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Articles July-Aug 2022

PALM AV-ICN Conference & SeminarNew!

Curated by PALM AV-ICN magazine, the PALM Conference & Seminar was the optimum learning and networking platform for attendees, where the best talent and top-notch professionals from the country shared their expertise, skills and knowledge. read more

Articles July-Aug 2022

High Quality Attendance At Palm & Av-Icn Expo 2022New!

The professional sound, professional display, professional lighting and integration market of importers, distributors, dealers and actual users congregated in full strength at the BEC, Mumbai, to witness the largest display of product range from top global brands, sourcing millions of dollars inventory for distribution and rental.... read more

Articles July-Aug 2022

IRAA strikes an energetic progress path with new chiefNew!

K.J. Singh recording engineer of brave new-gen albums is a spirited veteran deeply involved with Indian recording arts and professionals. The entire jury of IRAA after years is now entirely fresh, newly appointed by KJ... read more

Articles July-Aug 2022

Attendees to PALM & AV-ICN Expo 2022New!

PALM AV-ICN 2022 proved to be far busier and well attended than expected. Who exactly attends and exhibits at India's foremost audio, lighting, and audiovisual technology expo? Read on for detailed breakdown of the attendee figures... read more

Articles July-Aug 2022

Chopra's Keynote Pushes For Indian Manufacturing, Indian BrandsNew!

The 20th PALM Convention Keynote address by Founding Director Anil Chopra gave a clarion call for major investment into manufacturing pro audio, pro lighting and pro AV hardware in India... read more

Articles July-Aug 2022

What to expect from NEC at InfoComm India 2022New!

Joining PALM AV-ICN for a quick interview is Krishna Tripathi, General Manager, Display Solutions, NEC Corporation India Private Limited, wherein he elaborates on the exciting products attendees will be able to witness at the NEC Booth E20 at InfoComm India... read more

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In Conversation With Sreejesh Nair

Besides being a part of the first Dolby Atmos Mix theater installation in India and the first Dolby Atmos Premiere Mix room in the world, Sreejesh Nair has been responsible for crafting the sound for major films like Bombay Velvet, Gangs of Wasseypur - II, Agneepath, Jodha Akbar, and more. In this interview, the award winning sound engineer and re-recording mixer talks about his journey of 17 years and how the industry has changed in terms of technology and recognition given to sound engineers.

How did you get started as a recording engineer?

I finished my B.Tech in Mechanical engineering and went on to Chetana Studio in Trichur, Kerala to pursue a 1-year diploma in sound engineering. This was in 2002. At the time, this area of work wasn’t quite known and it was a challenge for me both personally as well as financially to start off on this. I came to Mumbai and was offered a job at Gaurav Digital, (now FutureWorks) via Sreekumar, a good friend of mine. I worked there until 2012 as a mix engineer before joining AVID as an Application Specialist for Pro Audio. I still mix two films a year, a lot less compared to what I used to do before.

You have mixed some major Bollywood soundtracks, what are some of the main technical challenges you normally face. You can cite examples from your previous work.

The challenge of mixing in Dolby Atmos was to understand why that format is as effective as it is. Once you get that, the underlying philosophy is just that of panning.

When I started, we were running video on tapes, had multiple Hi-8s and MO (Magneto Optical) disks. FutureWorks had the first Pro Tools system in a film mix stage in Mumbai. There were multiple challenges, although to be honest, I was probably too young at the time to see them as challenges. Over the years, the track count has increased. The mix techniques have changed. It has evolved from being a fixed method of mixing to more radically experimental ones as well. The main challenge though for me wasn’t only creative. Technically, I always felt the need to have a knowledge skill set that would make me understand why a certain fader move, plugin, EQ or technique is used. It was also important that I clearly understand what happens and can articulate this to a colleague. Challenges that I met weren’t just technical in that sense. There was also reluctance to share or mentor. Most had an extremely closed idea of their work. I was fortunate enough to be taught by many including H. Sridhar. This opened my thoughts to a point where I realized that the growth of an industry is not just the knowledge of one person, but also the collective knowledge itself. That lends to a creative competition, which in turn will push better quality. One of the things I remember is talking to a dear friend of mine, Bharath Venkatesan about a technique of mix I used during Gangs of Wasseypur. This involved splitting the frequencies, planning them separately, and processing them. Bharath took that idea and helped implement a form of it in Pro Tools called the AOS (Aux Output Stem). Although by no means do I take the credit for any of that! This came from a random conversation with some friends of mine on three way speakers and the crossover! But the point is, by sharing ideas, even manufacturers listen to that and implement some very clever things.

