Playing it by ear

Dubai now has a new audio production house that operates round the clock, and has a live room that can accommodate 20 musicians at one time. Digital Studio gets an exclusive look at Wayahead Productions.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  March 4, 2006

I|~|coversid.jpg|~|Sidharth Mishra.|~|If Dubai already boasts a number of well-known audio production houses, any newcomer must have a really good reason for staging an entry into this market. Newly renovated audio house, Wayahead Productions, claims to have one very good reason. “We have taken up a studio of this magnitude because the market is big enough for everyone, and it’s getting even bigger,” says Sidharth Mishra, managing director of Wayahead Productions. “A lot of work is coming up in Dubai. Media City is expanding, the advertising circuit is getting larger each day and, more importantly, Dubai Studio City will be ready in a few months. Wayahead today is manned by a team of professionals who have worked in different areas of the audio business. Each of us has been working in this market for the last several years but it is only now that we have been able to put together our resources and operate a fully-equipped audio production house,” explains Mishra. The result of that teamwork is Wayahead Productions. One impressive feature about this audio house is its live room, which can accommodate about 20 musicians at one time for recording. “This is currently the only studio in Dubai where you can comfortably seat an entire ensemble of musicians, that do orchestral work. No other studio in Dubai puts emphasis on large orchestral recordings and, therefore, they don’t have such large live rooms,” says Mishra. Mishra claims that the Arabic market needs these kind of studios because Arabic music is focused on analogue sounds, and uses percussive elements such as the Darbukas and violins extensively. “That is why we have such a large live room with 25 independent tielines going from here into the control room,” explains Mishra. The live room also includes a fold out studio, which is literally a room within a room. “When we are recording a rock band, for instance, and the whole band wants to perform together, the drummer tends to be louder than the rest and, therefore, needs to be isolated. This smaller room is meant to accommodate such requirements,” adds Mishra. ||**||II|~||~||~|The big live room is particularly useful after 6pm when most Arab musicians prefer to record their songs. As a result, Wayahead, unlike most other audio houses in Dubai, is open 24 hours a day. “This place looks completely different during the day, and completely different at night,” says managing partner, Edgar Gerson, who is responsible for doing remixes in the studio. “From 9am to 6pm, the production house usually caters to the advertising industry while the Arabic mode kicks in after 6pm. That is because most of the Arab artistes give live concerts and performances at night so they don’t come in during the day time. They prefer to do recordings after their evening prayers.” The arrangement works perfectly for Wayahead as it welcomes two different sets of clients into the studio at different times of the day. The audio house also has a smaller studio, which is more tailored to IVRs (interactive voice recordings), voice overs and the like. “This is mainly used for sound designing, adding the audio for feature films and lip-syncing for a 30-second TV or radio commercial and so on. This also has a complete cue-lock facility out here. Many clients walk in with their digi-betas to do lip-sync,” explains Mishra. Wayahead also boasts an ISDN connection in its studio to enable artistes from other parts of the world to lend their voices to a local commercial. Like most studios in the region, this studio has also opted to go with Protools systems. “We are primarily HD3 users. Not only is HD3 a premium audio recording software that comes with all of the plug-ins that you would possibly require, Protools is also an industry standard, and is compatible with almost all international studios. Some of our clients start their recording sessions in the UK or New York and then come here to complete them. Having Protools ensures that we can easily accommodate their requests without making any changes. Likewise, in Dubai, all of the musicians who have home setups also use Protools,” explains Mishra. Perhaps the one thing that Wayahead decries is the lack of adequate local support for the system. “We picked this up from Protools’s international representatives as local support for the same is not adequate. These systems cost about US $68,000 so you need adequate support especially after the sale,” says Mishra. This audio house has also tried to keep some of its business concepts in perspective. Like most other audio houses such as Creative Force, BKP and Tambi Studios, Wayahead has chosen to stay out of what is today thought to be the media hub of Dubai and decided to set its base in Karama. “We have always wanted to keep our operations centralised. Several advertising agencies operate out of Sharjah and with Sheikh Zayed Road being increasingly prone to traffic blocks, most prefer not to have to go all the way there,” explains Mishra. Another impressive factor is that this audio house is operated by three partners, who claim to be well versed with three different aspects of the audio business. While Mishra himself has worked closely with the advertising industry, Gerson is well known for doing studio remixes and CEO, Mohammed Hassan is a well-known Arabic music composer. The rest of the team includes a core group of engineers and composers as well as several freelance operators. ||**||III|~||~||~|“Some people go out and buy the best kit in the market and build great studios but they are not able to source the right talent. We have tried to find a balance at Wayahead,” explains Mishra. Gerson particularly comes from a mixing background and this has worked well for a lot of Arabic singers. “Most of the remixes in Dubai are done by DJs and they mix live,” explains Gerson. “We specialise in studio remixing. In some cases, we do more than 40 tracks on top of a normal original track. It’s like working in a studio with individual artistes. Although this is very common in the West, not many people do it here. As a result, when most of the local singers produce albums, they are only able to cater to this market and often don’t appeal even to the entire Middle East. By putting in remixes and loops, I’m able to give their music that punch that gives their music a more regional and in some cases, universal appeal. At a party or wedding, when they play their music and then, play the remix, the crowd goes berserk. It’s great fun to see how a remix can add punch to a song,” he adds. For several local singers, this, of course, is an important part of their business. Given that most of them don’t make their money on royalty but at parties, where they get anything between US $25,000 to US $65,000 for a live performance per night, it’s important to stand out from the rest of the singers. “These singers do a minimum of four shows a month, and some do between two and three parties a week. That’s a lot of money so it also means that they have to find ways of enhancing their performances,” he adds. By comparison, the hourly charge of US $135 for the studio is meagre, contends the owners. “In the US, a studio of this size would charge about US $300 but if we did that, we’d price ourselves out of the market,” explains Mishra. Budget has always been a big issue in the emirate. Despite having so many ace audio production houses in Dubai, it’s not unusual to hear mediocre jingles on the radio. “We need to formulate some sort of a consensus within the production circuit with regards to prices. Currently, there is no unified pricing structure in Dubai whereby a studio charges so much for a production and doesn’t go lower than that. As a result, the audio production quality is often mediocre and people get away with it,” says Mishra. One of the biggest culprits in this is thought to be advertising agencies. “A lot of the time, when you watch radio and TV ads in Dubai, you hear compositions that are very mediocre and sound recordings that are not on par with international standards because the creative director decides he’ll get it done cheaper somewhere. What can be done in a production house can, no doubt, be done with a little set up in your home at 25% of the cost. But the quality of that audio would be really bad. As a result, audio production houses can’t grow or upgrade here. Why should they upgrade if there is very little respect for their work? Obviously, they need to see a return on their investment,” explains Mishra. Another issue that audio houses in Dubai seem to be fighting for is music rights. Barry Kirsch Productions, particularly, has been at the forefront of this move along with The Rights Lawyers. Mishra gives the instance of a popular song that was recently used in a commercial without the client having any rights for it. “The responsibility lies with the agency, who pitches the idea to the client to educate him about the need to buy the rights for the song to play it in his commercial. This is pretty basic in most other parts of the world,” explains Mishra. Having said that, Wayahead, which has already done several jingles for the likes of Qatar Airways, BMW and so on in the market, hope to truly make a visible difference to the audio production industry in the emirate. Having invested more than US $0.5 million to renovate the studio, the team hopes to not just produce good audio but also offer sound advice to clients on how to improve the quality of their music. ||**||

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