Ujjla and Ashish Manchanda
“Music Will Unite Us All.”
Ashish Manchanda believes that India’s music scene has the power and merit to go global. As an esteemed mixing/recording engineer, producer and entrepreneur, Ashish has worked on over 150 Bollywood films and has been involved in the Indian music scene where he works with fresh, young talent. His work is coming full circle, having started from the U.S. where he worked on live and studio projects with American music veterans like Garth Brooks and James Taylor. Ashish graduated from Full Sail University, FL, in 1997 with flying colors. He was hand-picked by Michael Jackson’s multi-Grammy-winning engineer/producer, Bruce Swedien, while still on campus and there began his “real world journey.” While in the U.S, he established Flying Carpet Productions, a 360-degree production company that serves as a one-stop shop for artists to create and distribute their work. The production house extended into a training academy for young people in sound engineering and music production and Ashish’s ambitions kept growing bigger. This gave birth to Boon Castle Media & Entertainment which not only encompasses Flying Carpet but includes allied services such as designing live music experiences, video productions, and music education. Extending roots back in the US with Boon Castle offering these services there while the India story continues to grow, Ashish spoke with SoulVision Magazine to talk about Boon Castle, his career, and the future of India’s music scene.
Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?
I was born in New Delhi, India, where I spent the early years of my life. I was about 8 when my family moved to the City of Pune which is known as the “Oxford of the East.” My parents wanted to get away from the big, busy Delhi and start a new in Pune which was developing into an educational and industrial town. I have always considered them to be progressive and very supportive. My wonder years were in Pune and it’s a lovely city. It is a city that offers a good work-life balance. It was very nice growing up in Pune.
Who or what was your biggest inspiration growing up?
I think my biggest inspiration has always been Star Trek. I think somewhere deep inside me, it resonated. I am an explorer. Through the show, I could go on a journey and discover strange and unexplored worlds. Imagine Christopher Columbus on steroids; get on a spaceship and explore the universe. What I learned from it, and it still stands today, is that you have to always be prepared to go through the unexpected hurdles or obstacles to get to your journey’s purpose.
What was the most important lesson you learned in the early phases of your career?
I don’t think it was very clear to me then, but I could feel what was coming. People at that time were seeking out a master of their craft or a role model/mentor. I think even the word mentor was a fancy word back then and it was more about seeking a person who was an expert in a discipline that you’re a fan of. It could be tennis or music or filmmaking. I think I was slowly gravitating towards that and that has become a very important factor in my life and also something I extend to others.
At what point in your career did you begin to feel you had made it?
I think “making it” is very relative. As a high school student, I was very interested in physics and math, so I was always exploring things like chaos theory and quantum mechanics and how you apply it to everyday life. I have had several milestones in my life. One of my “aha” moments was when I was a teenager. There was this young band at Loyola High School in Pune. This was the first time there was a band at the school. The youngest member was in the third grade and he was playing drums. He was making a hell of a noise, but he was the person who seemed to be having the most fun.
I thought it looked like fun and I thought that I should give it a shot. So, in the 11th grade, I started to learn music and began to play the drums. I had never picked up an instrument before. I was a late bloomer. I thought I had made it.
To cut a long story short, when I got my first gig, I thought I had made it yet again. I had met my mentor, a very fine gentleman and a superb musician by the name of Ranjit Barot who was someone I respected immensely. He believed in me when I didn’t even know what “believe” meant and where it could take you. So, I got a gig with him and was getting paid for it. We stayed in touch over the years and subsequently have done a whole lot of super projects together. I am still closely associated with him and I am eternally indebted to him.
When I first met my future mentor Bruce Swedien, I thought I had made it. It was another major turning point in my life. So, I’m sitting here like, “how many times have I made it in my life? I’m still making it.” So, I think it’s relative.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?
When the people I have believed in have achieved their respective successes, that has been most gratifying! And it never ceases to amaze me, what the power of belief in one another can do!
Do you feel Indian artists can have similar global success like those in the K-pop scene?
The Indian movie industry is super popular in India, and in its own way is all-encompassing. It is a self-sustained and successful ecosystem. The independent music industry in India has always acquired lesser priority simply by virtue of the tremendous success of the movie industry and lack of sustained effort for and by the independent music ecosystem—management, mentorship in all aspects, and creators. Having said that, the talent in India is world class whether it belongs to the movie industry or independent sector. It has the potential to cross over. You will see both elements like what has happened with K-pop—a foreign language genre in an English territory that has a “Beatle-mania” like reaction.
There are super talented youngsters and creators in India who are innovative, care about the arts, and are ready to showcase their talent to the world. It is only a matter of time when that crossover happens.
