If you haven’t yet heard at least some of the score from this year’s Oscar-winning best film “Slumdog Millionaire,” you must be trying very hard not to.
Even before it won two Oscars for best score and best song (“Jai Ho), as well as the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for best score, A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack—written on a Mac in Logic Studio—had registered with any reasonably alert listener during the film’s much-reported rise from Indian-flavored indie longshot to runaway worldwide hit.
If the soundtrack’s audio reach is in part attributable to the film’s sweeping success, its musical grasp is strictly the result of Rahman’s unforgettable melodies and rhythms. In fact, It would be as hard to imagine “Slumdog” without its script or cinematography as without Rahman’s score.
One of the world’s most prolific and celebrated cinematic composers and top-selling recording artists, Rahman has scored more than 110 films, starting with Roja (1993), which was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best movie soundtracks. He is an equally avid student of cutting edge music and technology, and he uses both to turn out scores and songs that seamlessly combine classical Indian and Western sounds with modern vocal and instrumental styles.
For “Slumdog Millionaire,” Rahman blends Bollywood, hip-hop, world music and more to not only complement but significantly carry the film’s energetic plot and audience-pleasing themes. In a recent phone interview, Rahman spoke about how he used Logic and other tools to create his eclectic, ambitious score against unforgiving deadlines.
How did you come to work with director Danny Boyle on “Slumdog Millionaire”?
Well, I was really busy last year. I was doing about eight films, too many really. And I had this email saying “Hey I’m Danny Boyle, I like your work, and it would be great for us to have you on our film.” I didn’t know what to answer. But after exchanging several more emails, I met him personally in Mumbai. And when I talked to him, I had some interest and I wanted to see the film. He had a first cut of the film already, and when I saw that I was really interested and wanted to do it. So I left another film to do this one. I made time for it.
Was your work on this film different than on other films?
In some ways it was different, because it didn’t require as much work as I sometimes do for other films, but it required high-quality work. Danny usually uses many composers for a film because he wants different feels in the music. When you go to just one composer, it usually has one feel. So I took a clue from that and tried to think about what he might get from different writers with different sensibilities, always keeping something of mine in everything I wrote. He thought I wouldn’t have time to do that, so he was just going to have me do a few songs, but I feel you have a responsibility to the whole movie.
Each track in this film is completely different from the other. The film needed that, because it follows one person’s life, but in many different situations and moments from that life. And for the same reason, there are different cultural elements: some are very strong Indian influences, and some are very pop influences. If you take all the good things from ten different soundtracks and put it together, it can make a beautiful soundtrack of its own.
How long did it take to compose the “Slumdog Millionaire” score?
The initial ideas were all done on this very basic idea of me singing or playing keyboards and vocals. I’d send Danny a scratch of each idea over email, several for each cue he’d given me. Danny would listen and tell me which of the numbers he liked, and he’d start placing them. That was done a couple of months back. When I had collected all of these ideas, I went to England, and we spent three weeks together and finished the score. We’d originally scheduled four weeks, but because Danny decided to mix the film early, we had that much less time to do it.
Any disagreement about the kind of score you wanted?
Normally when I work with a director I work through his eyes, and through his vision, and that’s how I worked with Danny. Ideally, he gets excited when he hears the sound I’ve delivered. At the same time, he challenges me to produce other sounds and ideas. It made the job so much easier for me than if I’d done something radically different on my own and then tried to fit it into the film’s conception and convince people.
Do you typically write both the songs and the score for a film?
Back in the day, it was common in India to be a composer and songwriter; it was always that way. You would finish the songs in four days, then the background music in four days. Today that is changing a little in India.
Describe your method for scoring a film.
I mostly don’t write to specifically defined cues. I just watch the film a couple of times, stop watching it, then write something that comes to my mind from the film. This way, when I try to sync the music, the results are that much more wholesome. You get something extra that you don’t get when you’re looking at specific points in the timeline. The music is much more organic this way, not jumping cue to cue. It’s more about counterpointing and, sometimes, walking hand-in-hand. Most of the time it works out. If you watch the picture and try to have a specific chord change here, a tempo change there, when the director comes back and wants to move picture, you find that you’ve wasted time. I think this way is more appealing to me and to the people watching the film. Click tracks and following the SMPTE are necessary for some things, but once you have everything in Logic, then afterwards you can edit and make minor changes.
To create the “Slumdog Millionaire,” Rahman used a rich palette of logic plug-ins on the live instruments and software instrument tracks, including classic Logic plug-ins like the Autofilter, Overdrive, Compressor, Fuzz Wah, Enveloper, Stereo Delay, Phaser, Ring Shifter and Bit Crusher, as well as the newer flagship Space Designer and Delay Designer to help create the overall sound. Several of the tracks are very simply mixed in Logic Pro with the Logic Adlimiter and Channel EQ on the main outputs.