What are your go-to gear for getting the job done? Name the top 5 tech products impacting your studio?

Pro Tools. I cannot work without that. In this age of multiple DAWs and gear, I know I may come across as biased, but at the same time, even before I joined Avid, I felt an incredible level of comfort there. For me, mixing has to be intuitive. I am too lazy to think, do, listen, and go back. Most of the time, my techniques, or ideas are muscle memory or reflexes. And at that point, having a tool that is more like an extension to my thought process is important. I started by working on a console, so I was trained to be a fader person and not a mouse person. However, later when the track counts started increasing exponentially, the natural shift was towards a control surface. I used the Digidesign Icon and mostly the S6 now. I love some plugins. iZotope is one in my bag of necessities. So are Cargo Cult Spanner, Pro Limiter, and Fabfilter. When it comes to reverbs, I heavily use Revibe and for Atmos mixes I use the Stratus 3D by iZotope. My surgical and match EQ has always been Seq-S by Nugen Audio.

Do you mix the music tracks featured in your sound design and do you work with music directors or music composers while designing the background score?

Majority of the times, yes I do. While I don’t involve in the score design part as I come as a film mix engineer, I do make sure I have the music engineer listen to the mix. To me, this is very important. When I started as an assistant, I remember this was nearly impossible and most of the times, they weren’t allowed. My two cents on that is simple. They have lived with the score more than I have. It is only right that I get the score and the music balance to sound as good as possible with the dialog and effects at the same time. The huge tension at the time was they may change the balance, they don’t know surround mix, their mixes are too bright etc. but my point was, all of that can be fixed. It is as important for them to see how their work turns out as well. This will open a path to conversation and is always mutually beneficial and at the end of the day, they are your friends. I remember during Agneepath, we were on an extremely tight deadline. The sound design was as heavy as the score was. I spoke to Vijay Dayal who was the music engineer for the film, recording Ajay-Atul’s score. I remember very clearly how exhausted he was with so much work. One evening during the mix, I went to Yashraj and met Vijay. He was doing a mix down to get the tracks within a finite number to be delivered to me for the mix. I told him “Don’t worry, just send it as is, do the best you can on the recording, don’t compromise, I will balance it on my end, and then you come in one of the days after a good rest and check out the balance. There is no need for both of us to be stressed and tired!” Well, this was a very defining moment for both of us. First off, I learnt a lot on how he works, and he in turn helped smooth a lot of the musical balance. To be honest, we saved much more time and were less stressed!

Is there a process you go through deciding how much sounds you take from an already existing library versus creating entirely new sounds for a given project?

It’s important to have the knowledge and the maturity to use it as a tool, because at the end of the day, the audience doesn’t really care what EQ or Compressor you used. They only care about how good the experience is and for that, being knowledgeable both technically and aesthetically is important.

If I sound design, I try and make sure the sounds are as authentic for the film. The sounds that sell the movie are the ambience sounds and any sound that is particular to the movie like a car or so. All of those I try and make sure are recorded for the film. Many times, we have to resort to library sounds as well. Purely because they are well catalogued, have a sound that will sell instantly (we are conditioned to certain punch sounds for example!), and the workflow is easier. But to be fair, if the sounds don’t work, we do have to end up recording or sourcing it. The first view and talking with the director will help me understand how much of this has to be done and what the film requires. If we manage to present a view of the film that extends the directors vision, then we are successful.

