“I Am A Self-Made Man”: Aslam Khan On His 40 Year Journey As A Sound Engineer

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By Noor Anand Chawla

Aslam Khan – a fount of knowledge on every aspect of sound – repaired and made high-quality sound equipment at a time when it was nearly impossible to get this service in India, There are not many sound engineers who can lay claim to Aslam Khan’s fantastic journey in the industry. With only an Electronic Engineering degree in hand, he began by building his own amplifiers and other specialised equipment. His innate understanding of music and the way live instruments function, enabled him to build his own live studio, which became extremely popular. Over the years, he has worked on a number of TV serials, regional films and Bollywood, as well as numerous live concerts. He has also been associated with the likes of Asha Bhonsle, Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota, Talat Aziz, Rakesh Chaurasia, Niladri Kumar
Rahul Ranade, Merlyn D’Souza, Piyush Kanojia, Salim and Sulaiman Merchant and a host of other influential people from the industry.
In this exclusive chat with Everything Experiential, he talks about his rewarding journey and shares advice for newcomers in the industry. Excerpts from the interview:

You have been associated with the music industry for decades. Please tell us about your
journey so far.

My love for music developed while I was still in school at St Xavier’s in Mumbai. I sang vocals in my own band. That early exposure led me to develop an interest in sound. When I was in the 10th standard, I built my first audio amplifier from scratch – so I was always interested in electronics which led me to pursue a degree in Electronics Engineering. Then I joined Philips India as a Technician for three years. I also read magazines and electric circuit books – which taught me how to build my own equipment. There were very few people providing this service in India at the time, and it was nearly impossible to get high-quality equipment locally, so this helped me grow. Soon, I branched out with my own service centre – where I built hi-fi equipment and repaired things that local pop groups, popularly called Beat Groups, would bring in. In 1977, I started mixing and providing equipment for live concerts. Finally, in 1983 I opened my first Sound Recording Studio in Fort, Mumbai where I also lived. It was a shot in the dark, encouraged by requests from all the musicians who would come to me and trusted my knowledge. I had never worked in a professional Studio before and had no specific knowledge – I’m a completely self-made man, both in terms of sound and my work with electronics. Fortunately, my Studio has done really well.
I am closely connected with Pankaj Udhas and the entire Ghazal fraternity. They would come to me for their sound work, along with the local bands. In 1984-85, Marathi cinema came calling, and I began doing a lot of TV shows as well. All the iconic shows from that time such as Vikram-Betaal and Dada-Dadi Ki Kahaniyan, were all done by me.

Tell us about your association with ShowCase Events. How did you meet Nanni Singh
and begin collaborating with her?

I met Nanni through a very dear friend Carl, who came to me originally to learn the craft of sound. Unfortunately, he passed away very young but he connected Nanni and I for a fruitful partnership on many projects. She and I first met in Mumbai at the Opera House for her upcoming live concert, Sounds From The Desert. I was really excited about it because I was doing a live gig after a long time, and it was great fun working on that project because it was
very different kind of music.
Now Nanni and I are collaborating on an interesting song to be released around India’s Independence Day. The rhythm for it is done, and I’m just waiting to mix the tracks when they come to me. It has been composed by Ravi Iyer, and I’m sure it will turn out really well.

What other projects are you currently working on?

My Marathi film projects are continuous. I also have a Gujarati play coming up with the same team that made Mughal-e-Azam, Raunak and Jassi, and a few other largescale live hit shows. I am fortunate that the people who have worked with me for years, stick on with me.

How did the pandemic change your business?

We shut the studio during the pandemic, and I sat at home throughout. I took it as an opportunity to do research while my son Aftab, kept the operations going from home. We opened up again just three weeks ago, and that feeling of returning after so long, was just priceless – I had really missed the Studio. To answer your question, a lot of musicians invested in their own equipment and began working from home during the pandemic, so studio businesses overall were badly affected.
This was the case especially for voiceover and smaller independent artists. Fortunately, I have fixed clients who stayed with me, so it was not that difficult. Since we re-opened, business has started picking up again. We get a lot of calls but we need to be careful – so we only give slots to one or maximum two people at a time. Earlier we were doing as many as ten violins at one go, with ten musicians, live rhythm, dholaks and even chorus up to ten, but that’s just not possible right now because of pandemic restrictions. Hopefully, things will improve in another couple of months, and I’m very grateful that everyone who has been coming to our studio is very cautious, well-protected and responsible.

What advice do you have for people entering the industry in these uncertain times?

The best possible advice I can give now or at any time is for them to be dedicated to their work. They should not rely only on electronics and programming, but should also learn about live and acoustic instruments, if they really want to do well. Let me share an example – people who have grown up eating Basmati rice, are aware of its value and they don’t like the packaged rice, but if you have been eating packaged rice from the beginning, you will never
know the value of Basmati rice.
I come from a generation where we learnt everything on the job, especially by working on live instruments. There was no dubbing etc. available then. In just two takes, I had the recording and master in hand, but that’s how I gained the in-depth knowledge about instruments, scales and range, and that’s how I got to where I am today. It doesn’t mean that I’m not comfortable with digital mediums. I’m constantly researching in my field and familiarising myself with the latest digital developments, and I have a fully-equipped electronic lab with all my instruments. It is important to keep oneself up-to-date because the client is paying good money, which means we should deliver the best possible service to them.
I also advise youngsters to listen to a lot of music, and a wide range of music – whether it’s
the latest international numbers or good old pop songs. There is so much to learn from all
kinds of music.

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