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A man on a bicycle help record some all-time popular film songs?

If I asked you what the most critical instrument necessary for recording a song was, you would prob…
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If I asked you what the most critical instrument necessary for recording a song was, you would probably say violins. Some would say the tabla, while others might say it is the baton of the conductor and so on. I say it was the bicycle. Want to know why? Read on!

Indian films almost always have songs; some have five or more. Here is how the song is made, from the words of an insider!

A song is born

A prominent arranger Dattaram Wadkar, who is known for his association with Shanker-Jaikishan for over four decades, summed it up like this:

The song is composed on day one. This means the basic tune is composed. It is then handed over to the arranger, who adds all the song’s embellishments and interludes. The musicians are then called in and given their parts, and two or three rehearsals are done. The song is then recorded.

Until recently, recording meant a live performance by the entire ensemble, including the singer. If a mistake happens, then the whole recording must be done again.

If you want to know who Dattaram was, listen to tabla in the songs of Shri 420; Mud mud ke na dekh and Ramayyaa vastaavayyaa and Chori Chori: Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum.

Apart from the tabla, Dattaram also played the duff; Dil ka haal sune dilwala and Mera naam raju gharana annam in Shri 420 and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Bahti Hai.

The duff can be heard clearly. Dattaram Wadkar played this

He later became a percussion arranger for Shanker-Jaikishan. His colleague and fellow Goan, Sebastian D’Souza, would arrange the rest of the music on Western instruments, like guitar, saxophone, accordion, etc.

Now, all this is easier said than done. Very few music directors had a permanent orchestra. Often, there would be core musicians and the rest freelancers who would one day be playing for S-J, and on another day, Kalyanji-Anandji and so on. Sometimes, the permanent musician would suggest one of his friends for the job, who would then show up for the rehearsal and the recording.

In some cases, acquaintances alone could not fill all the vacant slots. The word had to be spread far and wide to get the required musicians.

Lata, Asha, Manna Dey & Rafi singing a song. Only two mics and no separate mic for the chorus

The Messengers – the man on a bicycle

This gave rise to a need in the system. Those who could muster up the required musicians for a recording session at short notice. They were called messengers. Later, the messengers came to be known as music coordinators bringing about a modicum of respectability, maybe?

In those early days, telephones were not available to everyone. So the messengers would bicycle to the required musician and tell them that they had to report at this studio and, this time, with this instrument! This was because some of the musicians played multiple instruments. If the musician was unavailable, the messenger would cycle down to the next on the list. To the freelancer, this meant keeping the messenger happy by being very respectful.

Most of the messengers traveled the streets of Bombay close to midnight. So. if you heard a knock at your door in the middle of the night, it was probably the messenger bringing you the good news that you had work tomorrow!

In the orchestra, if you were in the first row, you had to be at the top of your game. Messengers had no say here since the music director would know the front row musicians by their names and specifically ask for them. But if you were in the fourth or fifth row, you had to keep the messenger happy, and some would even offer them a commission, a bribe of sorts!

Messengers were an essential part of the development of the cottage industry that was Old Bollywood; without them, no recordings would have been possible. In time, however, they came to play crucial economic roles in the lives of many musicians, as they were often the deciding factor between employment and unemployment.

Cine Music Association

In theory, the music director must inform the CMA (Cine Music Association) of their requirement. The CMA would then allot the number of musicians required based on equal and fair distribution. This would never happen in real life, so the messengers were all-powerful.

The A-R-P trio

Musicians Alfonso Albuquerque, who played cello, Ram Singh saxophone, and Peter Sequeira on violin and guitar, were known collectively by their initials as “A-R-P.” They were a trio, and often others would refer to them as A-R-P. They were among the first and most influential freelance musicians who also were music coordinators.

A-R-P not only provided their musical talents to composing early film scores but also served as orchestral brokers.

They helped recruit and coordinate other musicians’ efforts to fill out the small orchestras of the time. Of course, for a financial reward.

Ram Singh was succeeded by Manohari Singh much later. There was no alto sax used for a long time until Mahohari Singh took his place.

Some of Manohari Singh’s sax can be heard in this song and in the interludes of Mehabooba Mehabooba in the film Sholay.

The advent of the voice booth

Then another thing happened. The microphone of the singer had to be isolated. Either the technicians were striving for better recordings, or the listening public became more discerning. The long and short of it is that this gave rise to the silence booth, as it was called those days.

During the very early days, the singer would be in the same room as the orchestra and so would be able to sing correctly, maintaining pitch and beat.

This changed with the vocal booth. Many singers felt isolated and also went off scale and tempo. On the one hand, there was a clear vocal recording, but what use if it was off pitch and rhythm.

The song violinist

This gave rise to a song violinist. The song violinist would sit along with the rhythm section of the orchestra and play the song exactly as how the singer was supposed to sing. The song violinist would play into a separate microphone and a mixer which would mix the rhythm section and feed the mix to the singer. This helped to keep the singer in the right tempo and scale. Some of the finest violinists who were song violinists were Harishchandra Narvekar, Gajanan Karnad, and Prabhakar Jog. The absolute pity is that they were never heard in the final recording.

The scenario today

Fast forward to today. Anyone with a reasonably good computer, DAW software, and a good mic, can produce music that can rake in the millions. Bille Eilish, the singer-songwriter who won 4 Grammys in 2020, has this setup.

Image: https://www.forevercurrent.com/blog/2020/2/4/inside-billie-eilish-grammy-winning-home-studio

Finneas O’Connell, Billie’s brother’s modest production setup consisted of Apple Logic Pro X, a Universal Audio Apollo 8 interface, and a pair of Yamaha HS5 nearfields with an H8S subwoofer, all of which were housed in a standard bedroom with a bed against one wall, where Eilish sat to record her vocals.

The total cost of the setup is less than $3,000! Rewards, 4 Grammys!



Behind the Curtain – Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studio – Gregory D. Booth

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