the guidance of my bandmates it’s always been a learning experience.

Yashodhan during an acoustic guitar recording session.

Yashodhan during an acoustic guitar recording session.

Kaustubh: The process has helped us a lot. All this experience gave me a good starting point. Eventually, I decided to build a recording studio and transformed two rooms at my home into one. Fortunately it’s big enough to record live drums! And that’s what we did: our first ever drum recording session, that too at my own home studio!
We started by recording some acoustic guitar strumming as a trial track, and the same “trial” track was used on No More later! 😀 Then, on the same track we recorded the strumming, guitar lead, bass, drums and organ lead. We programmed a pilot track to record Uma’s vocals before she left for the U.S., to pursue her Masters.

Nikhil: I was also really excited about our new studio at Kaustubh’s place, and was looking forward to our first ever attempt at drum recording, all by ourselves. It took me a while to understand the recording process like the cue in the headphones and miking on the drum heads; how to make the best use of the limited number of mikes. After I got the hang of it, it wasn’t that complicated. The recording process was great fun. I learned quite a few things and cherish each and every moment.

Performing Live Vs Recording

Uma: Our biggest focus when we’re performing live is coordinating with each other and really getting our music out there to the audience; to give out the joy we feel when performing. And you only get that one shot, and we practice as hard as we can to make the best of that one shot.

Kaustubh: You have to get your notes, sound, tightness, dynamics right in that one chance on stage. When you are recording in the studio you can take your own time to do these things. There’s only one thing common between a live performance and a recording: your musicianship, which is the most important thing.

Nikhil: While recording you are with your band mates whom you know, so there’s always that comfort level and you know you’re not being judged on that performance.

Uma rocking it!

Uma rocking it!

Yashodhan: Live performance is more about the ‘performance’, the chemistry between the band members, the overall set list, how you manage to keep the crowd interested, etc. Recordings are more focussed on the song itself. Of course, playing your parts to perfection is a part of both, there is no escape from that 🙂

It’s Been A Long Road

Yashodhan: Releasing the song online does justice to all the hard work the band has put in, right from composing the song with Kamakshi, to practicing it over and over again and performing it so many times, changing little things here and there (change from A to D scale, the chromatic chords at the end of the stanza), and finally working hard to record it in the best way we can. It feels great to have your music online and get feedback from people.

Nikhil: You always feel good when you create something, whether it’s a painting, a dish you’ve cooked or a song. I always feel proud to say ‘This is my band’s song!’ and to be a part of Collage.

Kaustubh: This song is special because it’s one of our first few compositions and also because it was produced at my home studio. The first production at my studio :).

Kaustubh in a pensive mood during a practice session.

Kaustubh in a pensive mood during a practice session.

Uma: By the time we were ready to record this song, all of our lives were being hit by major changes, a result of which, the band hadn’t performed in quite some time. Our bassist had been in the United States for a year already, I was gearing up to do the same, our guitarist was busy applying to schools in the USA, our keyboardist was really beginning to make it big as a photographer, our drummer was stepping up to take over his family business. You can only imagine what these changes did to the band.
But, we rallied and decided that we absolutely had to record our singles. And so we hit our first roadblock. I was due to leave in about 2 months. There was no way we could record the final track in time, especially with the bassist away! So we recorded vocals to the pilot track! After that came the drums recording, followed by the bass recording, when our bassist returned on vacation. By this point, our guitarist was due to leave for the States and they managed to get all of his work recorded just before he left. Kaustubh worked on the mix after that, something that Yashodhan and I managed to contribute to when we visited home on vacation recently.
And so, after two years of squishing in work where and when they could, the band has come to this point where we can release this song. It really is a happy moment for us.

A Few Thoughts Of My Own

So many things have changed since this track was composed; I wasn’t even playing the bass back then! Hats-off to Kaustubh for managing the lower frequencies on the keyboard during our live performances at the time. And then there’s the evolution of the bass-line as I started learning more about the bass. The bass-line in this recorded single is drastically different from the one that used to be played even as late as 2011!
Recording at Kaustubh’s place was a great experience. Especially because we didn’t have the thought ‘We’re paying a lot per hour/day just to be here!’ at the back of our mind. And it was a new experience for us as we had never recorded bass in a studio before. So quite a lot of things were unknown. But we did it anyways. Whenever we used to perform ‘No More’ in our live shows, people would often say ‘hey, I really liked that foot-tapping number’. Comments like these used to (and still) make us smile like crazy 🙂

Personally, it is a wonderful moment sharing our creation with everyone outside of live performances. The journey from creating the track way back in 2007, to performing it live in shows and competitions, to finally releasing it has been a great, emotional one.

