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Ashish Manchanda’s life has been marked by a steady stream of teachers and mentors. More than anything, these relationships have shaped a man who would grow to wear many hats—among them producer, mix engineer, business owner, and eventually, that of a mentor himself. He’s worked with James Taylor, Garth Brooks, produced music for MTV India and some of Bollywood’s biggest films, and was included in the 7th annual class of inductees into Full Sail’s Hall of Fame. But before all that, he was just a kid with a passing interest in music growing up in Mumbai, India.
Please tell us about your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Ashish Manchanda has always been fascinated by the behind-the-scenes world of the entertainment industry. In his formative years as a drummer just near the city of Mumbai, India, he found that his interest in music extended far beyond that of the average musician.
“I have very clear memories of the music my parents played in the house when I was growing up,” says Ashish. “It was mostly pop. Tina Charles, ABBA, things like that. Then, in the seventh or eighth grade, I started getting exposed to sounds through microphones and sound systems. There was a priest at my school who ran an electronics lab, and I was fascinated by all the cables and wires.”
From that point on, Ashish tried to learn everything he could about music and recording. He joined the A/V club. He took up the drums. He devoured countless back issues of Mix Magazine, which he purchased from a small secondhand store. His passion for audio carried him through middle and high school, to the point that applying to specialty programs after graduation felt like the next logical step.
“I was always very curious about the sounds I heard on my favorite records,” Ashish says, citing the work of Michael Jackson, Bryan Adams, and Bruce Springsteen as huge influences in his decision to get into the recording arts. “I would read Mix magazine and learn as much as I could about the kinds of microphones that were used to record these albums, what kind of tones they tried to achieve, and what technology they used. It was all very romantic to me.”
What did you study?
There was just one problem: at that time, recording schools in India were few and far between. Seeking a compromise, Ashish enrolled in an electrical engineering program at a local college and spent all of his free time playing in bands. During that time, he also worked with producer and jazz drummer Ranjit Barot, who remains a friend and collaborator to this day. It wasn’t quite the life of an audio engineer, but it allowed him to indulge his love of gear and music. Burning the candle at both ends took its toll, though, and no matter how many speakers he took apart or gigs he played, he still wanted more.
Ashish was reading an issue of Mix Magazine when he came across an ad for Full Sail. “It said something to the effect of, ‘We’ll take your dream seriously.’ I’d never heard that before. I thought, how interesting.” So interesting, in fact, that he decided to move halfway around the world to see what it was all about.
That passion is what led Ashish to travel to the United States to attend Full Sail. “I was working in a recording studio in Bombay, but I knew that I wasn’t following the right route,” he says. “If you want to learn the tabla, you’re better off coming to India because it’s been played there for thousands of years, and there’s so much history there. Similarly, America is the place where production was pioneered, so I knew if I was going to master that process, it would make sense for me to head directly to the source.”
How was the experience at Full Sail?
“Coming to Full Sail was very liberating,” he remembers. “It was the first time I’d ever really left India. There was something special about being in a place where everyone had come to do the same thing.” Ever the voracious student, Ashish didn’t hold anything back.
“I had so many questions, and my teachers interacted with me beyond the regular scope of interaction. I especially hit it off with Dana Roun who was my instructor, and Kirk Squires who was my admissions representative. They’re both still at Full Sail and I meet up with them every time I come back to campus.”
As a kid, Ashish would spend hours taking apart his toys to see how they worked. It’s the same with music, he says. All of the choices that go in to making a great pop song—there are real people behind those decisions. In Ashish’s sixth month of study, Full Sail hosted a success seminar with legendary producer Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington). Ashish saw the event as an opportunity to ask Bruce about his choices as a producer.
The two hit it off and kept in contact throughout Ashish’s time in the Recording Arts program. After graduation, at Bruce’s suggestion, Ashish moved to New York City. The move led to a successful stint working at Effanel Music, where Ashish continued to hone his skills. Meanwhile, Bruce remained a close friend and mentor, eventually passing on a key piece of advice that would become one of Ashish’s own guiding principles.
“I’ll always remember Bruce telling me, ‘You know what, Ashish? There are no secrets.’ I was struck by how open Bruce and others were in sharing their experiences, in discussing techniques, concepts, and strategies for projects they were actively working on.”
After graduating from Full Sail’s Recording Arts degree program in 1997, he went on to work on a variety of projects throughout the US, lending his engineering skill to projects by artists such as Garth Brooks and James Taylor and working closely with the man who helped craft some of the very records that influenced his career, Grammy-winning producer/engineer Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington).
Tell us about your career path?
But Ashish’s quest to learn and do more eventually took him back to India, where he started his own Flying Carpet Productions, an audio/film production house specializing in filmmaking, music production, composition and arrangement, sound design, mixing, and mastering. And though his love for music hasn’t subsided, his focus has recently shifted on telling stories and delving into the behind-the-scenes world of a whole new arena: the film industry.
Ashish’s interest in storytelling stemmed from a challenge all too common to most parents: trying to put his children to bed. “When our second child was born, I had to devote all of my attention to the new baby, and Ashish was left to try to put our two year-old to bed,” says his wife Ujjla, who works in the fashion industry and has been contributing to some of Flying Carpet’s forthcoming projects. “She was used to only sleeping with me, and the only way that he could get her to go to sleep was by telling her stories. Now we plan on turning some of those very same stories into films.”
“I feel like I’ve entered the next phase in my career. I’m far from a master craftsman in this arena right now, but I’ve been sharpening myself up in story writing, and basically taking the same process that I used to learn about music production and applying it to film,” Ashish says. “If I had just wanted to pursue engineering as my sole direction, I would have stayed in America. But I feel that India’s industry allows me to be more multi-faceted and allows me to explore all of these different aspects of entertainment.”
While many working in the industry would be satisfied with having accomplished what he’s done in the first part of his career, Ashish approaches this new chapter with the same passion and excitement that he felt in the very beginning. “I never had the most solid game plan, but what I did know is that I wanted to do all sorts of things in the industry,” he says. “And I never doubted that I could do it. The energy that you have when you start on that kind of path forms a momentum; the more you have and build up, the farther you’ll go.”
In 2012, he and his wife established The Media Tribe, a sound engineering and music production collective that offers full-time and part-time programs in Cinema Sound, Live Sound, Music Production, and Engineering. Of his work as a mentor to aspiring engineers, he says, “This is my way of engaging the next group of people who are hungry for this information. There are no secrets. When you share what you know with others, it sets a lot of things in motion for the entire community.”
“Everyone needs a mentor at some point in their life,” he adds. “I was fortunate enough to have several mentors come in to my life and fulfill different aspects of the learning process, but all of them believed in me and my abilities. In some ways, I see myself doing that for the people around me now.”