Please tell us about yourself
From a Sydney boy with big dreams to the man behind Chris Brown’s hit single, which has had over 25 million hits on YouTube, 30-year-old Tushar’s journey has been incredible.
Born in Newcastle to high achieving parents, being musical comes naturally to Tushar, who learnt to play the piano at a very young age.
“It feels like I’ve been involved in music for as long as I can remember,” he tells Indian Link, and adds laughingly, “Except for a gap between Year 2 and Year 6 when I thought I could become a professional basketball player like my hero Michael Jordan!”
Tushar went to Homebush Boys’ High School and excelled at the performing arts, taking part in many different recitals, concerts and eisteddfods.
But the one moment that stands out from these high school performances, was the time he played at the Sydney Opera House.
“I got to play the concert grand piano at the Opera House which I remember being totally in awe of,” he recalls.
Tushar’s mum Minoti Apte is an award-winning scientist who was named the NSW Woman of the Year for 2015. But she is equally well-known in the community for her own love of the performing arts. When she produced the mega hit Marathi musical Durga Zhali Gauri for the Marathi Associationof Sydney a few years ago, Tushar, then 19, took on a stage role. What initially felt like an event he was being dragged into by mum, quickly turned into a fun experience.
It’s not everyday that you hear about a Desi producer that just released a song with two of the biggest artists in the world! Sydney native, Tushar Apte has been in the game for a while now scoring music for film and producing for recording artists. He just put out a song with fellow Desi super-stars, Zayn Malik and Nicki Minaj ( yes, Nicki is 1/4 Indian). We had the opportunity to get to know Tushar and learn about his journey with music! Check out VEYLEX’s exclusive Q&A with Tushar!
How did you get into the offbeat, unconventional and exciting career of music production?
At 22-years-old Tushar Apte was living a life that wasn’t his own. A psychology student in Sydney, it was as if decades of familial success far outside the creative sector unwittingly shaped his decisions.
While his parents are supremely easy-going, his mother is a UNSW Medicine Professor who was recently awarded a Distinguished Researcher Prize, and his father is a chemical engineer.
Eventually, playing keyboards in local musicals and dabbling as a bedroom producer just wasn’t feeding the fire flickering inside him. But it wasn’t until he’d changed career paths entirely and completed a Masters in Journalism that life in Sydney became near impossible.
“Slowly I realised [music] was the only thing that was really making me happy,” he says.
“I had to figure out how to do it as a full-time thing […] I felt a lot of pressure to do things a certain way, get some type of job, or whatever it was.”
Tushar’s parents have been an inspiration and solid support system for his offbeat and challenging path of pursuing his passion as an occupation. He talks about them with much fondness.
“Mum is a classical dancer, mainly trained in the Kathak style and Dad is a vocalist, I think fair to say one of the most well-known Indian vocalists in Sydney.”
With so much talent at home there is little surprise that a deep passion has turned into a flourishing career.
Moving to Los Angeles five years ago seemed like a natural career progression. It did not faze him that he did not have a single contact in the music business. Tushar had grown up on a healthy diet of mainly American music, and so he felt he could tackle head on whatever the industry threw at him.
He found work as a musician in many capacities – as a ‘gigging’ keyboard/piano player, a film/TV composer, a pop songwriter, and composer/arranger.
“The opportunities here are certainly unimaginable in Australia!” says Tushar.
Today he has to his credit songs that he has written for X-Factor finalists from Australia, the UK, and US as well as superstars including Adam Levine and Chris Brown.
I moved to LA in late 2010 from Sydney (Australia) with the intention of doing something in music. I’d been playing music (piano as my primary instrument) my whole life alongside other things that were going on in my life (going to university, doing a Masters degree etc- not in music). I had been more or less mindlessly following a corporate path when I realized if I was going to attempt to do something in music career wise (I didn’t know what exactly I just knew it had to involve music), I would need to completely eject myself from my environment/comfort zone in Sydney. I moved to LA on a student visa and started playing in different bands as a keyboard player. Long story short I got introduced to a composer/producer Manon Dave (a fellow South Asian from London) who I’d worked with early on and I scored a bunch of trailers, commercials and short films for him – occasionally dabbling in pop writing and production (though nothing of any significance). This allowed me to find my strengths and develop my early skillset and network, and I just knew I wanted to be a music producer and songwriter. There were a lot of ups and downs (more downs) before I found myself at a writing camp where I co-wrote my first release of any note – ‘Zero’ by Chris Brown. We wrote the song in 25 mins and it changed my life (of course the production and finishing of the record took longer). I had no manager, agent or publisher, but within 6 months I had an amazing team around me to level up. I’m also beyond lucky to work with the best songwriters and artists in the world. They push me every day to be better than the day before. This is obviously the short story 🙂
How was the experience in LA?
Tushar says he hated LA when he first visited. His interactions seemed shallow. His small town upbringing railed against the idiomatic dialogue of LA locals; but he also knew he had to live there.
“I hated the place but there was something about it,” he says. “It was quite obvious that in those [entertainment industry] fields there was a lot of activity going on.
“You don’t know how much of it is real and how much of it’s fake, and how much of it is actually profitable how much is not […] but you just get this sense that there is a lot more stuff happening there.”
Tushar lived on his cousin’s couch for a year after his move to LA. He played piano at a dive bar in South Central LA, taking on small gigs with bands to get by. He cold called just about every music venue and artist manager in the city with little knowledge of how it all even worked.
He was living from cheque to cheque; but it wasn’t about the money. For the first time in a long time, he was happy.
“To be fair, I was still in the stage where I wanted to do something in music, but I also didn’t know what,” he remembers. “I just never grew up in the environment where I really knew what careers were in music; I just didn’t know. All I knew was I just wanted to play.”