Additionally, in India’s music scene, there are English singing artists. And India is one of the largest English-speaking democracies. On YouTube, India is the largest consumer of English content, globally. I predict that very soon we will see Indian artists picking up Grammys amongst other international accolades alongside global stars like Beyoncé, Adele, and Bruno Mars.
You created the Totem Pole music festival in 2016 to create a safe festival environment for youth in Mumbai. Why was this so important and how have the youth responded to the festival since its inception?
I think once you become a parent, you start to look at life a little differently. We have two teenage daughters now. The idea came from my lovely wife, Ujjla, who is also my business partner and a very talented and accomplished woman. We started brainstorming and thought about having a festival for youngsters, particularly those between the ages of 12-20 years old. Most music festivals are usually alcohol and tobacco driven and hence outside the purview of young people below 21. Besides, such an environment is not the most favorable place to take young and impressionable kids. And then there are other festivals which are more “kid friendly” with activities for under 12 years of age. We understand that this demographic, 12-20-year-olds, are amongst the highest consumers of music. So, we created the Totem Pole music festival to promote a festival for young people and offer a safe environment for them to groove to music. Kids can also come in by themselves without their parents worrying about their safety. There are a lot of opportunities for youngsters of all disciplines to present themselves – through their music, art, etc. These new and unseasoned artists are what we call “state talent.”
There are very few companies across the world today who have the courage and will invest in “state talent.” We consider ourselves perhaps the only “state talent” investors in the creative arts.
Totem Pole extends itself to a music conference too, where we have hosted Grammy-winning professionals amongst other stalwarts who share their valuable experience with young people. It is indeed fortunate for the youth to get this level of exposure at such a young age.
Tell us about Boon Castle and its purpose?
Boon Castle at its core is a platform for the creative arts, globally. The idea is to identify talent across the world; singers, songwriters, actors, writers, directors, etc. To offer the institutional support that young talent requires to carve out its true path is a gateway and backing that Boon Castle offers. We have been very fortunate to gain talent from Norway, Croatia, the U.S., and of course, India. We look at talent like it is sunshine. There is sunshine all over the planet. There is not a place on Earth that does not get sunshine. Everybody gets their share of sunshine. But what do you do with the sunshine? There are some people that have invented and designed solar panels. They harness the energy of the sun and make something useful for people, like electricity. So that is what talent is for us. Talent can be appreciated everywhere. But not everyone knows what to do with talent — for example, develop writers, dancers, and performers — and present the same to audiences. There are some countries and cities that have pioneered the creative arts better than others. Our efforts are to create and present cutting-edge talent and content of tomorrow, today! Boon Castle provides all the services that help creative artists reach audiences globally.
It was critically important for us to create a platform where we were responsible for end-to-end integration; from curation to distribution. It is a platform to break in fresh talent and tell new and old stories, from various cultures. The music and the visual medium are a great vessel to spread positivity and meaningful content. We cover the entire gamut from live entertainment to musicals, pop festivals, concerts, developing movies for movie theaters and new age media and of course music, where we started our journey.
Boon Castle’s main purpose is to truly make a difference by enriching people’s lives. We have an opportunity to serve people. We really love this, so it doesn’t feel like we’re going to work. We are inspired and have decided to create something special.
How do you relax when you are not working?
If I’m writing a song, working on a story, or strategizing the company’s next move, I actually find that relaxing. When I would come home from “work,” at a time when I used to mix a lot myself, I had a day full of satisfaction. At the end of the day, I would read some good stories or sit with loved ones and enjoy movies or TV series. I enjoy swimming, going for a walk, and most importantly spending quality time with my daughters.
I love to research and read about how I can be a better creator, innovator, and leader. Specifically, I have gotten into the various aspects of how to improve the business of our company. I’m very good at being a “vegetable” too. I can be in one place for hours, like a rock, and do nothing. At such times, I don’t feel the “need” to run around and go up to the mountains or to the ocean. I can feel satisfied when I’m just sitting still.
What advice would you give to young music producers and/or entertainment business entrepreneurs trying to make it in the music/entertainment industry?
Just do it. I think we overthink and overcorrect way more than we should. We spend valuable time getting lost in unimportant things. Artists and creators have to just get out there and do it. They must put their art into the universe. It is very important to associate oneself with a team and people who believe in what you do. One has to have the ability to take in criticism and stick to their craft without fear of being rejected or criticized. I think making decisions and acting on them with timelines is a critical part of becoming an entrepreneur. Whether you’re a CEO or a small business owner, you have to be prepared, have purpose, and be present. You have to have good people working with you. It’s not something one can or I would recommend doing by themselves. The magic is in working together.