The music can’t stop, and independent musicians who until then were content with home installations are turning to recording studios again. Here’s how Chennai is finding ways to overcome operational challenges posed by the pandemic
Few of us would have made it through lockdown without songs – and other art forms – to comfort, calm, and amplify us as and when we needed it. Making music that does all of this requires not only talent but also a team, a lot of equipment and technical know-how. As recording studios around Chennai are gradually reopening, they are having difficulty navigating.
For example, “You can’t wear a mask when recording vocals,” says Mervin Thomas categorically. This would distort or muffle the singer’s voice and thus affect the song as a whole, says the founder of TASE Studio, explaining one of the many challenges recording studios in Chennai – and elsewhere – have to overcome during Unlock 4.0. .
As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, music producers in Chennai are well aware that hygiene cannot be a secondary concern. But how do you keep confined spaces full of temperature-sensitive equipment operational and safe? The first factor is confidence. “For now, I only work with musicians that I know well,” explains Mervin. This sentiment is shared by Ashvin Vinayagamoorthy, who runs Shimmr Studios at Mogappair. “If we’re introduced by friends or if I know them personally – basically, if I know they can follow a certain work ethic in the studio, we call them,” says Ashwin who works with the young independent in town. . musicians as well as industry talents.
Work ethic is the key, because the rules, especially now, are many. Singer-songwriter Alvin Presley describes his first post-containment recording experience last week. “I went to the Voice and Vision studios in Kodambakkam, run by Alaap Raju. The studio has rules: there must be a maximum of three people; everyone should wear a mask unless the person is singing. There is a recording booth and a studio room. Inside the check-in booth they have a foot-operated hand sanitizer that we used with a foot pedal, in addition to another hand sanitizer at the entrance to the booth, ”recalls -he.
While the three-person cap makes sense in terms of safety and social distancing, it has other implications. Big Sam’s drummer Goutham Healer observes that while it worked well for their recording session with a vocalist and bassist, it also means that some musical arrangements in general still cannot be recorded in the studio, at least. for the moment. “A whole group cannot come together. And if someone wants to record an entire string section – say five or ten people playing the violin together – they can’t do it. The only person allowed to remove their mask during their session, he recalls, was singer Samuel Vijayan while singing.
The point, Alvin says, was to keep physical contact with artists to a minimum. “We had brought some of our drum kit, which was especially needed for this recording and was not available in the studio. Lijesh at the studio had everything set up in advance, so we didn’t have to touch too much, and we continued to let him know what gear we wanted to handle. The microphones had already been installed and should not be touched. The only other thing we used was the sofa.
While the studios are taking the lead when it comes to safety, the musicians involved should also do their part. Said Alvin, “I have a home studio setup, so I had done some basic work – basic structure and placements – beforehand. When the three of us walked in we had a solid four hour session, in which we were able to completely finish a song called “Camouflaged Emotions”, and also do a rough track of another song. “
This new project comes just over a month after the release of Alvin’s debut EP ‘Fall Today’, which he created entirely at home. So why go to the studio now? Simply put, while the quality of music depends on talent, the quality of its sound depends on the right conditions and equipment. Explains Alvin, “It also depends on what I program in software and what I record live. While recording at home, it was difficult for me to get good quality voice recording quality. I had to find the right place where the reverb wasn’t too much and at the same time not too dead. The studios have a vocal booth made just for that. The purpose of the place is only recordings; our homes are designed for other things.
However, the very design of a studio can also pose operational challenges. For example, rooms should be soundproofed and equipment should be kept at very low temperatures to prevent overheating when in use. This is probably why Mervin, on his way to his studio for a check-up two weeks after the first lockdown, discovered a termite infestation. “My workshop has a lot of woodwork and poor ventilation,” he explains, “I had to completely redo a wall and do a treatment. I reopened after this last confinement; we took very few clients and went slow.
The biggest concern, he says, is the singer, who has to sing without a mask and be very close to the microphone. “Even more important than disinfecting the microphone, you have to disinfect the pop filter, which is located between the microphone and the singer. We disinfect both of them, as well as all of our headphones, with an isopropyl alcohol-based disinfectant before each session, ”says Mervin, who works with independent and gospel musicians.
Shimmr Studios has a small solution for this, thanks to the open space right in front of their bedrooms, on the terrace of the independent bungalow where the whole studio is located. Ashwin says, “We give the groups a lot of space to jam and rehearse, and then we take turns going in just to record. “
Ashwin adds that it is important to monitor customers. “If singers are involved, we try to keep clients a day and a half apart, never two singing sessions in the same day. For everyone else, we swap the mics for each session. Overdubs help groups: we record two people at a time and play that recording back for the rest of the band to play with.
Ashwin’s clientele, he says, includes not only independent artists like Kevin Fernando and Shravan Sridhar, but also artists like Sid Sriram, Chinmayee and Harini. “But the industry took a step back during the lockdown; these are the independent musicians who have continued to create music throughout.