What is something that the general public needs to know about music producers?
I think a lot of non-music people don’t quite understand the role of a producer in 2018. In this day the producer is not just the woman or man who composes the music, but often the one charged with delivering the finished record to the record label. It’s such a complex and detailed process from the creative side (writing and composition – the years behind the craft of this) to the business end (hustling to get artists to record your song, or hustling to get in the room with artists to write with/for them), and finally to get labels to believe in your song above the others. It is, in my opinion, the most competitive industry in the world. The proof is in the pudding as they say – to those outside the music industry, you can probably name 10+ people who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, but how many people do you know that have Billboard charting records?
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
I really grew up around late 90’s – early 2000’s R&B and hip-hop so Pharrell & Chad Hugo (the Neputunes) were a huge inspiration to me, and the first guys I knew as ‘producers’ in the modern sense – then I started heavily studying all the big players of that time – JD, Timbaland, Darkchild, of course Max Martin and the Swedes on the pop side. In terms of career arc, because I’m also a huge film nerd, I always looked up to Quincy Jones as the most versatile and accomplished cross-genre & cross-medium producer of all time so he’s a huge inspiration in terms of the breadth of projects I hope to be involved in. Even early on I was always an obsessive reader of CD liner notes, I just had no idea what a ‘producer’ did.
What is your dream collaboration?
Currently (and for the past 4 years) Rihanna without hesitation – she’s such a special and iconic figure in pop culture for our generation – would love to be a part of her musical legacy.
What bands/artists did you grow up listening to?
My earliest musical memories in my parents house growing up are: Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Billy Joel, Billy Ocean (yes), Prince, Liberace (for piano showmanship) and Indian Classical music. Growing up in Australia in the pre-youtube days, we had these music video shows called ‘Rage’ and ‘Video Hits’ (cable TV which had MTV was too expensive for most households) and I would wake up early on Saturday mornings and watch the music video charts from #50 to #1. I loved pop music. Later I got super into all the cool kid shit of the era – all 90’s hip hop Death Row, BadBoy, early Atlanta stuff from Outkast & Goodie Mob, some Bay Area shit, and some rock stuff I mainly loved Nine Inch Nails and Incubus.
You recently produced a track for Zayn Malik and Nicki Minaj. What was the process like creating, “No Candle No Light?” What was the inspiration?
No Candle was (to date) the craziest record process I’ve ever been a part of. It took 2.5 years from the first session where we wrote the bones of it – to the release. There were many rewrites, production revisions, and crazy music industry madness that happened along the way. I can’t go into much detail here except to say I learned so much from the process. Also as a lesson to any aspiring songwriters/producers – never give up on the best songs on your computer – great songs always find a home! Patience is the hardest thing to practice – but also the most rewarding.
Did you watch Bollywood movies growing up? If so, what were your favorites?
I was never a fan of the traditional Bollywood format – and honestly I was kind of a music snob so in terms of Indian music was more into old Hindi film music (Kishore Kumar, AD Burman etc) or Classical music. My favorites of recent are ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Dangal’ – I love most of the Amir Khan filmography (whatever I’ve seen).
You’re having a traditional desi dinner– What dishes would need to be present to make the best meal?
I’m from a Marathi family so we’re definitely going do the whole Maharastrian spread: first you have the breads – ‘poli’ , a wholewheat flat bread. Then you have a choice of 2-3 curries – the spiced potato & peas is a classic; next you have a selection of salads (one yoghurt/cucumber and one mixed veggies), a lentil soup with rice and then a selection of pickles & papad (aka papadums). Oh yeh – you have this all at once! no such thing as ‘courses’.
What are your favorite TV shows? Are you binging anything right now?
I love ‘Bodyguard’ right now, and have also been going back on the whole Monty Python catalogue on Netflix – so absurd and brilliant and ahead of its time. I’m also a ‘Breaking Bad’ super fan and bought a bunch of merchandise from the official store after the show ended. Westworld absolutely blows my mind even though its such a intellectual exercise keeping tabs on all the plot lines and twists.
What advice do you have for young South-Asian artists and producers trying to break into the music industry?
We’re in a really interesting time in music where ‘pop’ is really genre-less – so as an artist I think theres never been a better time to explore and to just try crazy shit. I think 2nd or 3rd generation South Asians growing up in the US/UK/EU/Australia etc have a huge advantage of tapping into their own rich cultural histories and bringing some of that back into what they might create for a ‘mainstream’ audience at home. I personally, in hindsight, spent a lot of my life running away from those traditions, but have recently found it to be extremely powerful both creatively and in general life.
Make creative work a daily practice – 95% of the great ideas don’t come from just idly sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike, but by actually grinding and working towards the ‘magic’ moment. In terms of specific music stuff – this is the toughest and most competitive business in the world so there’s an element of blind ambition that you must follow – even if things don’t happen for a long long time, as my mom used to (and still) tells me ‘no sincere work is ever done in vein’. So when it comes to music, don’t chase the result but just try and make music that feels great to you. Learn from people that are better than you and never be the smartest person in the room.
Showing a maturity well beyond his age, Tushar says, “While material components of success are important, there are two factors that define success for me. One is knowing that being able to make music professionally is a privilege that very few are able to claim, and I’ve been able to do that. The second is that I want to inspire other kids in the Indian community to give their craziest ideas a real shot, not through talk necessarily, but through action. There’s so much talent in our community. Most of them might not feel they are able to make a life out of what they’re really passionate about, particularly creative talents. I think our generation has just started to break that old mould, and I hope the next generation will be even more fearless.”
So what’s next? In five years’ time Tushar sees himself continuing to work with the biggest and best artists in the world, developing the next generation of artists and scoring his first studio film or big cable TV show – he just recently finished composition work on a major network show for NBC.