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How Pune’s Gray Spark Audio Is Fast Becoming the City’s Go to Studio

Artists such as The Koniac Net, Easy Wanderlings, Gabriel Daniel and more have all had work done on their music from the recording space

David Britto Nov 06, 2020

The console at Pune's Gray Spark Audio. Photo: Courtesy of Gray Spark Audio

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Before he had a state-of-the-art space to record musicians, Pune-based sound engineer Ronak Runwal was tracking his own band as well as others out of a basement. Due to a lack of funds from an artist’s end as well as studios in the city not accustomed to recording independent musicians at the time, Runwal decided to team up with fellow sound engineer Harshad Sathe and form Gray Spark Audio in 2011. He says, “The idea was to provide a space to help indie musicians navigate the whole recording process.”

With the number of independent artists cropping up every year, it means that they also need somewhere to put down their ideas for audiences to hear. What sets Gray Spark Audio apart is that they handpick producers and instrumentalists for each project they take on. Runwal says, “The reason we do this is because we feel like we’re so lucky to be able to work with independent music for a living and we’re grateful [to artists] who believe we can do justice to their music.

A moment that stands out for Runwal is when they moved from their single studio space to the current four-room studio facility and were working with folk-rock outfit Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café in 2016. “We were still figuring out a bunch of logistical issues like power, or grounding issues and even small things like our pantry not being stocked yet,” says the sound engineer. He adds, “We were so fortunate to have Kabir Café in the new space because they genuinely worked with us during that entire process and that for some reason really helped us feel like what we’re setting up here was the right move.”

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Apart from Kabir Café, a whole host of artists from across the country have had work done on their music from Gray Spark Audio whether it’s recording, mixing or mastering. Those include bands such as The Koniac Net and Easy Wanderlings, singer-songwriters Piyush Bhisekar, Shohini Maitra, Gabriel Daniel and Sri as well as guitarist-composer Sanjeev T among others. Gray Spark Audio have also dabbled their toes in the live recording space working on music festivals such as Bacardi NH7 Weekender and Gully Fest. Runwal says, “It’s always a fun challenge to do recordings like those.”

Mumbai rockers Unohu performing at the studio’s BYOH gig series. Photo: Courtesy of Gray Spark Audio

Runwal and co haven’t limited Gray Spark Audio to just a studio space but also expanded it to be a performance venue for their gig series BYOH Live (Bring Your Own Headphones) and more recently kicked off a podcast called Beyond the Live Room hosted by musician Shreyas Iyengar. “It started out as a blog series, but quickly shifted to a podcast format,” says Runwal. They also turn educators with their Audio Engineering Academy, with a one-year course to train engineers, producers, session musicians and studio assistants. Runwal says, “We offer a more practical approach, to create engineers who are capable of dealing with real-world scenarios as audio engineers.”

Vocalist-guitarist Sri recording at the studio. Photo: Courtesy of Gray Spark Audio

Although a number of artists have home setups these days, Runwal says it has both pros and cons. He says, “Home setups give musicians a lot more access to a place that they can jot down their ideas for the tracks they’re working on.” The sound engineer adds, “It gives them clarity on what exactly needs to be recorded once they step into a studio.” What Runwal has noticed lately is that they’ve been receiving home recordings that aren’t up to the mark in terms of quality, which in turn reduces the flexibility an engineer has while working on a song.

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Runwal says, “The process of recording inside the studio is quite a structured one to get a certain kind of quality out of the track. And naturally, most musicians don’t have the technical know-how to record the instrument, and also to record while keeping the end result of the song in mind. This can really bring down the fidelity of the song. Also, the main things musicians lose out on while recording in home setups is a third person perspective of a well-seasoned engineer.”

The pandemic has had the studio resort to conducting online sessions with artists while also focusing on ad and voiceover work more. The plan ahead is to grow an ecosystem for indie artists to work with Gray Spark Audio on various projects such as films and other such content. “We can become a mediator and provide an infrastructure to monetize on this,” says Runwal. He adds, “This sort of a network where musicians can connect with each other and work on newer projects really facilitates a ton of great music being created at the studio.”

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