In the Studio: Raghu Dixit
At home with folk singer Raghu Dixit at his Wandering Minstrel studio and artist residency in Bengaluru
On the face of it, there’s nothing special about the bright white three-storied building at the start of the 17th D crossroad in Bengaluru’s Indiranagar area. Only till you get closer to the windows. The booming voice wafting outside is all too familiar – of folk-rock singer Raghu Dixit. The frontman of the Raghu Dixit Project, film music composer and now studio owner spent the last two years eying this very house and has now turned it into Wandering Minstrel Records and Studios – a space where bands can jam, record and [if their mood changes] even sleep over at.
Set to open this month, Dixit calls it an artist residency and a studio, with two bedrooms on the first floor, the whole couch-TV-kitchen home setup on the ground floor and two state-of-the-art recording rooms manned by Dixit’s best picks for sound engineers – Berklee College of Music graduate Aditya Srinivasan and Supratik Das. All this for a pay-what-you-want scheme of booking the place, Dixit says. He adds, “Many people ask me why I’m doing this. For independent music, we don’t have a fixed rate. If a band says, ‘I don’t really have money’, I say pay later. Or if you agree upon a certain amount but want to save it up to put it into marketing the album or whatever, tell me when you can pay me and give it to me. Second option is pay whatever you can. I’m okay with it and I won’t judge you.”
Dixit says he will also allow film work to be recorded at his studio, but the priority is more independent musicians. In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Dixit talks about setting up the studio and artist residency and plans for his next material. Excerpts:
You’ve always had a home studio before you set out to build this studio.
It was the third bedroom and the toilet that was converted into a working space – it’s been there for 10 years now. It’s my private studio space. If there are more than six people [at Wandering Minstrel], I have to let go of my office space.
It’s a full-fledged studio, that one at home, but this feels like coming to work and every time I go back home, I can say, ‘Honey, I’m home!’
What led you to create this space for musicians?
There have been a number of young musicians who ask me for advice or share their music – I would just post their music on my page. But 99 percent of them don’t know where to go, what to do with their music. There have been some incredible gems I’ve found and I’ve sent them to people who can help them out.
But now that I have a space like this, I would like to get into the role of a producer. Since I know more or less how the business works, the eventual plan is to open a marketing cell. But we don’t want to function as a record label as such [Dixit released his latest album Jag Changa under Wandering Minstrel Records]. If there are some artists who put their trust in us with their music, then it makes to take over everything – managing gigs, recording them, a 360-degree approach.
That’s a scary space to think about because I really don’t know if musicians are driven enough to go the long haul. Very few people I’ve met are patient enough to say, ‘Okay, 10 years from now, I’m going to make it big’. I took 20 years to become whatever I am today [laughs] but I don’t know if youngsters I meet these days are ready for that.
What was it like buying a building like this and converting it into a studio?
First I was looking at a godown kind of space that I could convert, thinking it would be cheap.
I bought the building in March last year, but I had seen it two years ago with my broker Sam. It took this long to figure out the money to build stuff. That came in chunks, with every show. We built the third floor studio. Everything is borrowed money.
I’ve been one of the luckiest guys everywhere I go. I’m just really lucky to meet really nice people. That really has prompted me to do this and do it this way, to see if I can pay it forward to the scene. When I say that, I really honestly mean that. We would like to say that we’d like to get paid Rs 1500 per hour, but there is no hard and fast rule. Eventually, we’ll figure it out. Bands know what they’re getting and that I hope they’ll be honest.
Does the idea to have an artist residency come from the fact that some of the greatest rock and pop albums have always involved bands getting holed up in a space with a producer and recording at a stretch?
First thing I realized in India was that musicians are always fighting for the availability of studios day after day. Even if you book seven days studio time – and this was the case even when I recorded my first album – we would finish four hours of work because the clock was ticking. Then you go back home. You have to rebuild that entire energy and then come back at the next slot and continue where you left off. Somehow, I felt it’s an inorganic way of working. I think an album should happen in the studio. You start from scratch, take your time. If you feel like sleeping for a few hours and then coming back, you can. At the same time, you’re always in that zone – you know you’re working on something.
There are a lot of places to get distracted around here, actually. BFlat, Humming Tree, Toit. So many lovely places to eat at – nightlife is buzzing all the time. I’ve got a good hangout place upstairs on the terrace, so that musicians who like drinking or eating non-vegetarian food and smoking up and getting high in other forms – they can do that on the terrace. That’s my wife’s major fear – that someday I’ll lose it when I discover that my place has been ransacked by some people who I thought were musicians [laughs].
Have you already started booking bands?
Not yet. We haven’t opened it up yet. Vishal [Dadlani, singer and frontman of electro rock band Pentagram] said he wants to record his solo project here sometime. I don’t see this as a money-making option for me yet, as long as I’m surviving as a musician. Since that’s happening, I’ll never look at this studio and go, ‘Iss mahine main kuch nahin hua’ [we didn’t make any money this month]. [laughs] This is meant to give back what I receive.
[Resident sound engineers] Aditya and Supratik are particular about which bands, though. They said, ‘Don’t say any band. Let’s hear their music and then see if it’s worth’. It’s a good way to see things, because I don’t want them to get angry or frustrated with somebody. ‘This was recorded at Wandering Minstrel, but the music is so bad’ – we don’t want to hear that either. Right now, I’m not rushing into it. I’ve met a few artists and spoken to them, so hopefully once everything is ready, we’ll get started.
Do you have new material you will be recording here?
There’s so much material. Between May and June, I’m taking a sabbatical from performing live, except for the Gall Music Festival in Sri Lanka. The idea is to get locked in here and get out of here with at least three or four new melodies and the end of two months, I’ll review which can go into the album or maybe just release one song every month.
Now I don’t have to run anywhere. I think I have the best microphones in the world. Neumann and Sennheiser gave me huge discounted price on their mics, which is probably everything they had in their vault [60 mics].
Who helped you build the studios?
The main architects were this couple called Betweenlines [Deepa and Guru Prasanna C]. They did a fantastic job and even they were pretty flexible about how I can pay.
The main studio designer was Brijith Madhavan. He was very adamant about space and stuff, so that’s why he has the storage room in the studio. He didn’t want any structural disturbance. There’s a wooden suspended floor, on springs, so nothing is affecting the music from the ground level. He was like, ‘You’re just the ATM. Just shut up.’ Then my wife was saying, ‘I will choose the colors!’ [laughs].