You have done many movies, like Udta Punjab, Bombay Velvet, Gangs of Wasseypur - II, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Omkara, Poseidon, and period movies like Jodha Akbar. Is there a quantitative or a qualitative difference in terms of mixing such movies versus a mainstream commercial Bollywood movie?

None of the movies above are an individual effort. For example Gangs of Wasseypur was mixed in three studios by Alok De, Sinoy Joseph and me. Bombay Velvet was the first 96kHz Dolby Atmos film in the world and the first two-man mix in India. This was mixed by Justin Jose and me. Jodhaa Akbar I was associating and at the same time took care of the sound effect mix and music editing. So, you see the definition of the role is very dynamic. Now, mixing between a mainstream versus an alternate movie. The time I mixed Gangs of Wasseypur was probably the most challenging one I had to do. This was because, in the daytime, I was mixing Rowdy Rathore and at night it was Wasseypur! Of course the genres are different, the styles of sounds are different, the approaches are different. For example, one will have an over the top score and a very stylish sound design, while the other will be minimalistic. So, even in the conceptual stage, they are different. But the effort on both are equal. It is impossible to have one lesser than the other!

How challenging is it to work with multi-channel systems and technologies like Dolby Atmos and Auro 3D.

I started my career mixing in 5.1. and I have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who mixes in Mono or stereo, because that is the most challenging format to mix in! Although the majority of analog hardware, saturators, mastering equipment are all stereo and not surround. The challenge of mixing in Dolby Atmos was to understand why that format is as effective as it is. Once you get that, the underlying philosophy is just that of panning. It is an extremely accurate positioning format. This helps to create hyper-realistic scenes and mixes. Initially it was a challenge, but then it all comes down to a discipline of managing the session, tracks, and most importantly knowing the tools. Today, Pro Tools is designed in such a way that the entire mix can change between Dolby Atmos and conventional mix in an instant. It is not as difficult as the initial times were.

What is your advice to new mix engineers?

As an engineer, I feel I am incredibly lucky that I am where I am. I stood on the shoulders of giants to be in my position, and I definitely will do all I can to make sure the next ones also get to stand on the shoulders of giants. No one needs to reinvent the wheel. There are many who are trying to make it in an industry today saturated with a lot of engineers and a lot with incredible talent. Being at the right place at the right time is very important. From my experience, there are two things that I learnt which are very important. This is a service industry. You can only make it big if you have repeat clients so make sure you treat them well. The person who makes tea for you does his 100 percent, just as the actor who portrays the role. The second important aspect is having the knowledge and the maturity to use it as a tool, because at the end of the day, the audience doesn’t really care what EQ or Compressor you used. They only care about how good the experience is and for that, being knowledgeable both technically and aesthetically is important. The former you can gain by reading and interacting with engineers. Becoming familiar with technology is the first step to making it your friend. The latter you gain by practice, and practice only.

Do you think mix engineers are given enough recognition in our country?

This is a very difficult question to answer. The term recognition needs to be defined. Is it by the peers or by the public? Both are different measures. Initially there was a time when the mix engineers were everything. They took the call to the film, decided on the way it sounds, and what needs to be where etc. Later, this shifted to sound designers making the call in the movie. There was a time, when the mix engineer wasn’t that critical as long as someone who could have a comfortable vibe would be great. Today, it has become a team work. The reason is that the final deliverable is taken care by the mix engineer while the aesthetics and the blend of all the elements is a combined effort of the designer and the mix engineer. So, in terms of recognition by peers, yes, but from the general public it is not that much. Things changed for me with a National Award. I realize that the general public respects your achievement and not necessarily your area of work, and that is because being a film mixing engineer is probably the toughest job description to put in words!

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