Collage is:
Uma Phadnis – Vocals
Yashodhan Karandikar – Guitars, Production
Kaustubh Joshi – Keyboards, Guitars, Production
Yours Truly – Bass
Nikhil Deshpande – Drums

Looking forward to recording and sharing more of our music with you! Do checkout and like our Facebook page!

Hope you guys liked No More and a glimpse into how it was made. If you liked it, please spread the word and the share the link to the track – https://soundcloud.com/collage-3/no-more – on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, (Ello, anyone?) and/or any other social network. Any support would be much appreciated 🙂

Collage with Remo Fernandes

Collage with Remo Fernandes


As always, thanks a ton for reading! Stay tuned for an exciting travelogue, coming up next!

– Omkar

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A Wonderful Evening With Yanni

In March, I happened to stumble upon the fact that Yanni was going to perform in San Diego. Yes, in proper San Diego; not in LA, not in Orange County or any other place nearby. Ticketmaster showed that the tickets would go on sale in a couple of days. Even though September was quite far away, I knew I was going to get tickets right away.

Yanni has touched a lot of people’s lives. And so there are quite a few of his fans among my friends. I called up a couple of them right away. While they liked Yanni, I honestly didn’t think they would agree on spending more than a hundred dollars for a concert six months away. And I was prepared for it actually. Prepared to attend the concert all by myself if it came to that. But thankfully, they were all in; and requested me to book a ‘+1’ each for their friends. And so I booked the tickets in March, within forty-eight hours of them going on sale.

The excitement was palpable on the perfect, scarlet San Diego evening. In a sea of well-dressed people, we stood outside the San Diego Civic Theatre, waiting for a friend to arrive. The friend, also a bandmate, was one of the ‘+1’s (friend’s friend) I mentioned earlier. A fact that reminded me how quickly things change in life.

The stage is set! Image from http://sandiegotheatres.org/press/

The stage is set! Courtesy: http://sandiegotheatres.org/press/

Out seats were in row M, the thirteenth row from the stage, in the Orchestra section. My first thought was how many people had booked their tickets before us, the moment they became available. But we were very happy with our seats. They were close to the center, slightly to the right (facing the stage). Despite not being an expert on the subject, I thought we were in a good spot acoustically. The theatre filled up quickly. We saw people carrying small wine glasses as they squeezed their way through the packed rows. The two balconies above had narrow, tapering arms that extended along the side of the theatre.

The stage was set. I was actually a little surprised to find that the curtains were not drawn. Yanni’s piano and keyboard station (I don’t know what else to call this large structure that contained eight keyboards!) were in the front, on stage level. A multi-level platform was raised behind them. On the first level we saw a line of chairs. Violins, cellos, horns, trumpets and harps were present. The second level had precession, bass, a large drum kit in the centre, and another keyboard station (with just six keyboards). A deep, dark blue light illuminated all of this.

8:00 PM. The house lights dimmed and went out. Showtime. A huge round of applause went up as the orchestra members appeared on stage from either side of the setup and started taking their positions. The stage lights were still dim, but I was able to recognize Samvel Yervinian (violin), Charlie Adams (drums), Ming Freeman (keyboards) and Victor Espinola (harp). The musicians took about a minute or so to adjust their positions and instruments, and started playing an intro music of sorts. And there he was, dressed in white; running from the stage entry at the back into the spotlight. As the intro music played Yanni ran on the stage, waving to the crowd and high-five-ing some of the people in the first row.

Amazing ambience and lighting, poor quality photo!

This was my view. Amazing ambience and lighting, poor quality photo!

