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A Sanctuary for Gujarat’s Independent Musicians- Raag Sethi’s Compass Box Studio

Starting its journey about two years ago, Compass Box Studio has come a long way from being a small studio in Ahmedabad to the place where all indie artists can find solace. Compass Box Studio is the brainchild of Raag Sethi, who is an audio engineer and music producer himself. At a time when hardly any music studios existed in the state catering to indie musicians, Compass Box came as a delight. Renowned indie musicians such as Meera Desai and Hanita Bhambhari have worked with Compass Box.

Raag Sethi was nominated for best pop production for Meera Desai’s track ‘Home’ in London for the Production Music Awards in 2019, and Heat Sink, the band where he plays bass guitar, has won the top 4 in the Nexa Music contest. The band’s debut EP was also produced by him. Raag resides in Ahmedabad and is committed to lending a voice to upcoming indie musicians, especially those who are not from big cities like Mumbai or Delhi. Compass Box Studio compilation album is officially out on major streaming platforms, with well-known indie artists such as Second Sight, Aditi Ramesh and Navya Sharma being a part of the discography.

We got in touch with Raag Sethi and he answered a couple of interesting questions for us.

How did you come up with the idea of starting Compass Box Studio?

I started the studio about 2 years ago with the intention of producing indie bands and music, after which I produced my first EP (Random Gyan – Just Some). It was after this I realised that there isn’t too much demand for original indie music to be produced in Ahmedabad, there weren’t too many bands or artists looking to get EP/LP recorded Most of my friends who were writing original music ended up moving to Mumbai or Delhi. Since there was so much downtime at the studio, I wanted to replicate the live recordings of NPR, Audiotree etc.

So we started recording one take, live sessions from bands in Gujarat who I knew. Soon after we started getting a lot of emails asking if we could produce a live recording for them from Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and all over. I keep the live sessions free for the artists, so I typically end up rearranging solo artists work for a live session to have one unique performance with the space. The main idea was to provide a platform for indie artists to come and get a great, professional recording (kinda like a coke studio for indie music) that they can then use as part of their promotional material for submissions and to start creating a repertoire of great indie original music.

2. How was the experience setting this up in Ahmedabad when there were not many music studios like yours? 

Ahmedabad is a very commercial place for recording, there are plenty of studios here, but I believe Compass Box Studio is the only one specifically geared towards producing indie music. The typical clientele for most studios would be voice-overs and film work.

3. How are you able to earn revenue and yet record tracks for free? 

Currently, I spend the production cost required to get one live recording for free, plus everyone else in Compass Box Studio are close friends of mine and volunteer their time, Meera Desai (who’s EP I also produced), Shankar Iyer, Protyay Chakraborty (whos also the mix engineer), Chirag Todi, Aaryaman Trivedi. They do this because we know that we are making a difference in whatever small capacity. Usually after a live session, I’ll ask the artists if they are interested in producing an EP afterward, and through that, I have produced 3 EP’s from the Compass Box Sessions that ends up paying the bills. We are looking for sponsorship though, to help us have greater reach and impact with the work we are doing.

4. Please tell us a little about Compass Box Music – Unboxed Vol. 1, and the three EP’s you have produced?

So the very first EP was this folk, singer/songwriter pop band called Random Gyan, it was super fun and I learned a lot in the process, in fact, I played bass on that EP and Protyay provided the violin and backing vocals too.

Meera’s ‘I’ve never been happier to be lost’ was the second EP I produced, which was the first time working with a solo artist and rearranging and reharmonizing her songs to fit a band context. I worked with a Grammy-winning mix engineer for that EP, and her EP was even nominated for the Production Music Awards in London for best pop track for her song ‘homes’ as well as being on the long-list for the Toto music awards. Meera is a powerful force of a songwriter, and I’m really lucky to have worked with her.

Heat Sink was a project started by my good friend (and guitar student!) Chirag Todi. He had written a couple of songs and thought about starting a band together, Heat Sink has Meera, Protyay and I from the Compass Box family (as you can see there are lot of recurring characters in different bands because the indie original music circuit in Ahmedabad is pretty small). I produced Heat Sink’s Euphony and we immediately went on a little 6-8 city tour promoting the EP. It was amazing to find out that Heat Sink had been nominated for the best debut artist for the Indian Music Diaries Awards! We even got selected for the top 24 for the Nexa music project with Clinton Cerejo and A.R Rahman!

Compass Box Music – Unboxed Vol. 1 is a culmination of the work over a year producing live sessions. The idea was to have these artists we have worked with up on all platforms so that people can search for their music anywhere, some of the artists already are established with their work published and some of them are completely unknown, so we wanted to strike a balance between that as well as a balance of Hindi/English songs. Since we have so much material, we were thinking of releasing a new volume every 3-4 months. For the first volume, we have decided on: Hanita Bhambri, Sahil Dhandhia, Prayas Rokde, Navya Sharma, Second Sight, Malakar Experience, and Sulphur Snow.

5. What are some of the challenges that you faced in your journey with Compass Box Studio?

Initially one of the biggest challenges was trying to find people who were writing original indie music outside the more mainstream bands and artists. Through the live sessions, more people started to know about our work and started emailing us from all over India, we had no idea about the volume of artists around the country writing original music. So our challenge now is keeping up with a consistent production schedule, since everyone is doing this on their free time, getting and pushing content out takes time, effort and money. The other challenge was the actual process of a live session, people are usually surprised when they hear our sessions on youtube that they are legit one-take live sessions (in fact the video is also the same uncut one-take live session of the audio recording), it’s a challenge from an engineering perspective to manage bleed from sources in such close proximity to each other so that it can be publish-ready for a mix.

6. What has been the response so far from the artists who have recorded with Compass Box Studio? 

I think every artist that has come to the studio for a live session has had a great time. First of all, since everyone working is also a musician, that helps with the comfort aspect, and I designed the studio so that it’s less clinical and more creative of a space to be in. After our sessions, we have gotten messages from the artists telling us how this was one of the most fun live recordings they have done, and some of them even say that the videos have helped them get more gigs and better visibility, and they’ll tell their other musician friends about it and they’ll contact us so it’s a cycle that validates what we are doing; which is the whole point of these live sessions, so we are deeply grateful for everyone who has come to record.

7. What plans do you have for Compass Box Studio in the future? Do you plan to expand and set up more studios?

The next step is to continue producing EP’s for different indie bands, we have about 3 EPs and 1 LP in the pipeline right now, and to continue with the live sessions. We do need to find some partner or sponsorship to help take this to the next level in terms of marketing and visibility. So if anyone is interested to see how we can collaborate can get in touch with us! If the opportunity comes, then yes, we would love to expand to multiple studios too!

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