Hooked to sound

If music and sound be your driving force, engineering them can be a labour of love and a lucrative profession, says Vimal Chander Joshi
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Updated on Sep 22, 2011 11:41 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByVimal Chander Joshi, New Delhi

After finishing his undergraduate degree in commerce, Rajeev Iyer told his father, a businessman and a postgraduate in English literature, that he wanted to be a sound engineer. His father was baffled and asked his son mockingly: “Do you want to repair radios or check mikes at public functions?”

His remark stemmed from his frustration over his failed plan to send his son to Australia for an MBA, which would have prepared Rajeev for the 50-year-old Cochin-based family car-battery business. Such was his passion for his calling that Rajeev protested by leaving home - only for a couple of days though. He returned as soon as his father saw his resolve.

Six years later, Rajeev’s father is “proud of Rajeev” and says: “His business is far far (sic) better than mine. I was clueless of the potential possibilities available in this profession,” says S Subramanian Iyer.

Rajeev now runs a production house — Hear Pictures — in Delhi and manages sound for radio/ TV commercials. “When you want to do something creative, nothing else can fascinate you. I was hooked to ‘sounds’ when I watched Jurassic Park while in college. I saw the same movie four times only because of its enchanting sounds,” says Rajeev.

Apart from working on the sound for advertisements and commercial movies, sound engineers are also hired at radio and TV stations as well as five-star clubs to create, streamline and record sounds.

Tarun Rishiraj, a sound engineer at 93.5 Red FM, got interested in sound while working as a DJ a few years ago. “Working as a sound engineer is very exciting. Every day, you get to experiment with new sounds. It’s refreshing to make radio promos,” says Rishiraj.

But pressure of work can take a toll especially when a mega event such as Cricket World Cup is round the corner. “We produce jingles that are used to promote corporate sponsors during the course of the event. During this time, there is no fixed eight-hour shift like on other days. We might have to (work) for a long time,” he says.

These are the times when Rishiraj has to walk the thin line between quality and quantity.

“If we are asked to make an ad film by 5 pm then we have to do it, come what may. And just because we are racing to meet a deadline, it won’t absolve us of our mandate to produce quality sounds. A sound engineer has to be fast and creative at the same time,” he adds.

Another challenge in the industry is to live up to the client’s (sometimes wild) expectations. When a client — an advertiser or an agency — is not satisfied with your creative output, he can simple turn down your proposed work. “You can’t afford to have an inflated ego in this profession. Any non-creative person from the client’s side can reject your work for reasons, which are random and inexplicable, at times,” says Rajeev.

What's it about?
Sound engineering is about capturing, recording, copying, editing, mixing and reproducing sound using electronic devices. It involves both production and post-production activities. Production can involve everything from set-up to the actual recording. During post-production, the recorded material is ‘polished’. Study courses involve technical and creative aspects of sound recording, editing and mixing. Students start by learning the basic theory of sound and then go on to cover recording, post-production, live-sound reinforcement, as well as broadcasting. Technical aspects, such as sound mixing, giving special effects, as well as, use of recording tools, microphones, etc is covered.

Clock Work
7.30 am: Wake up
8 am: At work,
Noon to midnight: Work goes on (Be ready for long hours. While working on films, timings depend on the shooting schedule and post-production timings)

The Payoff
Entry level: Your designation and salary depends on what medium you are joining - Radio, TV. However, initially the salaries fall into the Rs15,000-Rs20,000 bracket. In the film industry, you could earn around Rs1500-Rs6000 per day or even less (depending on the film’s budget). Once you have mastered the skill, you move up the ladder. If you have made a name for yourself in the field, then money is not a constraint.

. A keen interest in music
. A combination of creativity and technical knowledge
. Knowledge of electrical, electronic, and mechanical equipment
. Good communication skills are a must
. Team player
. Concentration
. Patience
. good understanding
. Sense of pitch, timing and rhythm
. Software and hardware integration skills

How do i get there?
Earning a diploma or degree in sound engineering is the first step in pursuing a career. After the course, one can find work in movies, television, advertising and broadcasting, live concerts, as well as multimedia organisations.

One starts out as an assistant to an established recording engineer. With experience, one can specialise in different aspects of sound and can become a music producer or start his/her own recording studio

Institutes & urls
. Film and Television Institute of India, Pune
. Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, Kolkata
. MGR Government Film and Television Institure, Chennai
. Government Film and Television Institute, Bangalore
. Asian Academy of Film & Television, Noida
. Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

Pros & cons


Work is fun-filled as it deals with sound and music


Barring a few institutes, such as FTII in Pune, no reputable institutions run courses in sound engineering


Getting a good job can be tough


In case you get a good break, it pays well -- especially after three/ four years in the field

This is a booming field

A sound engineer-turned-entrepreneur talks about the opportunities in the field

What opportunities exist after studying sound engineering?
One can work with a radio or TV studio or a production house.

Why did you start your own studio, how is this different from working for a studio?
I always wanted to work on movies, for which I started my own production house. I started my career with an organisation called Media Artists in Chennai where I worked on several south Indian movies including Kamal Haasan starrer, Virumaandi.

Working on movies is rigorous and you have to put heart and soul for two to three months while an ad film takes only 10 days to complete.

You earned a diploma in sound engineering from an institute in Chennai. Some don’t even do that and join a production house straight away to learn things hands-on. What is the ideal way to make a foray?
Yes, one ought to pursue formal education before entering the profession. Those who are not qualified face quite a tough time and have to slog for a long time for a paltry salary — sometimes as low as R3,000 — with studios in Mumbai. On the other hand, qualified sound engineers start with a salary of R15,000 to R20,000 per month.

What are the challenges involved in running your own production house?
While delivering quality work, you have to give due attention to client servicing, as well. But it offers a range of interesting assignments too. In a nine-to-five job, the work might get monotonous. But, when you run your own production house, the work is rejuvenating.

One day you work on a radio commercial, the second day it could be documentary movie while on other day, you will get a television commercial to work on.

You didn’t go in for a business education. Instead, you followed your heart. Are you satisfied now?
Very much. This field is booming. Almost every other day, I get calls from aspiring professionals, who ask me the name of the institute I studied at and the scope in this profession. Not many are aware of the possibilities. Interest in sound engineering soared after Resul Pookutty, (noted sound editor and mixer) won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire.

Rajeev Iyer, Founder, Hear Pictures interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi

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