In “Jai Ho,” his Oscar-winning song from “Slumdog,” Rahman made extensive use of Logic instruments, including EXS24, the EVP88 electric piano, and ES2 synth mixed with a few favorite Logic plug-ins such as Channel EQ, Bitcrusher, and Guitar Amp Pro. The bassline as well as the trancey, arpeggiated musical line used ES2 presets.
On the long chorus vocals in “Jai Ho,” Rahman created the robotic, stair-stepping pitch-bend effect with Logic’s Pitch Correction plug-in to achieve the exaggerated tuning effect.
Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory, which teaches students Western Classical and Indian Classical Music, as well as Audio Media Education, is India’s first Apple Authorized Training Center to offer all the students Logic Pro Level 1 Certification classes. The students at KM Music Conservatory use MacBook or MacBook Pro computers running Logic Pro.
An artist who has redefined contemporary Indian music, A.R. Rahman is an icon in the world of cinematic scoring and one of the world’s top 25 all-time selling recording artists.
Rahman’s score for “Slumdog Millionaire,” which was critically praised by Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times has sold more than 100,000 copies and was the #1 downloaded album on iTunes.
Widely considered the man who single-handedly revived public interest in Indian film music in the 1990s, Rahman scored the runaway hit, “Roja,” directed by noted Indian filmmaker Mani Ratnam. The soundtrack earned Rahman the Indian National Award for Best Music Composer, and was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best movie soundtracks in the world.
Rahman obtained a degree in western classical music from the Trinity College of Music, London, and set up his own in-house studio called Panchathan Record-Inn at Chennai, arguably one of Asia’s most sophisticated and high-tech studios.
You compose chiefly in Logic Pro?
Yes, I’ve been working with Logic for almost 12 years. I use it as my writing tool because I can have it on a desktop or on a laptop. I can carry it all over.
Why Logic? How does it help you as a composer?
My initial switch to Logic was because it was a whole workstation. I used to have a MIDI workstation and an audio workstation separately, so when I would go back to a song, I had to almost re-create it, which was nearly impossible; it was always like going back to step one. I was looking for something that had MIDI and audio both, so I could have the whole project in one place. After I got Logic, I could have the whole song on one project, and I could have it on a disk. This meant I could go back to exactly where I had left the project, rather than once again having to set up the modules and have something change. This was a great thing for me.
After the EXS24 sampler came into existence, it was even better. I could have all my sounds in the EXS from everywhere, a 300-400GB library that I’d built myself from my Roland and Akai gear. Now, with some more plug-ins, it’s just Logic Pro and the Apogee Symphony audio card, and that’s it.
What’s your typical writing workflow in the studio?
When I’m doing a song or any improvisation, most of the time I have a live input on it, with headphones on, and the performers in the booth. And I have a MIDI keyboard running simultaneously. So if I’m doing something that is partly Indian classical, I keep prompting the singer or the performer on the mike, and then keep playing it. After twenty minutes of that we sit down and edit the portions I like. Sometimes I work like that, but sometimes I do like the standard thing. You know, you have an idea and then you start playing more instruments, more Logic instruments.
Normally what happens is I have a rhythm, and it’s probably a loop. Then I do my vocals, and once I have a structure in place, I record with the singers and write lyrics. When I have the vocal recording, I then work in reverse for the music. We record live rhythms sometimes, and then start programming, and everything is complete. Then of course all the editing is done, and we go through the mastering. That’s pretty much it.
What role do the Apogee Symphony systems play in your process?
I use Symphony with Logic in the studio while I’m writing. I use the mobile system when I travel, because I do a lot of my writing in hotel rooms; it happens all the time. Right now I’m huddled up here (in Los Angeles) with my MacBook Pro, which I also use to work on flights.
Did you use a lot of Logic effects, instruments, and plug-ins for the “Slumdog” soundtrack?
Yes, most of the processing was done with Logic plug-ins actually: Ring Shifter; Multipressor; Space Designer. I also really like EXS24, EVP88, and Sculpture, and I use them a lot.
You used guitar on certain tracks? Did you use specific plug-ins on the guitar?
Yes, there is sitar and guitar too. I used Guitar Rig as well as Native instruments plug-ins on “Ringa Ringa” for the Indian rhythms and to give it a very edgy kind of feel.
Did you use an orchestra, or mostly individual musicians?
There was a string orchestra for one of the tracks, “Liquid Dance,” but most tracks had single instruments, like guitar, sitar, and then taiko drums.
How does Logic make it easier to handle those different kinds of instruments and sounds?
Well, since I work almost exclusively with Logic, it’s the only thing I know. Most of the songs were written in Logic. And Logic’s mixing features allowed us to meet a very tight deadline for “Mausam & Escape,” a track with lots of instruments such as sitar and guitar.
I’ve looked at other programs but never cared to try them because the timing in Logic is the best. Friends used to ask, how do you get that timing? Most of them switched because of it. Songs are mostly about grooves, so when they hear something tight and nice, they want it, too. Logic becomes a part of your life. I have three or four programming rooms, and I exchange files across the Internet with London; it has become a whole philosophy of using the Logic tools.
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