Meet music arrangers who are roped in by composers for background scores and more

Prithvi Chandrasekhar is sitting hunched behind the vast mixing console of his Krimson Avenue Studios in Chennai, listening to a one-minute musical interlude that’s streaming through Dynaudio Acoustics monitors. To a normal ear, the music sounds fine, but Prithvi has picked up an imbalance — enough to instruct his musicians that a bit more punch is needed to meet the intricate arrangements of the music director. In Hyderabad, Jim Satya is meeting with a forthcoming film’s director and music composer to understand their requirement for scoring the background music. Jim had done similar work for music composer Pritam and director Anurag Basu for their hit Barfi! “We discussed the entire project with both of them to get the style and feel of what they wanted. Thereafter, the whole project was left to me and my team to record and execute. We even got some string sections done in U.K., based on the notations we sent. While I would call myself an arranger, for Barfi!, I was the music producer for the background score.” Jim produces musical pieces for A.R. Rahman, Harris Jayaraj and Thaman S.

Both these professionals are music producers — a term technically used in international music industry, although, in the Indian context, the music composer calls them programmers or arrangers. Says music composer Bharadwaj, “When a professional such as Prithvi or Jim undertake a job such as a background score or a full-song background sequence on behalf of a composer, they can be termed music producers. This is not to be confused with a music composer whose tune it is finally.”

Says Sudhin Prabhakar, guitarist and owner of Pro Music, “There are many in the field, such as Paul Jacob and Pravin Mani who undertake arranging and recording entire songs or background music for films, based on the inputs of the music director.”

Professional help

A.R. Rahman utilises the services of several such producers as he is constantly travelling and works for Indian and international projects. Says Rahman, “I try to produce most of the songs myself. But, sometimes professionals such as Ranjit Barot and Pravin Mani do additional arrangements for my songs.” K.J. Singh, based in Mumbai, is another Rahman favourite when it comes to background scores.

“The word producer has a different connotation in the film industry. But, when it comes to music, it is the music director or composer who calls the shots. So, we are programmers, although, in the real sense of the work we do, I am a producer who produces music for others at a cost. When I make music for myself, featuring other artistes, I call myself a music producer,” explains Prithvi.

When Prithvi mails the mixed interlude back to the composer, he downloads and slots it into the required spot in his master composition, lying in his digital recorder in 32 different tracks. Once all the pieces are patched to the master tracks, the recording engineer and the composer sit behind a vast array of knobs and dials to arrange, rearrange, tweak and mix the 32 tracks to a semblance of what the final song would become.

To some extent, the term music producer, is being put to professional use in the Mumbai music industry where plenty of non-film music is produced. But in the West, where more non-film recordings take place, the system goes thus: The record label would hire a music producer to work with a singer or band to come up with concepts. On the other hand, even a singer or band would hire the services of a music producer to collaborate with them for an album concept. In many cases, the producer, in collaboration with the label, knowing the market trend, would complete the rest of the track and get the singer for just the vocals. Suresh Thomas, owner of the Crescendo Music label in Mumbai, is an accomplished Artist & Repertoire man too. “Having been in the business for many years, I personally put together all the ingredients required for the album. Therefore, in my case, I am the producer, too. Although, at times we do hire a professional music producer to do an entire album,” he says.

What you finally get to listen to on a CD or radio is the effort of several people, places and situations that make a song a chart-buster. This is probably why, when you listen to a light music orchestra perform a hit song, it is nowhere near the original composition.