A hardware synth revolution has been brewing, worldwide, in the last 3-4 years. India is no different. Despite being a fairly nascent market in terms of independent music, a number of underground artists have been experimenting with live modular synths in the electronic music space. What’s even more interesting is that Indians are no longer only relying on the Moogs and Korgs of the world. India finally has its own synth makers, who are quietly building a following of their own.
Synth-Makers of India is a three-part series, where I pick the brains of indigenous synth-makers in the country and explore their perspective on the business side of things. In the first part of the series, I talk to Aditya Nandwana of Animal Factory Amplification and get his take on the challenges of the industry, growth potential, and everything in between. Artists such as Trent Reznor and Saint Vincent swear by his guitar pedals that are also Eurorack compatible. Aditya Nandwana is also the first Indian manufacturer to showcase his synths at the prestigious NAMM, in addition to the more recent Superbooth in Berlin
Vaibhav: When did you begin? How did you begin? What drew you to synths?
Aditya: It’s an amusing story, actually. I have an engineering background and I started out with making guitar pedals. I got a call from this friend in Bangalore who wanted me to do workshops on pedal manufacturing. And while we were discussing the workshops, we thought teaching how to build basic synthesizers would be a better idea.
The funny thing is, the workshop didn’t happen as planned. It happened much later in a different form. However, it piqued my interested in synth-manufacturing. 2016 was when I launched my first fully-modular synth. It had 2 VCOs, 2 VCAs, a low-pass filter, 1 LFO, an ADSR envelope, and a 5-step sequencer. It’s a cool noisemaker that does not quite tune perfectly. I am working on a new version that should be out by May this year. It should tune decently with a little trimming.
I think there is an overlap between guitars and synth technology, and it is that overlap that interests me the most. I really like what guys such as St.Vincent, Billy Corgan, and Fred Firth do with their guitars. They take their instrument into weird sonic category, which is really interesting to me. I have never been fond of clean, guitar sounds. Give me something sonically interesting, something edgy.
The other reason I find synths really interesting is the whole global appeal of electronic music. Unlike more “traditional” songwriting, which relies on lyrics, electronic music cuts across cultures a lot more, since it is mostly wordless, which means no language-barrier.
Vaibhav: How would you describe your synths?
Aditya: I think sonically, my synths, pedals, and modules have a lot of bandwidth, for sure. Also, they are not clean. I don’t like clean sounds. I like distortion, which is reflected in my pedals and synth modules. If I were to describe my synths and pedals, I would say they are dirty and powerful, yet, they have an underlying warmth to them.
Vaibhav: What are your best selling modules or pedals?
Aditya: I think my overdrive pedal is the best-selling of the lot. Trent Reznor has one, and it is Saint Vincent’s favorite pedal. It is a blend of clean and dirty. Its Eurorack module, which is a direct extension, has 3 CV inputs and a very cool distorting filter.
Then, I have my Bass Fuzz pedal called Godeater. There is also the lo-fi fuzz, Baron Samedi. Its module can be used as an interesting waveshaper tool.
Vaibhav: What do you think of the current synth revolution?
Aditya: I think we have reached a saturation point. Modular synthesis world will experience a slow-down. It’s not going to get any bigger. Just look at Superbooth, this year. There were about 180 exhibitors, all displaying their synths and synth modules, and the exhibition is only in its second year. The problem is, musicians want to make music. And modular is a big, black hole that sucks you in. Even artists who make techno – a genre where modular synth jams are widely accepted – don’t want to delve too much into the modular synth world. Recondite, one of the biggest techno artists from Berlin, has just one acid synth. He designs most of his sounds in Ableton’s stock plugin, Operator.
There are also excellent software modular emulations emerging – VCV Rack, Reaktor Blocks, and Softube modular. I think the synth market will only get slightly bigger from here and then maintain its size.
Vaibhav: Why aren’t there more Indian synth manufacturers?
Aditya: I think that’s because the size of the problem is very small. Honestly, I don’t think I or any of the synth manufacturers out there are solving any world-problem. There is a very niche audience for modular synths, and I don’t think there is enough market for more than a handful of players to exist in the space. Moreover, modular is a very expensive hobby, not just in India, but even outside.
Vaibhav: What are the biggest challenges when it comes to manufacturing synths?
Aditya: The biggest challenge, in any kind of manufacturing, is cashflow. As a small manufacturer, managing your cashflow can become really tricky. That’s why, I don’t work on the standard credit-model of the manufacturing industry. Big players can survive on the credit model, but guys like me, we are not cash-rich enough to afford that.
Vaibhav: Your plans for the future?
Aditya: I am starting to explore more leftfield ways of doing things, both, in the pedal and synth space. Plus, I am also working on improving my product design.
Vaibhav: Any advice for people who want to jump into the synth-manufacturing space?
Aditya: If someone wants to jump in the space, my advice would be not to reinvent what’s already been made. Unless you are a Behringer, making clones of things already out there does not make sense. Instead, focus on making something unique, whether in terms of the UI, or the sonic character itself. In my opinion, only 20% of the modular synth manufacturers out there will grow into something bigger in the foreseeable future. However, for businesses that just have a single product line, if they can manage to sustain that over a length of time, I think that’s success enough.
Also, as a manufacturer, you need to figure out your distribution space and also have storage space for your units. I found that out the hard way!