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In Conversation With Music Composer Dhruv Goel

Shuchita Rao

New Delhi born, Los Angeles based composer Dhruv Goel works as a music copyist for the Los Angeles based firm JoAnn Kane, a highly regarded Hollywood film music preparation service agency. With roots in Hindustani classical music, Dhruv uses his knowledge and expertise with genres such as Khayal and Dhrupad to experiment with western sounds and create unique fusion music pieces. He has recorded and released original song compositions and has also composed the musical scores for award winning documentary films. He has performed with famous musicians such as Oscar award winner, music composer A.R Rahman, vocalist Vijay Prakash, music producer/composer Clinton Cerejo and has worked on song recordings with the Berklee Indian Ensemble.

Dhruv talks to Lokvani about his journey thus far.

Q. Tell us about the musical training you had while you were growing up in India.

A. As a young child, I learned the basics of Hindustani classical music and specifically how to sing "Khayal" in Lucknow. When our family moved to New Delhi, for several years, I studied one of the oldest living traditions of India, the musical genre Dhrupad in the Dagar tradition (Dagar vani spans several unbroken generations of Dhrupad singing) with the renowned Pandit Nirmalya Dey.

Q. You created your debut Compact Disc album while you were studying at Delhi University in India. What was that experience like?

A. In 2013, I composed music for a debut CD album called "Myths & Fables" with a team of four instrumentalists - a keyboard player, a bass guitarist, an electric guitarist and a drummer. I wrote songs and also sang them. Our electro-pop band was called 'Jester' and we got to play at a leading music festival in New Delhi and also did several other gigs. It was a wonderful experience.

Q. What is your current profession?

A. I do music preparation for JoAnn Kane Music and have worked on movies such as 'The Jungle Book', 'The Secret Life of Pets' , 'X-Men Apocalypse', and am currently working on 'Cars3' and 'Star Wars 8' which are set to be released in the summer and fall of 2017 respectively. I have also been working with a video game composer Mikolai Stroinski on AAA video games such as 'Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3' and 'Gwent: The Witcher Card Game' by CD Projekt. I am also an independent music professional who does song writing, music copying and composing musical scores for films.

Q. Could you name some films for which you have composed music?

A. I have composed music for various short films by London, England based film maker Myriam Raja such as 'Tehzeeb' which won awards at 'The Royal Television Society Awards' and 'The London Asian Film Festival', 'Shamas', a documentary film on the refugee crisis and Khadejah made for British Television broadcaster 'Channel 4' . I have also worked on the music for a Sri Lankan TV mini series on travel called 'Crossroads' which is currently in talks with the reputed 'Discovery Channel'.

Q. You hold a degree in Electronic Music Production. Tell us what electronic music production entails and how it has evolved over the decades?

A. Electronic music production entails music composing, writing, mixing and production. It has evolved significantly from the time of 1960s and 70s when all that a producer did was to decide what kind of a groove to produce, what instruments will be part of the song and which players would play the pieces. Today, let's say a composer produces a song, he/she will write lyrics for the song (if it needs lyrics), write the melody, decide what instruments will be featured in the score, decide the tempo. He/she will sit at a digital work station and program the sounds (from live instruments or electronic music samples), specify the chords, the entry and exit of instruments in the score and more. He can additionally do the mixing and the mastering but often, there are other specialists who will handle that part of the production.

Q. Can you describe what 'music copying' is? What kinds of challenges do you deal with on a daily basis in your work as a music copyist?

A. Music copying is a very essential part of the preparation of musical score for films. Often, the music composer for a film will work on creating the score using a popular software tools such as Logic Pro or Pro Tools. Copyists transcribe the musical score into physical sheets containing Western notation that an instrument player such as a violinist or flautist or trombone player can use to play their part. The challenges lie in bringing a composer’s vision to reality. Accuracy, interpretation and orchestration are important to pay attention to. What a copyist sees on the screen while studying a musical score differs from what he/she hears through the headphones. For instance, the score may show an emphasis on Beat 1 while the audio may show emphasis on the upbeat (one "and" two). Resolving the disconnect between the visual and the audible components is one of the challenges a music copyist deals with as part of his/her work.

Q. You are a song writer. What languages do you write your songs in and what themes do you choose to write about?

A.  I used to write my lyrics in English while I was doing song writing in India. Having moved to the US, I have started writing in Hindi and Urdu. I do that because I remember my love for India and for its languages. The language changes the sound of the music. I just recorded a song called "Pinha" with the Berklee Indian Ensemble which is slated for release in the spring of 2017. "Pinha" means "hidden within" and it is a song on the theme of "inclusion". Another song that I recorded is "Noor" (meaning "light"). I write songs about life – about any theme or topic that appeals to me.

Q. If you want to reach out to a wide audience, do you ever feel that writing in Indian languages will hinder the process?

A.  It is nice to bring something new and different to the table. It adds variety to the mix. To me, writing in Indian languages such as Hindi/Urdu feels more honest to me.

Q. What advice do you have for music students from India who may want to take up music related professions in life?

A. I want to advise music students not just to learn how to play an instrument or to sing but also to think about how to compose and make music. Indian classical music and Jazz are very similar because they both are about musicians being able to improvise on the spot. Cities like New York are full of such spontaneous Jazz musicians.  Students with a background in Indian music must learn this skill too.

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