After years of having sung professionally, I still get a nice, gooey, heart-warming feeling when strangers walk up to me or send me a Facebook message saying they love my voice or have enjoyed a track I recorded years ago. At times, people are hesitant in expressing their appreciation because they feel that artistes must be tired of having admirers say the same thing to them over and over again, year after year. Not me, I still love the pat on the back and the little shaabaashi that the gesture conveys. But at age 50, I am also wise enough to accept and acknowledge that I have several people to thank for compliments coming my way. Family and parents have, of course, contributed hugely; and generous gurus who imparted their wisdom even when I must have given them enough reason to think I was undeserving. But this isn’t a thank you speech inspired by the recent Oscars night, it’s just an overdue acknowledgement of the role played by audio engineers in making my voice sound good enough to garner the compliments that come my way and in making it possible to duck the occasional brickbat.

Tuned in: Gajjar in his studio. Shubha Mudgal

Although I have always shared a wonderful rapport with the audio engineers who have recorded me over the years, I take this opportunity to express my admiration for the work of Mumbai-based ace audio engineer Tanay Gajjar, with whom I have worked now for over 10 years and with whom I share a special rapport.

When you walk into the studio and first see him, you might well take him to be a rock musician who is there to lay down a track or two. Flamboyant tattoos, branded attire, a propensity for mean bikes and fast cars, are all part of Tanay’s world as much as his passion for his work and love for music. His early training in tabla, and college time experiments with DJ-ing, have equipped him with a fine sense of music. On many occasions I have known him to have edited a cough or a splutter or an awkward phrase I have sung even before I have had time to come off the studio floor and into the control room to request him to edit the flawed segment. He maintains his lightning speed and efficiency even when it comes to classical music, where you don’t have click tracks and BMPs to refer to when editing. It is a keen and sharp sense of music that you need in such cases more than anything else, and this he has in abundance, along with a devilish sense of humour and mischief. He can play pranks with the same speed that he edits and records, but fortunately the pranks are reserved only for those with whom he shares a comfort level. No wonder then that I have had a thumri I recorded with him played back to me during a mixing session with a rap segment thrown in at regular intervals or an occasional chorus effect added here and there!

But to get back, the audio engineer’s role is vital both for recorded music and in live concert situations. Though the Oscars, the Grammys and our homegrown awards, including the IIFA Awards, include a category for best song recording and best recording engineer, we tend to overlook giving due credit to our audio engineers when it comes to album credits, acknowledgements and thank yous. Which is why we remember to felicitate and give honorary doctorates to a Resul Pookutty only when he wins an Oscar.

Now, if only I had more space, I could have written about Avinash Oak, Lokesh Dhawan, Bishwadeep Chatterjee, and the many wonderful audio engineers I have had the good fortune to work with. But a big thanks to all of you for making it possible for me to keep getting my “I love your voice" messages!

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