Sudip Kongbrailatpam: "Sound is physics and music is art"

Ningombam Captain *

Sudip Kongbrailatpam - recording engineer
Sudip Kongbrailatpam at work

Sudip Kongbrailatpam is a 27-year-old engineer from Kwakeithel Mayaikoibi who did his B. Tech at the Rajiv Gandhi College of Engineering, and he does not deserve this clichéd introduction just like an average engineering graduate. So, casting aside "B. Techs" and all, let's just say he is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and sought-after recording engineer for many indie artists in Manipur.

His associated acts include Eyoom, New Key, Lo! Peninsula, Sil Heiba, and further with the live performance recording project "Space Bait", he has worked with Supriya Laimayum, Rishikesh Thangjam (Elephant in the Elevator) and Gajendra Sharma (Pendulum Swing). He is often cited as a favorite among them, owing to his technical proficiency and for his precision in meeting their desired sound configurations while recording, mixing, and mastering their songs.

In our hometown, where there are no record labels or professional music producers to monitor recordings and sales, Sudip, a recording engineer who charges a meagre flat fee, is truly a savior for the independent musicians around. Almost all of the indie artists in Manipur are not backed by the large production houses who can put up their songs for rotation on local radio and TV channels to propel them to fame and commercial success.

I have seen from firsthand experience on how such an artist struggles to put his daily bread on the table and make ends meet, when he has chosen to pursue independent music-making as a full-time job. The accessibility of an affordable recording studio with the basic gears is his first priority. This, he can achieve by collaborating with Sudip Kongbrailatpam; for he has got in store, the right gears for the artists to express, process, and compress their sonic creations. Here, the sound man shares some insights into his selfless job and the intricacies involved.

One-on-one with Sudip Kongbrailatpam:

Q. Were you ever in a rock band or did the passion to engineer other artists' music just hit you out of nowhere?
A. Yes, I used to play the drums for my band '4 Dimension' like 8 to 9 years ago and also I was the lead vocalist and guitarist of another band called 'Leakage Flux'. I knew that not all bad music has nothing to do with the musicians or the artists themselves, sometimes it's the fault of the engineer or the producer or anyone who is involved in the process. This happens quite a lot especially here in our hometown (not blaming anyone personally though). It's easy to record and release a song but it's not a piece of cake to make a song sound like a record. All these reasons and my interest of technology and music led me to engineer other artists' music. I hope this answers your question.

Q. Oh yes, it does. Now, tell me a bit about your recording style and whether you work in a full-fledged studio or a DIY home setup?
A. You know, sound is physics and music is art, in order to make a song work like it should as planned, one must have or acquire all the necessary knowledge of sound and its behaviour in order to manipulate them in any situation. The reason I mentioned the importance of knowing the characteristics of sound is because in my case I don't have a proper recording studio and that didn't stop me from recording music. But I have to make it work somehow, you know. And that's where things get interesting. And talking about my recording style, I am more of a fan of recording instruments using only microphones because they sound more natural and pleasing to our ears if recorded properly. Plus, we can experiment a lot. Without proper processing of the audio signals the art of the music can easily disappear. If the art from the music is gone in the process, the only thing left is the sound and we don't want that to happen. And that would be called lifeless music. And no, I don't work in a full-fledged studio. Yes, it's just a mini home setup.

Q. Which DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is your primary weapon of choice and why?
A. Well I use two to three different DAWs for producing a song. From recording to mastering a song I use multiple programs and applications. I see them as tools rather than weapons (laughs) because every DAW is designed specifically for the purpose of producing music and none of them are very different form each other. What's more important is the person operating it. I believe in spending more time developing skills than spending more, you know, on tools and equipments unnecessarily. Well if you insist, I'd say Cakewalk Sonar because I like the channel strips, which each of them has a dedicated gain control which I don't quite see in other DAWs, the channel strip also integrates Analog console emulator modelled after three different types of classic Analog consoles.

Q. What's your opinion on lo-fi music recording?
A. Well, I don't have much to share on lo-fi music recording. Technically speaking, recording process for most genres of music are the same because they share common instruments such as guitar, bass, drums, etc. which are all acoustic in nature. Other than that, the interesting sonic colour of lo-fi music comes from the extended use of audio effects and processors.

Q. Lo! Peninsula, with the newfound sleeper success, seems much grateful to you. How was your experience in working with the trio? Any memorable moments?
A. I believe it's a success for all of us. It was great working with them the whole time during the process of making the E.P. Their style of music is unique and very challenging to record. We tried different things to make all the songs work whatsoever. Any memorable moments?! Well, uh there was this guy who would collect parking fees at the parking lot where they (the band members) use to park their cars for every jam or recording session. So, one day the guy couldn't wait for us to collect the parking fees (he missed us few times since his shift was over and he had to go, but we had to stay late to finish recording for the day) and found his way to the studio somehow and asked us if we were the musicians who parked the cars we all were shocked because it was unusual and we found it funny. Because you know it wasn't our fault it was just our shift that was longer than his. From that day he would come in, collect his fees and never failed to miss one.

Q. I'll get honest with this one. I'm informed that you charge much lower despite your bulk efforts in the recording assistance. Is this a friendly favor for the artists that you know personally?
A. The fact is, whoever comes to me for recording a song, I actually did all the recordings. But I have never assisted anyone for any recording purposes unless someone would ask me. I take my role as recording engineer while recording a song, mixing engineer while mixing a song and mastering engineer while mastering a song for the release. The charges have nothing to do with favours or any sort of attachment to anyone. I fixed the charge which is much lower because I don't have many gears, equipment, etc. for recording/processing audio unlike other engineers.

Q. Enlighten me about the difficulties that you face in the technical aspects of your recording technique?
A. The main difficulties I have for recording songs, especially full band is the lack of equipment and proper recording space. Even the audio interface I use has only two channel audio input. Imagine recording 10 to 20 or more guitar layers for just one song or tracking drums using only the two channels. I couldn't imagine that either. The amplifier I use for my monitors is a prototype I designed at home a few years ago which I had to study its output frequency response to help me make better decisions while mixing a song. I even integrated audio attenuator circuit to the mic jack itself to record high SPL (Sound Pressure Level) sources such as guitar amp, snare drum, etc. without damaging my interface's pre-amplifier. With the equipment and space I have, to record/mix a full band is a long story, you know.

Q. That indeed sounds cumbersome. And how do you view your role and influence in a band's resultant sound?
A. I can't just talk all about myself on this, my role as an engineer to a band is to bring out the best in them without any compromisation to the sound quality whatsoever the status is, be it the lack of gear, tools, poor amps, low quality microphones, you name it. If I got involved as a producer for recording a song I would usually help the musicians with the song arrangement and structure. But, the core of the music comes from their hard work and talent. I am not saying I can make any song work, still I got tons to learn and improve my skills. It's a never ending game, you know. To cut long story short, bad sound kills good music.

Q. And name some of your favorite sound engineers that you look up to?
A. Well, I have many rather than one favourite engineer. They are Chris Lord-Alge, Sylvia Massy, Andrew Scheps, David Gibson, Jonathan Wyner.

* Ningombam Captain wrote this article for
Ningombam Captain is the creator of Blue Bannerman Reviews. The writer is currently pursuing English Hons. in MS University and can be contacted at ningombamcaptain(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 07, 2018.

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