And what an evening it was. Voyage, The End Of August, Marching Seasons. For Nightingale, Lauren Jelencovich accompanied Yanni. What a voice! I could not believe it was possible for a human being to hit such high notes! For Felitsa (‘mother’ in Greek), Yanni mentioned how the word love is overused in our daily lives. He went on to explain that there are twelve words for love in Greek, of different magnitudes. Felitsa was written by him for his mother, with love of the highest magnitude (I forgot the Greek word).

Of course, Samvel Yervinian blew us away with his violin solo. Yanni introduced him as the best violin player on earth twice, and it was clear why. Although having watched the Yanni Live! concert video (recorded at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas), I wasn’t surprised by the solo. The drum solo by Charlie Adams, however, was a huge surprise. For starters, it was a twenty-minute long solo! And a superb one! There were different sections of the solo, each having its own crescendo of sorts. And that guy knows how to please the crowd. Before the solo, he slipped into a San Diego Chargers jersey! Yanni mentioned that he wears a different shirt for every show on their world tour.

The songs went by quickly. It was just an amazing evening due to a (expected) legendary performance and a very loud crowd! Yanni came back on stage for two encores after bowing and leaving! Though I’m quite sure that was planned, it was nevertheless an amazing moment – the audience cheering, clapping and yelling for him to come back on stage.

A truly wonderful artist!

A truly wonderful artist! Courtesy: Yanni’s Official Facebook Page

Yanni has a ‘One world’ cause that he advocates quite passionately. He mentioned how music is something truly international and knows no boundaries. Yanni’s music is truly international I believe; one can pinpoint the multiple styles of music that have influenced him and yet it is hard to classify his music into a particular style. The record labels put it under ‘World’ or ‘New Age’ music. He waved at the orchestra and called them his mini-United Nations! Both NASA and the Russian Space Agency have allowed Yanni to visit their restricted areas and interact with the astro/cosmo-nauts. He mentioned how his music has never been censored in any country and how he wishes the man-made boundaries would just disappear, and the Earth would be just like how humans from space see it. “That is my dream”, he concluded and started playing One Man’s Dream, the last song of the evening. Magical stuff!

An amazing Saturday night. I wish it had gone on and on. Yanni promised he’s coming back to San Diego next year. This time I won’t wait forty-eight hours to book the tickets!

I would like to leave you with the song that introduced me to Yanni, and is one of my favorite Yanni tracks. Apologies, if Spotify is not available where you are.

– Omkar

A Posthumous Gift from the King!

Alright, before you move on, just click ‘Play’ on the track below. At work? No headphones? That’s alright, I can wait.


Artists never die. They live on through their work. Work which is, in many cases, appreciated only after the artist’s demise. But Michael Jackson was special. The King of Pop released his first solo album at the age of seventeen in 1975 enjoyed spectacular success till the late 90s.

After his death in 2009, it was immediately made public that the King had more than a hundred unreleased tracks. Probably the biggest inheritance for his children and estate. Well, the news wasn’t particularly exciting. The tracks must have been kept out of albums for a reason. I doubt many people were anticipating the release of those tracks. I was one of them.

Xscape, an album containing eight of those tracks, was released four days ago. I wasn’t even aware of the album! Having been a MJ fan for quite a few years, I put the album’s playlist on Spotify on repeat.

Albumn Cover

Let me be honest. I didn’t expect much from the album. Because not only were these tracks left out of the earlier albums, they were ‘contemporized’ by present-day producers. No offense to them, but MJ was known to be heavily involved even in the most minute details of his production. Getting his sound right would have certainly been an uphill task.

And they didn’t disappoint! The album feels exactly like an MJ album should. It’s fun, easy to listen to, and has classic MJ grooves that’ll make you want to dance. What impressed me the most, as well as excited me, was the fact the tracks are from a 1983-1999 time period. So some of the tracks were composed in the epic Thriller, Off The Wall era!

One track in particular was probably left out on the cutting room floor for obvious reasons: Do You Know Where Your Children Are. As if there weren’t enough child molestation accusations on him! Interestingly, the track is about a girl in LA facing sexual abuse.

Is it the best Michael Jackson album? No. Certainly not. But it is a great collection of tracks that will make longtime fans nostalgic. Billboard has done an in-depth, track-by-track review of the album. Check it out; you can also listen to all the songs there.

Long live the King!

The Unsung Hero

This post was originally posted on my old blog. Recently, while having a conversation with a friend of mine, I realized that this topic needs to be discussed more.

 

We watch movies, listen to songs/albums and read books. If we like these works of art, we immediately think about their creators and transpose our liking of their works – ‘Wow, great direction!’, ‘Awesome guitar riff!’, ‘Brilliant writing style! What a page-turner!’ and so on – onto them. That’s how it works most of the times, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, most of us don’t think about or give enough credit to the people who support these artists. Not support as in ‘family support’ or ‘moral support’ but technical associates and assistants who put in a lot of hard work to refine and fine tune the work of art created by someone else.

To a certain extent, I don’t blame the general public. For a reader to appreciate the work put in by an editor, they must first be aware of the kind of work he does. How does their job affect the final, published novel? Surely they must be doing something more than just spell-checking! The same can be said about studio engineers, album producers w.r.t music and editors, assistant directors, cinematographers w.r.t film making (just to give very few examples.)

As a bassist who’s performed with a band and as someone who has been ‘behind the scenes’ a few times observing recordings, I can say that the final song/album of any artist has everyone’s fingerprints on it – the artists themselves, the producer, the recording engineer (his assistants even!), the mixing and mastering engineers and even the record label executives who decide the platform on which the music is going to be published!

Let me go into detail about the role of a  producer in the music industry.

In India, many people aren’t even aware of an album producer. That’s because –

  1. Bollywood accounts for a huge chunk of music production in India – where there is a music director and no producer as such.
  2. People tend to think of a producer as ‘the guy who finances the production’ only.

The producer, in fact is one of the most important people in any album’s production. To sum it up loosely in one line, a producer is ‘the person who tells the artist what the album should sound like as a whole and sees to it that it does’. The producer generally does not get involved in the composition directly. Of course, even within the music industry, the producer’s role changes with the genre of music.

To illustrate this, I’ll use an example. We’ve all heard Michael Jackson’s songs. We’ve also heard the awesome guitar solo in ‘Beat It’, the funky groove in ‘Thriller’ and the kick-ass bass line of ‘Bad’. Also, in songs like ‘Heal The World’ and ‘Earth Song’, we can hear violins and other string instruments in the background. Now, it’s pretty well known that MJ himself did not play any instruments and so hired musicians had to be involved. Who got the musicians? Who decided how ‘loud’ each song should be? Who made sure that every musician’s work ‘fit’ perfectly in the songs? The producers of his albums. Of course, MJ was also consulted and involved in these processes. A producer in the music industry is analogous to a director in the film industry.

Michael Jackson with Quincy Jones – The producer of his most successful album ‘Thriller’

To explain how a producer’s role varies by genre, let me take the example of a little known band called Linkin Park. As every single Linkin Park fan must’ve observed that their last two albums – Minutes To Midnight and A Thousand Suns – are drastically different from their earlier albums like Hybrid Theory. The band wanted to experiment or change the sound. And so they hired a new producer for Minutes To Midnight (Rick Rubin). Initially, the band discussed their ideas about how the album should sound like, with him. Then they proceeded to create more than a hundred ‘rough’ tracks for the album keeping in mind the overall theme and feel of the album; 12 songs were shortlisted and finished after discussions with the producer.

The band had said they wanted the next album to sound more ‘mature’. The result? The album is much ‘softer’ compared to their earlier work with more emphasis on the melodies. Chester Bennington screams his head off in just one song in the entire album! Also, one should note that Linkin Park still have their ‘signature’ in every song. Be it Joe Hahn’s loops or Mike Shinoda’s rapping. Linkin Park’s guitarist Brad Delson had no solos in their albums prior to M2M. That didn’t mean he couldn’t play solos! So what did the producer do in Minutes to Midnight? He changed Linkin Park’s sound while maintaining their personality.

The aim of this post was not to be ‘technical’ or precisely defining things but to spread awareness about a vital person in the music industry who almost always goes unnoticed.

I’d like to specially thank my guitar professor and a wonderful musician, Shitalchandra Kulkarni for explaining many of the above things to me. Also used as references are many articles on music sites, blogs and videos.

Thanks for reading this rather wordy post! Hope you found it informative! Feel free to give your feedback in the comments section below.